When thinking about how to best support our children’s brain development there are a few things that come to mind: providing responsive nurturing experiences, fun and stimulating activities such as reading and singing, and proper nutrition. 


While there are several superstar nutrients that promote cognitive development among children, lutein is the latest nutrient gaining attention in the nutrition world - and for good reason. 


What is Lutein?

Lutein is a type of phytonutrient called carotenoid, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Carotenoids are nutrients that are found in fruits and vegetables with red, orange, yellow and green pigments. [This is why it’s so important to eat a rainbow of foods!] Lutein is also found in egg yolks, where its bioavailability is higher than in any other food

Why is Lutein Important for Brain Development?

The majority of research on lutein has been on it’s role on eye health, due to its concentration in the macula region of the eye. However, more recently, researchers have found large concentrations of lutein in the  brain across the lifespan. They found lutein concentrations of 60% in the infant brain, despite lutein dietary intake at about 12% during the first year of life. 

This concentration in lutein in the brain suggests an important role in brain development and cognitive function. 

Another study found that after supplementing with lutein and DHA, women had improved verbal fluency, memory scores, and rate of learning. Lutein supplementation also had a positive impact on young adults aged 18-32 years old, showing improved neural processing speed. 

But what about lutein in children? 

In a 2017 study, researchers found that lutein levels were negatively correlated to memory errors among 7-10 year olds. Another study found that lutein levels were positively related to executive processes and brief intellectual ability among 7-13 year olds. In these studies, lutein measured directly tends to explain about 10% of the variance in a range of cognitive functions. 

Additionally, these studies among others showed that children with lower levels of lutein had to use more brain power to do the same task as children with higher levels of lutein (decreased neural efficiency), and they made more errors.


Which Foods Have Lutein? 

  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, swiss chard

  • Parsely  

  • Green peas

  • Summer squash

  • Pumpkin

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Broccoli

  • Asparagus

  • Romaine Lettuce 

  • Egg Yolks

  • Peppers

  • Pistachios

  • Carrots

  • Sweet Corn

  • Avocado 

The average daily intake of lutein from fruits and vegetables is around 1.7 mg.

Lutein continues to show beneficial effects for visual and cognitive health across the lifespan, especially among infants and young children. 


Written By Anabelle Harari Clebaner MS, RDN

Brittany Darling