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Lutein is an important carotenoid, a class of light-absorbing chemical pigments that serve as precursors to vitamin A. The chemical name for vitamin A and its family are "retinol" and "retinoids," which express their relationship to the retina of the eye.

Lutein is one of two primary pigments found in the central part of the retina (the other being zeaxanthin), which helps filter out damaging light. Lutein's antioxidant property may help protect the outer retina, which is rich in polyunsaturated fats, from light-induced free radicals.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in adults. A recent study showed that people with the highest intakes of certain carotenoids from foods had 43% less risk for macular degeneration than those with the lowest intakes.

The study looked at dietary intakes of six carotenoids and three vitamins (A,C and E), as well as specific foods. The two foods associated with the lowest risk were spinach and collard greens, both rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

Besides spinach and collards, other vegetables rich in lutein and zeaxanthin include kale, mustard greens and turnip greens.

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