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
- A Vitamin – 241% RDV
- K Vitamin – 12% RDV
- C Vitamin – 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 convertto 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.
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.
The antioxidants found in carrots are also thought to help ward off oral cancer. Esophageal cancer, gastric cancer and cervical cancer.
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.
Regularly consuming carrots (along with fish and leafy greens) was also found to be associated with a lower risk of heart attack in women.
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.
Cooking May Increase the Health Benefits of Carrots
Carrots eaten raw are an excellent food. But there is some research showing that cooking them may actually help to boost their nutritional content.
Interestingly, one study found that cooked carrots had higher levels of beta-carotene and phenolic acids than raw carrots, and the antioxidant activity continued to increase over a period of four weeks.
Adding carrot peels to a carrot puree also boosted antioxidant levels.
So while I generally recommend eating your vegetables raw or fermented for the most nutrition.
Carrots may be one case where gentle cooking, such as steaming, is preferred.
As for storage, keep them in the coolest part of your refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which should keep them fresh for about two weeks.
Avoiding storing them near apples, pears or potatoes, as the ethylene gas they release may turn your carrots bitter.
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!
Fun Facts About Carrots…
The average American eats more than 11 pounds of carrots a year, usually the bright orange variety.
But did you know that, until the 17th or 18th century when the Dutch bred orange carrots, most carrots were purple, yellow or white?
The word carrot actually came from “karoton,” a Greek word whose first three letters refer to an object with a horn-like shape.
There are hundreds of carrot varieties around the world, and the US is the third-leading producer worldwide (behind China and Russia).
In the US, most carrots are grown in California, Washington and Michigan.
Beware of Baby Carrots
Baby carrots, which are now one of the most popular carrot forms. Were not invented until 1986, when a California carrot farmer created them to save some of the broken and misshaped carrots in his harvest.
Baby carrots are not actually ‘baby’ carrots at all but rather are less-than-perfect carrots that have been shaved down to a smaller size.
Not only are baby carrots more expensive than whole carrots, they’re also typically given a chlorine bath to prolong shelf life.
For this reason, I generally recommend purchasing whole carrots instead of baby carrots.
And also recommend seeking to find organically grown varieties.
As at one time carrots were part of the most heavily pesticide-laden produce list (although they have been removed in recent years).
Looking for even more carrot nutrition information and lore?
What Is the Nutritional Value of Carrots?
Bright-orange carrot sticks do more for your body than just add a crunch to meals.
Carrots are a low-calorie food that also provides essential dietary fiber. Making them a filling addition to any weight-management plan.
Carrots also provide you with vitamin A and many minerals needed to keep your vision at its best and prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Calories, Fat and Protein
Carrots are more than 88 percent water by weight.
Helping make them an excellent addition to weight-loss or weight-management routines as a high-volume, low-calorie food.
From 1 cup of carrot sticks, you’ll get 50 calories, 1 gram of protein and less than 1 gram of fat.
The low-fat content of carrots complements cholesterol-lowering meal plans as well.
According to a January 2010 article published in “The Journal of Urology,” consuming a low-fat diet may also help to prevent prostate cancer in men.
A cup of carrot sticks provides you with 12 grams of carbohydrate — 6 grams come from natural sugars, and 3.4 grams are from dietary fiber.
According to the Institute of Medicine, men need 30 to 38 grams of fiber daily and women need 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily.
Although this fiber is indigestible by your body, it plays many roles in supporting your health.
Getting enough fiber helps maintain proper digestion, may prevent colon cancer, and can aid in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
According to a review of scientific studies published in the journal “Nutrition” in June 2004, a high-fiber diet may also aid in weight loss and help prevent obesity.
Carrots supply at least a small amount of almost every essential vitamin. The most notable vitamin contribution from carrots comes in the form of vitamin A.
One cup of the vegetable provides you with 20,381 international units of vitamin A. Which is 408 percent of the daily value for the vitamin.
Your body needs vitamin A for proper vision, immune function, reproductive health, cell formation and cell communication.
It also functions as an antioxidant, helping to prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Over time, this may prevent certain forms of cancer and macular degeneration, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
A November 2011 article in the “British Journal of Nutrition” notes that carrots may also help protect against cardiovascular disease because of their deep orange color.
Which comes from precursors to vitamin A called carotenoids found in carrots.
In addition to fiber and vitamins, carrots provide you with minerals needed to keep you healthy.
They contain calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
Among other things, these minerals help maintain bone and tooth health.
Proper muscle function and a healthy nervous system. And they also help with energy metabolism, protein synthesis, fluid balance and red blood cell formation.
While carrots do not contain large quantities of minerals. Eating carrots as part of a balanced diet will help you meet your daily mineral needs.