The Joys of Carrots


The Joys of Carrots
| Published March 20, 2014 |

By Maggie Nichols
Thursday Review contributor

Here is something really cool (and strange) that I bet you didn’t know about carrots: they were first grown not as a traditional food source, but as a healing herb and a medicinal agent.

Weird? Not really. Not when you consider the remarkable health benefits of fresh carrots (for the sake of this article I am referring to fresh, rather than canned carrots).

The longstanding truth about the carrot—and everyone’s grandmother probably mentioned this—is that carrots are good for you, and especially good for eye health. This old-school homily is based on pretty good science, as it turns out, because a typical raw carrot—just one, mind you—contains well over 100% of the vitamin A that a human needs in a single day. A handful of baby carrots (five or six) will accomplish the same task. In fact some garden-variety carrots can contain up to 200% of the USDA recommended supply.

The source of all that vitamin A is beta-carotene (if ever there was a compound that sounds like its best food source, this is it). Most grocery store carrots can be easily judged on their beta-carotene content by their color: the darker and deeper the orange hue, the more beta-carotene the vegetable contains. But there are other types of carrots as well, and those non-traditional varieties can come in shades of purple, yellow and white. They too contain similarly high levels of beta-carotene and vitamin A.

Carrots are one of those win-win foods, according to WebMD: low in calories; only six grams of carbs; and modestly good when it comes to fiber. They can also be easily cooked (steamed or boiled), and are adaptable to practically any meal—hot, cold, warm, shredded and mixed in salads, used as a topping on meats, cooked in stews and sauces, or used as a, easy, basic element in soups. And, of course, they can be easily eaten raw—as an appetizer, a garnish, or just as a snack.

Beta-carotene is not just good for the eyes, but carries with it a variety of other health benefits as well. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, which (as we have discussed in other food articles) is a family of compounds linked to a variety of health benefits. Carrots are also packed with vitamin C, which many studies have indicated may play a role in immune system health and in warding off commons problems like colds and flus. Carrots are so packed with beta-carotene they rank third in its content behind only spinach and pumpkin. (And good luck if you enjoy spinach raw, or if you can tolerate pumpkin outside of its usual appearance in pie, cake or other dessert!)

A 10-year study conducted in the Netherlands concluded that adults who consumed at least 25 grams or more of carrots each week had a measurable improvement in cardiovascular health. Those who ate between 50 to 75 grams of carrots (three quarters of a cup or more) each week, had an even lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Though there have been relatively few major, long-term studies, several smaller studies indicate that among adults who eat a few carrots each week, there is a lower predisposition to glaucoma when compared to adults who do not eat carrots as frequently. In the U.S., studies are also underway (no results are official) to see if carrot intake has an effect on reducing the risk of colon cancer. And several studies conducted in Japan show that a higher consumption of carrots reduces the risk of colon cancer.

Other benefits of the carrot: they are loaded with vitamin K, which is believed to be helpful in tissue repair; they are high in potassium; and they contain both vitamin E and folate (folic acid), which makes them a handy snack for pregnant women. Some diet specialists and doctors also believe that carrots may play a role in regulating blood sugar levels, which makes the carrot a useful snack for people with diabetes.

But eye health may turn out to be the most remarkable power of the carrot. According to a report from Duke University, deficiencies in vitamin A can lead to the degeneration of the eye’s photoreceptor mechanisms, especially along the outer rim of the eye; regular high intake of vitamin A has been shown to not only halt this deterioration, but even reverse it (even in old age), which indeed makes the carrot pretty valuable when it comes to your eyes.

And that’s just what your grandmother probably told you.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Tasty Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer; Thursday Review; September 17, 2013.

The Tiny, Incredible, Edible Blueberry; Thursday Review; September 14, 2013.