- Carrots are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in essential nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin K, and potassium. They are most noted for their high vitamin A content, which supports the immune system, heart, lungs, and eye health. Eating carrots can notably improve night vision.
- Vitamin A from carrots is obtained from plant-based carotenoids, with your body regulating the amount it needs. Among the carotenoids, alpha and beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A, making carrots a safer source of vitamin A which can become toxic if consumed excessively from animal-based products.
- The color of carrots corresponds to their nutrient content. Purple carrots contain anthocyanins associated with improved cognition, gut health, and heart health. Meanwhile, yellow carrots contain lutein for vision and brain health, and red carrots contain lycopene, which can reduce the risk of stroke.
- Carrots also provide heart-healthy fiber. A single raw carrot offers 1.7 grams of fiber, contributing to the daily adult fiber requirement ranging from 22 to 34 grams based on age and gender.
- Carotenoids from carrots are best absorbed when consumed with a source of fat. This principle also applies to carrot juice, where to extract maximum nutrients, it should be consumed with some fat.
Divesting carrots of their reputation as lackluster tubers, Sherry Tanumihardjo, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attests to their exceptional nutritional value. Recently gaining popularity in assorted shades, these handy and adaptable tubers form an essential part of a nutritious diet.
“Carrots are incredibly versatile. They can be pulled from the earth, washed, and consumed as is, or they may be peeled and chopped. They can be incorporated into various dishes,” Tanumihardjo comments.
Tracing Back Carrot’s Roots
Carrots have a long history of cultivation, thought to have originated from Central Asia, probably Afghanistan. By the Middle Ages, they had spread to Western regions, like England, where purple and white versions had been cultivated. However, the orange variety only became widespread in Europe around the 15th century.
An avid carrot researcher herself, Tanumihardjo participated in projects that have contributed to the widespread availability of diverse carrot varieties.
Nutritional Powerhouse Carrots
While carrots are packed with essential nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin K, and potassium, Tanumihardjo’s fascination stems from their rich vitamin A content. Vitamin A supports the immune system, heart, lungs, and notably, eye health.
“Vitamin A is essential for vision, particularly night vision,” Tanumihardjo shares. There is some truth to the popular belief that consumption of carrots improves night vision – a vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness.
Vitamin A is present in two forms. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal-based products like dairy and organ meats, and can become toxic when consumed in excessive amounts.
Conversely, provitamin A is obtained from plant-based carotenoids. Not all carotenoids can be converted to vitamin A, but orange carrots are laden with a few that can, such as alpha and beta carotene.
“It’s a safer way to get Vitamin A because your body regulates it,” Tanumihardjo explains. That is, your body can adjust the amount of provitamin A based on its current needs.
Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s calculations, one raw carrot that weighs around 2 ounces (or 60 grams), provides 72% of the daily vitamin A requirement for an adult woman and 56% for an adult man.
Colorful Carrots, Diverse Nutrients
In the world of carrots, color corresponds to nutrient content. Purple carrots owe their color to anthocyanins, linked with improved cognition, superior gut health, and heart health. Yellow carrots contain lutein, which aids in vision and brain health, while red carrots are rich in lycopene, a compound also found in red tomatoes and watermelon. This has been associated with a reduced stroke risk.
“We are currently developing a purple carrot with a red center,” reveals Tanumihardjo.
Carrots also provide heart-healthy fiber. According to USDA, a single raw carrot offers 1.7 grams. Adult daily fiber requirement ranges from 22 to 34 grams, based on age and gender.
Carrot’s nutritional content is accessible whether they are fresh or frozen, raw or cooked. “Cooking breaks down the cell walls, releasing compounds that sweeten carrots a bit. Some studies have shown that cooking can actually increase levels of available carotenoids,” Tanumihardjo informs.
However, consuming raw carrots alone won’t yield the benefits of carotenoids. “Without a fat source, these carotenoids will simply pass through the body. If you include carrots in a salad with dressing, or stew with fat, you will absorb more carotenoids.”
The same principle applies to carrot juice. Although juicing does increase carotenoid accessibility, “you need a bit of fat around the same time you’re drinking the juice in order to absorb the maximum nutrients.”
Even though peeling them may remove a bit of fiber, she asserts that there really isn’t a wrong way to eat a carrot, except if you are a rabbit. As a snack, she prefers baby carrots, but she also frequently adds whole ones to soups.
Disclaimer: This article does not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. All views and opinions contained within are those of the contributors. All copyrights are held by the respective owners.
By Michael Merschel, American Heart Association News