Colourful fruit and vegetables which contain certain plant compounds can improve eye health, a new study has found.

These compounds build up the retina, improving how well someone can see over distance.

The latest study, by a team from the University of Georgia, follows previous research which found that consuming foods that contain the plant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin – such as dark leafy greens and orange and yellow vegetables – boosts eye and brain health.

Lead author Jack Harth, a doctoral candidate at the university, said: “A lot of the research into macular lutein and zeaxanthin has focused on health benefits, but from a functional perspective, higher concentrations of these plant pigments improve many aspects of visual and cognitive ability. In this paper, we discuss their ability to improve vision in the far distance or visual range.”

For top athletes in most sports, visual range is crucial. The effect of blue light is part of the reason why objects appear fuzzier the further away they are.

Harth explains: “From a centre fielder’s perspective, if that ball’s coming up in the air, it will be seen against a background of bright blue sky, or against a grey background if it’s a cloudy day. Either way, the target is obscured by atmospheric interference coming into that path of the light.”

Blue or black eye blocker sunglasses are already used by some athletes to lessen the effect of blue light but this latest research shows that eating foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin helps the eyes to adapt to blue light exposure, as these compounds act like a filter within the retina.

Corresponding author Professor Billy Hammond said: “In a long series of studies, we have shown that increasing amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina and brain decrease glare disability and discomfort and improve chromatic contrast and visual-motor reaction time, and supplementing these compounds facilitates executive functions like problem-solving and memory.

“All of these tasks are particularly important for athletes.”

While researchers say that different people’s bodies use these plant compounds in different ways so some people may not see any improvement, the health benefits of these sort of foods is reason enough to add them to your diet.

Harth added: “We have data from modelling and empirical studies showing that higher macular pigment in your retina will improve your ability to see over distance. The application for athletes is clear.”

Read the study in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.

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