Carrots – always an outstanding choice

One of the most popular and well-recognized vegetables around are carrots.  Carrots have come a long way from their beginnings thousands of years ago in Afghanistan where it is believed they were first cultivated.  Their appearance back then was far different from the familiar orange vegetable we know today that was developed by Dutch growers in the 16th and 17th century.  Back then carrots could be purple, red, yellow and white, which you can still find today at farmer’s markets and specialty stores.  Over time, the carrot we now buy tastes sweet and crunchy.

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Carrots nutritional value

The nutritional profile of carrots is impressive.  One medium carrot or about ½ cup chopped provides only 25 calories, 1.7 grams of fiber, 195 milligrams of potassium, and 3.6 milligrams of vitamin C.  Even though the fiber content may not be as high as other produce, the fiber in carrots includes pectin helping to lower cholesterol levels in the body.

Other nutrients found in carrots include vitamin K, folate, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin E and zinc.

But the real star nutrient that shines in carrots is vitamin A.  Vitamin A found in carrots is in the form of an antioxidant called beta-carotene which also gives carrots their bright orange color.  When you eat a carrot, the beta-carotene is absorbed in the intestine and is converted to vitamin A during digestion.  Carrots have twice the daily value for vitamin A, providing 210% of the average adult’s needs for one day. 

Health benefits carrots may provide

Carrots, being the antioxidant rich vegetable it is, may help with keeping our immune system healthy, delay the effects of aging and stabilize blood sugar regulation.  They may also play an important role in lessening the likelihood of various diseases.  Here’s how:

·      Vision

You may have been told as a child to “eat your carrots” because they were perceived to keep our eyesight sharp.  This notion of carrots having an association of protecting and improving eyesight has been around for a long time.  This perception all started during World War II when the British Air Force wanted to confuse the Germans by saying carrots was the secret for their fighter pilots clear, crisp vision.  In reality, it was the accuracy of a new radar system but the rumor remains popular today.  So, can carrots bring about improvements in eyesight?  Unless a person has a vitamin A deficiency, which is common in developing countries, it is unlikely.  But, a person with a vitamin A deficiency should be advised to consume foods like carrots because of their high beta-carotene content that can help restore vision. 

However, studies have found that women who ate carrots had lower rates of glaucoma, a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing gradual loss of sight.   

·      Cancer

 Several types of cancers may find a formidable foe in carrots.  The reason – their antioxidant power in reducing free radicals in the body.

A 2015 case control study of Chinese adults showed an inverse association with colorectal cancer risk and the intake of foods containing beta-carotene, the antioxidant found in carrots.  Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition findings suggested that among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role in prostate cancer.  A 2014 meta-analysis study showed that carrot intake might be inversely associated with prostate cancer risk but more studies are necessary to confirm this relationship. 

A 2011 study found that carrot juice extract can inhibit the progression of leukemia cells and that carrots may be an excellent source of bioactive chemicals for the treatment of leukemia.    

A meta-analysis study conducted in 2015 showed that gastric cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related mortality, had an inverse relationship between the consumption of carrots and the risk of gastric cancer. 

·      Coronary Heart Disease

Carrots are best known for their improvements to eyesight, however, in the future they may be better known for lowering the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).  A 10-year Dutch study published in 2011 linked the consumption of deep-orange fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, to reducing heart disease.  Of the deep-orange fruits and vegetables studied, carrots were the largest contributor at 60% and were associated with a 32% lower risk of CHD.  Carrots contain a phytonutrient called polyacetylenes that are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and keep blood cells from clumping together. 

How to include more carrots in your diet

Carrots are available year-round and can be bought fresh, frozen, canned and even pickled.  If bought fresh, wash and then store them in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. If the greens are attached to the top of the carrots, remove before storing to prevent them from drawing moisture and nutrients from the roots. 

Extremely versatile, carrots can be used in a number of ways:

·      Add shredded carrots to salads, coleslaw, wraps or throw in baked goods such as muffins and cakes to utilize their sweet flavor.

·      Baby carrots and carrot sticks are a favorite snack any time of day and they go great with dips, hummus and used on vegetable trays.

·      Drinking carrot juice or adding to smoothies has become more popular in recent years due to its sweet mild flavor.

·      Diced carrots are a healthy addition to any type of soup or stew adding flavor and texture.

·      Steamed carrots either alone or with another vegetable(s) are an easy-to-fix addition to a meal.

·      Eating carrots raw is always in style and provides the most nutritional value. 

Now that you know just how nutritious and versatile carrots are, make them a daily part of your diet.