Most people know that eating more fruits and vegetables is an easy way to improve health as it increases your daily intake of many nutrients. Spinach is one leafy green that we have known for a long time is a very nutritious vegetable but a new study suggests that maybe we have not been maximizing its potential because of the ways we eat it.
Indeed, researchers say that chopping raw spinach and adding it to a smoothie is actually the best way to consume it. Cooking spinach breaks down its rich antioxidant complex and boiling or frying it, especially, will destroy its lutein content. Adding spinach raw to yogurt or milk—in a fruit smoothie—however, actually helps the leafy green to release this powerful nutrient for higher absorption, mostly because chopping spinach actually increases lutein availability.
Lutein is one of 600 known naturally-occurring carotenoids. From the Latin “luteus” (meaning “yellow”) it is considered a xanthophyll: essentially “yellow pigment,” found naturally in plants. It can also be found in animal fats and egg yolks (which, essentially, is also a type of animal fat). However, animals cannot produce lutein; instead, they must obtain it by ingesting it from plants, like spinach.
While the exact benefits of lutein in the body are not completely understood, we do know that lutein is absorbed from the blood, specifically into the macula lutea. This is the part of the eye near the center of the retina. As such, many believe that lutein improves eye health. More specifically, some research suggests that adding lutein (and zeaxanthin, which is the other component of the central macular) to your health regimen could help reduce your risk for age-related macular degeneration by as much as 25 percent. Also, there is some evidence that suggests lutein (and zeaxanthin) could reduce the incidence of nuclear lens opacity, which results in a lower risk for cataracts.
Other studies suggest that lutein appears to reduce inflammation in immune cells among patients who have coronary artery disease. This means that lutein could reduce the development of low-grade inflammation that is commonly associated with a higher risk for heart attack.
You can increase your lutein intake through dietary choices (like adding raw, chopped spinach to your smoothies) or in nutritional supplements.