Carrots have long been associated in pop culture with good eyesight. This legend can be traced back to the British Royal Air Force in the midst of World War II. Pilots were using the latest in new radar technology to spot and shoot down enemy planes. To conceal this cutting-edge technology, the British government circulated a rumor that the pilots of these planes ate a lot of carrots, which made it possible to see better at night. This rumor stuck, and to this day parents love to tell their kids that if they eat carrots, their vision will improve. However, carrots are so much more than merely good for your eyes, and the health benefits of carrots are numerous.
Some Carrot Lore
Carrots are one of the most popular and commonly enjoyed vegetables around the world. They’re easy to grow, they’re easy to eat raw, and they’re simple to cook with and enjoy in a variety of cuisines.
The carrot is a root vegetable, a domesticated variety of the classification Daucus Carota, which is native to Southwestern Asia and Europe. Carrots come in a variety of colors, including purple, red, yellow, white, and, of course, orange. Although the greens of the carrot are not commonly consumed, they are edible and can be a nice addition to a salad. Rabbits love ’em!
While China seems to produce most of the world’s imported carrots, they are also found locally and often sold in large bushels at local farmers markets.
Local farm-grown carrots often do not conform to the standard we’re familiar with from more commercially grown carrots. Many come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and even the flavor tends to be different. A bit sweeter.
It’s worth noting that the original wild carrot is pretty inedible. Modern cultivation and evolution of the carrot shaped it into the version more closely related to what we eat and love today.
Health Benefits of Carrots
Eye health, heart health, digestive health, and oral health! Is there any health problem a carrot can’t cure? While this free-radical-fighting superfood may not be able to take all your ailments away, eating carrots can help put you at lower risk for many illnesses. Let’s take a closer look at what makes carrots so unique.
Carrots Help Prevent Heart Disease
Carrots have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol is a contributing factor to complications of cardiovascular disease. In fact, cholesterol levels were seen to drop by 11% in participants who consumed 7 ounces of raw carrots each day for 3 weeks.
In a Swedish study, scientists found evidence that root vegetables, in general, can prevent heart attacks.
Carrots Can Lower Blood Pressure
Carrots are a fantastic choice to include in a diet rich in foods that are meant to help lower blood pressure. The high quantity of potassium and beta-carotene in carrots has been shown to be effective in reducing high blood pressure. Carrots also help maintain healthy blood pressure through the regulation of kidney and heart functions.
Carrots Boost the Immune System
The antioxidants in carrots are excellent natural immune system boosters. Vitamins C and A are big ones as well, helping you ward off infection. The beta-carotene in carrots is also a powerful phytonutrient that can increase the immune system’s ability to produce T-cells that naturally defend against infection.
Carrots Improve Digestion
It’s no question the high-fiber content of carrots can contribute to a healthy digestive tract. In addition to dietary fiber, carrots also supply minerals and vitamins, as well as enzymes that aid in proper digestion. It’s possible that eating carrots can help prevent gastric ulcers and other digestive disorders.
Carrots May Go Far in Preventing Cancer
Carrots are rich in carotenoids. Carotenoids are part of what forms the beta-carotene in carrots and what gives carrots their distinctive color, whether that’s an orange carrot or a purple carrot. These phytonutrients are full of antioxidants that have also been shown to help prevent cancer. Evidence suggests that carotenoids in carrots can slash the risk of prostate cancer, gastric cancer, lung cancer (although recent research has been unable to verify an association), colon cancer, and breast cancer. A 2012 study published in Nutrition and Cancer found that breast cancer survivors who drank 8 ounces of orange carrot juice a day for 3 weeks had higher levels of carotenoids and a reduced risk of the cancer returning.
Carrots Improve Eyesight
While the rumors are rooted in some truth, eating a ton of beta-carotene will not give you 20/20 vision. However, according to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study conducted by the National Eye Institute, researchers found that a serum including a high dosage of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc reduced the progression of age-related macular degeneration. These happen to be the same naturally occurring vitamins and minerals found in carrots.
Age-related macular degeneration is a condition that affects the macula, which is in the center of the retina in the back of the eye. Macular degeneration can affect vision and require surgery to correct.
And carrots can also help protect against night blindness, a condition caused by vitamin A deficiency, as well as low levels of vitamin A, that makes it difficult to see in low light or at night.
Carrots Optimize Oral Health
It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the process of chewing crunchy carrots produces an excess of saliva. This helps to flush bacteria, plaque, and other oral-related germs from your teeth naturally, leading to a healthier mouth.
Carrots Reduce the Risk of Stroke
According to a 40-year-long study from Harvard researchers, female nurses who included carrots in their diet 5 times per week (about 15-20 milligrams per day) reduced their risk of stroke by 68%. In a similar study researchers established that eating just one and a half carrots each day resulted in a reduction of stroke risk by 40%.
Carrots Can Control Diabetes
The rich carotenoids in carrots have been linked to a reduction in diabetes symptoms. In some cases, carrots have been designated a prevention food for diabetes. Although carrots do contain sugar, they are a low glycemic food. As such, they can be consumed without causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. The soluble fiber in carrots helps slow down the digestion of sugar and starches and moderate blood glucose levels in turn.
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene (and the carotenoids within beta-carotene) as well as alpha-carotene, lycopene, and vision-enhancing lutein (if you’re eating red carrots) and zeaxanthin. However, carrots are also chock-full of fiber and antioxidants, making the carrot an immune-boosting powerhouse vegetable.
There are so many vitamins in carrots that it almost feels like it’s a vegetable playing some sort of joke on all the other vegetables. Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, containing 113% of the recommended daily value (DV). Carrots are also a good source of vitamin K; at 18% of the DV, this orange-color superfood promotes bone health so you can stay protected against chronic conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. As for vitamin C, they deliver 7.6 grams in 1 cup, or 10% of the DV. They are also rich in vitamins B1, B6, and B8, as well as manganese, potassium, iron, and copper.
These little root vegetables pack a serious nutrition punch!
While carrots can be a one-stop shop for nutritional value, these are also a vegetable worth buying organic. Carrots have a unique ability to absorb many nutrients from the soil. This is part of the reason why they’re so rich in vitamins and minerals. They’re physically absorbing them from the soil in a way many other vegetables and fruits just can’t.
Unfortunately, that same absorption rate is what makes them soak up pesticides that can cause health issues. Currently, carrots are ranked #26 on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) shopper’s list of pesticide-contaminated non-organically grown produce. However, depending on the year, carrots have cycled back and forth onto the top 12 list, (also known as the dirty dozen).
It’s worth choosing organic carrots if you can find them available at your local grocery store. Organic carrots tend to be priced at a comparable price point to regular non-organic carrots, which helps to make them a more comfortable choice for your budget.
Eat More Carrots
Carrots are a quick and satisfying everyday snack to grab when you’re feeling like something crunchy and filling. They’re also great cooked in stews, curries, soups, and many pasta dishes. Consider drinking fresh pressed carrot juice as a way to get all the nutritional value packed into a glass. One cup of fresh juice usually requires several carrots (more so if you’re using baby carrots), so you’re maximizing your dosage of preventative nutrients this way. (Store-bought carrot juice can come with sugary additions, so juice your own!)
Mix in a scoop of VeggieShake blends, and you’re good to go on many of the immune-boosting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals you need for the day.