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.
Not only can carrots help the liver and heart but they are so amazing they can even give you a natural tan and make you more positive!
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 super powers.
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
Carrots’ high levels of vitamin A can help you achieve that glowing, healthy skin you’ve always wanted.
Vitamin A is routinely used to treat skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, wounds, burns and even sunburn. And rough and dry skin is a common sign that you’re not getting enough vitamin A.
Bizarrely, a study published in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior showed that eating a healthy diet rich in foods like carrots and tomatoes gives you a healthier and more golden glow than the sun!
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.
See in The Dark
Is it true that carrots can help you see in the dark?
It might be!
Vitamin A deficiency has been linked with poor night vision.
In one study, a vitamin A deficient patient was tested for night vision levels, which were found to be ‘severely reduced’. Only after seven whole months of vitamin A therapy did night vision reach normal levels again.
Night blindness from vitamin A deficiency isn’t all that common, although when it does occur it happens mainly in those with problems absorbing nutrients.
People with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or pancreatic insufficiency can be most at risk of malabsorption issues.
Not getting enough vitamin A can also lead to dryness of the cornea, corneal ulcers, and retina damage, which all ultimately lead to impaired vision.
The bottom line is: eat your carrots and keep your eyes in tip-top shape.
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.
What’s more, a high carotenoid intake has been shown to cause a 20% decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer; and up to 50% decrease in rates of cancer of the bladder, cervix, prostate and colon.
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.
Become an Optimist
Want to be happier, more positive and less stressed?
Try some carrots!
Research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who rated themselves as optimistic had 13% higher levels of carotenoids in their blood compared to those who rated themselves as more pessimistic.
However, researchers aren’t sure exactly how carotenoids and optimism are related. Perhaps more optimistic people naturally follow a healthier lifestyle, rich in fruit and veggies.
Whatever your mood, adding more carrots and other carotenoid-rich foods like spinach, kale, and sweet potatoes to your diet can only be a good thing.
In addition to improving mental health, carrot extract has been found to improve memory and manage cognitive dysfunction.
Chronic, low level inflammation is a very destructive condition that Dr. Mercola claims is the leading cause of death in the US!
It’s believed to be at the root cause of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
The good news is that your diet is one of the main ways to combat inflammation in the body, and help protect yourself from these nasty illnesses.
Carrots in particular are a great anti-inflammatory food, perhaps because vitamin A is one of the most anti-inflammatory vitamins around. A lack of vitamin A has been linked to inflammation in the intestines, lungs and skin.
Supplementing with vitamin A has been found to help with several inflammatory conditions, like acne, a lung condition known as broncho-pulmonary dysplasia and some forms of cancer.
Amazingly, carrot extract provides anti-inflammatory benefits that can rival the likes of anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Celebrex.
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 regulates 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.
In fact, the USDA suggests eating two carrots a day to lower cholesterol by up to 20%, which could make a huge difference to some people, bringing their cholesterol down to the optimum levels.
Protect Your Liver
Both the fiber and antioxidants in carrots work to directly support your liver’s health.
Fiber increases bile secretion from the liver, which helps prevent liver and gallbladder disease, as well as ensuring the liver doesn’t become overburdened. It also reduces inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body, including the liver.
In a study on rats, beta carotene has been shown to help prevent liver damage caused by alcohol. Plus, studies on mice show that carrots may protect the liver from the effects of environmental toxins and chemicals – maybe even the ones found in your non-stick cookware.
Nutritionist Jane Clarke recommends carrot juice as an effective liver tonic. Although she warns that a small glass every second day is plenty.
Don’t forget when you’re consuming your food as liquid, you’re missing out on the valuable dietary fiber in the vegetable, which gives it some of its healing powers.
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 Farmers’ 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 and prevent heart disease.
- Red – contain lycopene and beta-carotene pigment. Lycopene is linked to a lower risk of certain cancers, like prostate cancer.
- Yellow – contain xanthophylls and lutein, which are linked to cancer prevention and eye health.
- White – with no pigment they have less nutrients but still 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.
Leaving on the skin has also been found to boost antioxidant levels.
Speaking of getting the most bang for your buck, make sure you buy organic carrots. They’re a little more expensive, but worth it.
It has been found that pesticides in carrots could be as high as 80% of the concentration of pesticides in the soil, with up to 50% of that concentration contained in the pulp (rather than the peel) of the carrot.
Wondering How to Add More Carrots to Your Diet?
- Try them as a snack to dip into hummus or guacamole
- Enjoy them in one of my favorite low carb recipes: Cauliflower Fried Rice
- You’ll barely taste them in these Spinach-Quinoa Patties
- Carrots should be a staple of a simple stir-fry
- Juice them with other vegetables – it’s a lot better than drinking store-bought fruit juices, which really aren’t that healthy at all!
Now – over to you. What’s your favorite way to liven up carrots in your meals?