To discover why luteolin is such a powerhouse when it comes to protecting your mind and body from the damaging effects of inflammation, we tapped Uma Naidoo, MD—a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutritional biologist, and author of the national and international bestseller, This is Your Brain on Food—for her insights. Plus: seven foods with luteolin she recommends most.
What is luteolin?
Dr. Naidoo starts out by saying that luteolin is a common flavonoid found in many fruits, veggies, and herbs. “Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant—specifically a polyphenol—that helps plant cells defend themselves against a variety of environmental or situational stressors,” she says. When you eat plant-based foods that contain them, flavonoids flex their antioxidant abilities by protecting cells from damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. “Specifically, luteolin has been shown to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in humans,” Dr. Naidoo adds.
How luteolin benefits your health
The majority of luteolin’s benefits can be chalked up to its anti-inflammatory effects, which work wonders to promote health and well-being across the board. “Luteolin is associated with a reduction in brain fog, reduced stress and symptoms of anxiety, improved memory, and reduced risk of cognitive decline,” Dr. Naidoo says. “It has also been tied to a reduced risk of heart disease and improved cardiovascular health—likely due to its inflammation-lowering effects in our blood vessels—and has also been implicated in improved cancer treatment as it has antitumor properties.”
Simply put, luteolin is an overachieving antioxidant that helps to sharpen your cognitive acuity, boost mental health, and stave off the potential of developing or exacerbating some pretty serious health issues—so it’s wise to get more of it in your diet, stat.
The best foods with luteolin, according to a nutritional psychiatrist
Parsley is one of Dr. Naidoo’s favorite herbs, since it’s a key source of micronutrients that promote neurological health, with luteolin (and folate) chief among them. “Parsley can help to enhance mental fitness, brain health, energy levels, and overall cognition,” she explains, adding that she loves topping this herb on salads and loading up on parsley-rich chimichurri with grass-fed steak, grilled tofu, or cauliflower.
This purple leafy vegetable is another great source of luteolin, making it a good option to use as a base for salads or even to substitute for wraps and tortillas. “Its leaves resemble little boats, so I love to make healthy tacos by stuffing a radicchio leaf with other chopped veggies, avocado, and a clean protein, seasoned with cumin and oregano and a burst of fresh squeezed lime,” Dr. Naidoo shares. Taco Tuesday with a side of brain-boosting, heart-healthy benefits, anyone?
3. Green bell peppers
Aside from being rich in luteolin, green bell peppers also pack many other bioactive compounds “that exhibit antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, immunosuppressive and immunostimulant properties, and antidiabetic, antitumoral and neuroprotective activities,” per a 2021 review in the medical journal Molecules. Dr. Naidoo advises eating green bell peppers either “raw and chopped into a colorful salad, or grilled on colorful skewers alongside other seasonal veggies.” Bonus points go to those who add these colorful peppers to the radicchio tacos above.
4. Chicory greens
While I’m familiar with chicory thanks to New Orleans–style coffee (which involves roasting, grinding, and brewing the root of the plant), Dr. Naidoo says that their greens can be incorporated into meals similar to other leafy greens. However, she cautions that they have a robust flavor profile, so she offers a few tips to enjoy them without overwhelming your palate. “I recommend adding chicory greens to soups or stews, or sautéing them in avocado oil for a flavorful side dish,” she advises.
Whether you prefer your celery raw, cooked, or juiced, this versatile veggie can help you boost your intake of anti-inflammatory luteolin. Dr. Naidoo mentions it’s a staple in many nutritious soup recipes (in fact, I’m slow-cooking a hearty chicken soup loaded with chopped stalks of it right now), and that it also pairs well with hummus or almond butter for a healthy, hydrating, and crunchy snack.
As if we needed one more reason to love this autumn dietary staple, pumpkin also happens to be a good source of luteolin. “I love roasting pumpkin and pureeing it into a warming soup with earthy spices like cinnamon and clove,” says Dr. Naidoo. In the off season, you may also want to snack on a handful of pumpkin seeds or integrate them into any number of recipes, as they contain small amounts of this inflammation-busting flavonoid.
Last on Dr. Naidoo’s go-to list of luteolin foods is kohlrabi, a cruciferous veggie similar in taste to broccoli stems. “Kohlrabi is a favorite vegetable of mine; I love to clean it and cut up pieces to munch on,” she shares. You can also mix it into salads or enjoy it steamed, stir-fried, or grilled as part of larger meals.