7 Foods Rich in Luteolin, the Brain-Boosting Flavonoid Linked to Combating Inflammation and Anxiety

Photo: Stocksy/Helen Rushbrook
Chronic inflammation is a root cause of countless diseases. While any number of things can trigger inflammation in the body—think stress, pollution, inadequate sleep, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, and so on—the good news is that there’s an abundance of nutrients that can help to keep inflammation in check. One such nutrient to prioritize is luteolin, which exists in a variety of plant-based food sources.

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 high in luteolin she recommends most.

Experts In This Article
  • Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist

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, how do you increase luteolin intake? Well, you eat more foods packed with it. That's to say, it’s wise to get more of it in your diet, stat.

The best foods with luteolin, according to a nutritional psychiatrist

1. Parsley

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. And that's just a few of the parsley health benefits we can't get enough of. “Parsley also contains several antioxidants such as apiol, limonene, and eugenol; flavonoids such as apigenin glycosides and quercetin; carotenoids, ascorbic acid, tocopherol, tannins, sterols, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, calcium, and magnesium,” Dr. Naidoo says.

2. Radicchio

In case you were wondering what food is highest in luteolin, look no further. This purple leafy vegetable is one of the best sources 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 freshly 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 (bell pepper benefits) points go to those who add these colorful peppers to the radicchio tacos above. Fun fact: Bell peppers are superb for hydration and contain just as much water as watermelon. The more you know, right?

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.

5. Celery

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. Of course, you can also take the easier (shortcut) route and down a big ol' glass of celery juice instead. Don't worry, there's plenty of luteolin among the list of benefits of celery juice.

6. Pumpkin

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, make a pumpkin spice smoothie, or integrate them into any number of recipes, as they contain small amounts of this inflammation-busting flavonoid.

7. Kohlrabi

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. Or, turn them into a delicious breakfast "potatoes" side dish seasoned with a pinch of anti-inflammatory paprika, as demonstrated in a recent TikTok video by @joesgarden. Okay, we're officially drooling.

@joesgarden Lets make a breakfast potato substitute using kohlrabi grown at home! ??#tiktokfood #foodtiktok #gardentoplate #organic #growyourownfood ♬ Cooking - AShamaluevMusic

What is the best source of luteolin?

Although the above seven foods are wonderful sources of luteolin, they're far from the only ones out there. Researchers ranked the top sources of luteolin: They found that radicchio took the lead (by a landslide). However, trailing closely behind were other ingredients like serrano pepper, red leaf lettuce, artichoke, spinach, and broccoli. And although there aren't many luteolin-rich fruits, lemons contain a considerable amount of the flavonoid—nearly as much as celery and chicory greens. That said, there are other fruits with a smaller amount of luteolin, including watermelon, cantaloupe, navel oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, and blueberries.

Need more luteolin in your life? This anti-inflammatory salad featuring a few of our favorite luteolin-rich foods might help:

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Lin, Yong et al. “Luteolin, a flavonoid with potential for cancer prevention and therapy.” Current cancer drug targets vol. 8,7 (2008): 634-46. doi:10.2174/156800908786241050
  2. Anaya-Esparza, Luis Miguel et al. “Bell Peppers (Capsicum annum L.) Losses and Wastes: Source for Food and Pharmaceutical Applications.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 26,17 5341. 2 Sep. 2021, doi:10.3390/molecules26175341
  3. Dotto, Joachim M., and James S. Chacha. “The Potential of Pumpkin Seeds As a Functional Food Ingredient: A Review.” Scientific African, vol. 10, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sciaf.2020.e00575.

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