What Are the Health Benefits of Carrots?
December 28, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
Carrots are so common in the US that it's easy to overlook their potentially powerful benefits to your health.
Now a popular snack food to eat with dips or add to fresh vegetable juice, or as an addition to soups and stews, carrots have been valued since ancient times for their medicinal properties. According to the US Department of Agriculture:1
"Thought to be native to central or western Asia (likely Afghanistan), cultivated carrots first arrived in North America with the early Virginia colonists. Carrots are an important member of the parsley family, which also includes celery, anise, and dill.
Like many vegetables, the early history of carrots centered on various medicinal attributes thought suitable for curing a wide range of conditions and maladies."
Beta Carotene and More: What Nutrients are Found in Carrots?
A serving of carrots (one medium carrot or ½ cup chopped) will provide about:
- 210% of the average daily recommended amount of vitamin A
- 10% vitamin K
- 6% vitamin C
- 2% calcium
The high vitamin A content, for which carrots are best known, comes from beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in your liver. Interestingly, there's a reason why 'carrot' and 'carotene' sound so alike. The word carotene was devised in the early 19th century by a German scientist after he crystallized the compound from carrot roots.
Carrots also contain potassium, vitamin B6, copper, folic acid, thiamine and magnesium. I generally recommend eating carrots in moderation because they contain more sugar than any other vegetable aside from beets,
However, when eaten as part of an overall healthy diet, the nutrients in carrots may provide you with protection against heart disease and stroke while helping you to build strong bones and a healthy nervous system.
From Heart Disease to Cancer: What Does the Research Say About Carrots?
There's good reason to include carrots in your regular diet, as the science is very strong that they may help reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Eating more deep-orange-colored fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). In particular, carrots are associated with a 32 percent lower risk of CHD, leading researchers to conclude:2
"… a higher intake of deep orange fruit and vegetables and especially carrots may protect against CHD."
The consumption of carrots has also been associated with a lower risk of heart attacks in women.3
Antioxidants in carrots, including beta carotene, may play a role in cancer prevention. Research has shown that smokers who eat carrots more than once a week have a lower risk of lung cancer,4 while a beta-carotene-rich diet may also protect against prostate cancer.5
The consumption of beta carotene is also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer6 while carrot juice extract may kill leukemia cells and inhibit their progression.7
Carrots also contain falcarinol, a natural toxin that protects carrots against fungal disease. It's thought that this compound may stimulate cancer-fighting mechanisms in the body, as it's been shown to cut the risk of tumor development in rats.8
A deficiency in vitamin A can cause your eye's photoreceptors to deteriorate, which leads to vision problems. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene may restore vision,9 lending truth to the old adage that carrots are good for your eyes.
Carrot extract has been found to be useful for the management of cognitive dysfunctions and may offer memory improvement and cholesterol-lowering benefits.10
Carrot extract may help to protect your liver from the toxic effects of environmental chemicals.11
Carrot extract also has anti-inflammatory properties and provided anti-inflammatory benefits that were significant even when compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Celebrex.12
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.13
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.14
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.15 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.16 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? Be sure to read What Are Carrots Good For?