By Dr. Mercola
The average American adult eats about 12 pounds of carrots a year, making them one of the most popular root vegetables in the U.S. (even though that works out to only about one cup per week).
Carrots were originally grown in central Asian and Middle Eastern countries, but they were viewed as more of a medicinal herb than a food.
Early carrots (some believe they may even date back to early Egypt) were not orange. Instead, they came in a variety of colors like purple, white, red, yellow and black. The orange carrots known and loved today are the result of cross breeding red and yellow carrots, which was done back in the 16th century.1
The word "carrot" has its origins in the Greek word "karoton," as "kar" describes anything with a horn-like shape. Many believe carrots were named after beta-carotene, which is found in abundance in this vegetable.
However, the opposite actually holds true; beta-carotene was named after carrots.2 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 multiple health benefits, including protection against heart disease and stroke and helping to build strong bones and a healthy nervous system.
9 Top Reasons to Eat Carrots
Carrots make an excellent, crunchy go-to snack. You can eat them raw or cooked, with dip or without, and added to just about any meal you can think of.
Their slightly sweet taste and versatility are part of what make carrots so popular, but beyond this, you should strive to eat more carrots because of what they can offer your health.
- Heart 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:3
"… [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.4
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,5 while a beta-carotene-rich diet may also protect against prostate cancer.6
Research published in the European Journal of Nutrition also found a significantly decreased risk of prostate cancer associated with the intake of carrots.7
The consumption of beta-carotene is also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer8 while carrot juice extract may kill leukemia cells and inhibit their progression.9 Further, a meta-analysis found that eating carrots may reduce your risk of gastric cancer by up to 26 percent.10
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 your body, as it's been shown to cut the risk of tumor development in rats.11
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,12 lending truth to the old adage that carrots are good for your eyes.
In addition, research shows women may reduce their risk of glaucoma by 64 percent by consuming more than two servings per week of carrots.13
Carrots are also a rich source of lutein, and research suggests "increased lutein consumption has a close correlation with reduction in the incidence of cataract."14
- Brain Health
Carrot extract has been found to be useful for the management of cognitive dysfunctions and may offer memory improvement and cholesterol-lowering benefits.15
A high intake of root vegetables, including carrots, is also associated with better cognitive function and smaller decline in cognitive function during middle age.16
And a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found a diet rich in plant foods is associated with better performance in several cognitive abilities in a dose-dependent manner among the elderly.17
Notably, carrots had one of the strongest positive cognitive associations of the plant foods tested.
- Liver Protection
Carrot extract may help to protect your liver from the toxic effects of environmental chemicals.18
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties
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.19
- Anti-Aging Benefits
Carrots are a valuable source of antioxidants, including carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and alpha-carotene), hydroxycinnamic acids (caffeic acid and ferulic acid), and anthocyanins.
Antioxidants may help to ward off cellular damage from free radicals, slowing down cellular aging. As noted by the George Mateljan Foundation:20
"Different varieties of carrots contain differing amounts of these antioxidant phytonutrients. Red and purple carrots, for example, are best known for the rich anthocyanin content.
Oranges are particularly outstanding in terms of beta-carotene, which accounts for 65% of their total carotenoid content. In yellow carrots, 50% of the total carotenoids come from lutein.
You're going to receive outstanding antioxidant benefits from each of these carrot varieties!"
- Skin Health
Orange-red vegetables are full of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which prevents cell damage and premature aging. Beta-carotene may also protect your skin from sun damage.
Researchers even found that carotenoids, which are found in high concentrations in carrots, impart a warm glow "sufficient to convey perceptible improvements in the apparent healthiness and attractiveness of facial skin."21
- Oral Health
Carrots help to clean your teeth by increasing saliva production. Eating them at the end of a meal may even help to reduce your risk of cavities.22
How to Store and Prepare Your Carrots for Maximum Nutrition
Carrots are great to eat raw, but if you enjoy them cooked, that's a healthy way to enjoy them as well. One study even 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.
Root vegetables like carrots work well when fermented, and they're delicious when added to homemade sauerkraut alongside cabbage. You can also juice them, but do this sparingly because of the high sugar content.
Adding carrot peels to a carrot puree also boosted antioxidant levels.23 Another option is to simply eat your carrots without peeling them, as much of their nutrition lies just below the skin. It's important to choose organic carrots, especially when eating the skin.
Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program to determine the risk categories (from very low to very high) for different types of produce, and carrots came back at the high end for pesticide residues. Because of this, carrots are one food you should always try to buy organic.
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.24
If you purchase carrots with the green tops still attached, they should be removed prior to storing them in the fridge (they'll cause the carrot to wilt faster). However, don't throw them away. Carrot tops are nutritious, too, and can easily be added to your fresh vegetable juice.
Also, you're typically better off buying whole carrots instead of baby carrots — not only price wise but also health wise. 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.25Baby 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.
Try This: Carrot Coconut Soup
Are you tired of eating plain carrots? Here's another way to use carrots that will wake up your taste buds. This soup takes only about 30 minutes to make, but is packed with flavor and nutrition:
Carrot Coconut Soup26
Prep and Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. + 3 cups bone broth
- 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. curry powder or turmeric
- 2 cups sliced carrots, about 1/4-inch thick
- 1 cup sweet potato, cut into about 1/2-inch cubes
- 5 oz. coconut milk
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Chop onion and let it sit for at least five minutes to bring out its health benefits.
- Heat 1 Tbsp. broth in a medium soup pot. Sauté onion in broth over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add garlic and ginger and continue to sauté for another minute.
- Add curry powder or turmeric and mix well with onions.
- Add broth, carrots, and sweet potato and simmer on medium high heat until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add coconut milk.
- Blend in batches making sure blender is not more than half full. When it's hot, and the blender is too full, it can erupt and burn you. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Return to soup pot and reheat.
Visit Our Food Facts Library for Empowering Nutrition Information
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