So important are these vegetables, that they have a whole day dedicated to them. No, I didn’t just make that up – International Carrot Day takes place on April 4 every year.
It seems only fair. After all, we’ve been enjoying carrots and their health benefits in North America since the 1600s, although their history can be traced back to before the 900s.
I’ll admit, I’ve often overlooked the simple carrot as bland and boring but I’ve seriously changed my thinking on this common root vegetable.
Before we get into the incredible health benefits, let’s have a look at the nutritional profile of carrots, which may explain some of their health benefits.
According to NutritionData.com one large carrot (approximately one serving) contains:
- 30 calories
- 2 g fiber – 8% RDV
- Vitamin A – 241% RDV
- Vitamin K – 12% RDV
- Vitamin C – 7% RDV
- Potassium – 7% RDV
- No fat
- No cholesterol
The vitamin A content in carrots is crazy high, right?
But don’t worry, you can eat carrots every day without overdosing on vitamin A, like you might if you took high quantities of a supplement.
Getting vitamin A from carrots differs from taking vitamin pills because carrots don’t actually contain vitamin A. They contain beta-carotene (an antioxidant and type of carotenoid) that our bodies convert to vitamin A.
But our bodies are clever, and they only convert as much as they need to, so we never have to worry about suffering any toxic side-effects from excess vitamin A.
These high levels of beta-carotene are what gives the humble carrot some of its amazing health benefits.
Keeping reading to find out what they are.
Smooth Tanned Skin
Substances called carotenoids, antioxidants that give red or yellow coloring to certain foods, are responsible for this ‘natural tan’.
When asked to choose between skin color caused by suntan or by carotenoids, people preferred the golden hue of the carotenoids.
Just don’t completely ditch the sun in favor of chowing down on carrots, you still need the sunshine for your daily dose of vitamin D.
You don’t need to track down exotic supplements like wheatgrass or spirulina to help prevent cancer. The common carrot may be all you need!
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the antioxidant beta-carotene contained in carrots is thought to protect cell membranes from oxidative stress and inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Carrots also contain a natural compound called falcarinol, which scientists found slowed the development of cancerous lesions when fed to rats.
Lower the Risk of Type-2 Diabetes
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that people with a common genetic predisposition to type-2 diabetes may be able to reduce their risk of developing the condition by consuming beta carotene. While this research is not conclusive, its findings are promising.
Even for those who already have diabetes, carrots are a safe food.
Falling under the ‘non-starchy vegetable’ heading, they are part of one of the few food groups that diabetics can safely fill up on, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Stay Heart Healthy
We know that exercising and eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is the best way to maintain a healthy heart.
But carrots may play a particularly important role in preventing coronary heart disease (CHD).
A study of over 20,000 people, taking place over 10 years, found that a higher intake of deep orange fruit and vegetables, especially carrots, may protect against CHD.
Regularly consuming carrots (along with fish and leafy greens) was also found to be associated with a lower risk of heart attack in women.
A well-functioning immune system is vital for overall health – it helps our body identify and fight off foreign viruses, bacteria and other threats.
When it comes to strengthening the immune system, vitamin A (along with vitamin D) takes center stage. It stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells, which play a huge role in defending the body against diseases.
Vitamin A also helps regulate the release of immune cells in the gut.
Of course, carrots also contain vitamin C in small amounts, which is another key nutrient in boosting the immune system.
To a lesser extent, carrots contain other immunity boosting nutrients such as vitamin B6 (5% RDV per large carrot), vitamin E (2%), and copper (2%).
Carrots are a good source of soluble dietary fiber, which may be one reason they have been shown to lower cholesterol.
According to the University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, “fiber decreases blood cholesterol by binding to bile acids, which are made of cholesterol, in the gastrointestinal tract and carrying them out of the body as waste”.
A three week study that had participants eat carrots every day found that carrot consumption alters cholesterol absorption and increases antioxidant action. This means that those with high cholesterol might benefit from adding carrots to their daily diet.
Taste the Rainbow
Did you know that carrots come in more interesting hues than just orange?
Bright yellow, white, purple and red carrots also exist. You may have seen them at the farmer’s market.
Give them a try some time. Each color has its own unique flavor and set of nutrients:
- Purple – contains anthocyanin, beta and alpha carotene pigment. They usually have an orange center and provide additional vitamin A.
- Red – contain lycopene and beta-carotene pigment.
- Yellow – contain xanthophylls and lutein.
- White – these bring plenty of fiber to the table, which promotes healthy digestion.
Maximize the Health Benefits of Carrots
While many foods are best eaten raw or fermented to reap the most nutritional benefits, carrots are one of those veggies than can benefit from a gentle cooking.
University of Arkansas researchers say that cooked, pureed carrots have higher antioxidant ability than raw carrots.
Don’t boil them into a mush though – a gentle steaming is all they need.
Wondering How to Add More Carrots to Your Diet?
- Try them as a snack to dip into hummus or guacamole
- Carrots should be a staple of a simple stir-fry