Some people think of carrots as the ultimate health food, while generations of parents have told their children that eating carrots will help them see in the dark. Is this true? What other benefits may carrots have?
People probably first cultivated the carrot thousands of years ago, in the area that is now Afghanistan. The original small, forked, purple or yellow root had a bitter, woody flavor and was quite different from the carrot that we know today.
Farmers grew purple, red, yellow, and white carrots long before the appearance of the sweet, crunchy, and aromatic orange variety that is now popular. Dutch growers may have developed this type in the 16th century.
In this article, learn more about the nutrients in carrots and their health benefits. We also look into tips for adding carrots to the diet and any precautions to take. And, of course, the age-old question: Do they really help you see in the dark?
Carrots contain vitamin A, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Carrots are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are also a good source of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are nutrients present in plant-based foods. They help the body remove free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause cell damage if too many accumulate in the body.
Free radicals result from natural processes and environmental pressures. The body can eliminate many free radicals naturally, but dietary antioxidants can help, especially when the oxidant load is high.
Below are some ways in which carrots can support health.
Can carrots help you see in the dark? In a way, yes.
Carrots contain vitamin A, and a vitamin A deficiency may result in xerophthalmia, a progressive eye disease. Xerophthalmia can cause night blindness or difficulty seeing when levels of light are low.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, a lack of vitamin A is one of the main preventable causes of blindness in children.
So, in a way, carrots can help you see in the dark.
However, most people’s vision is unlikely to improve from eating carrots, unless they have a vitamin A deficiency.
Carrots also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, and the combination of the two may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a type of vision loss.
Learn about 10 foods that can help maintain eye health.
Too many free radicals in the body may increase the risk of various types of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The antioxidant effects of dietary carotenoids — yellow, orange, and red organic pigments present in carrots and other vegetables — may reduce this risk. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two examples of these carotenoids.
One medium-sized raw carrot, weighing 61 grams (g), contains 509 micrograms (mcg) RAE of vitamin A.
It also provides 5,050 mcg of beta carotene and 2,120 mcg of alpha carotene[YB2] , two provitamin A antioxidants that the body can convert into more vitamin A, as needed.
According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, female adults need to consume at least 700 mcg RAE of vitamin A each day, while male adults need at least 900 mcg RAE.
Prostate cancer: A 2015 review of studies suggested a link between a diet rich in carotenoids and a lower risk of prostate cancer. However, confirming the association, then determining its cause, would require more research.
Leukemia: In 2011, researchers found evidence that nutrients in carrot juice extract could kill leukemia cells and slow or stop their progression.
Lung cancer: Also in 2011, researchers concluded that drinking carrot juice may help prevent the type of damage that leads to lung cancer in smokers.
Earlier, a 2008 meta-analysis indicated that participants with high intakes of various carotenoids had a 21% lower risk of lung cancer, after adjusting for smoking, than participants in control groups.
What is the link between cancer and diet? Find out here.
Consuming more carotenoid-rich foods may lower the risk of colon cancer, according to 2014 research that included data from 893 people.
The findings of a study published the following year suggest that people who consume a high-fiber diet have a lower risk of colorectal cancer than those who consume little fiber.
A medium carrot contains 1.7 g of fiber, or between 5% and 7.6% of a person’s daily needs, depending on their age and sex. Meanwhile, 1 cup of chopped carrots provides 3.58 g of fiber.
High-fiber foods can promote gut health, but which foods should we avoid?
Carrots have a sweet flavor and contain natural sugars. What does this mean for people with diabetes?
Carbohydrates make up around 10% of a carrot, and nearly half of this is sugar. Another 30% of this carbohydrate content is fiber. A medium carrot provides 25 calories.
Overall, this makes a carrot a low-calorie, high-fiber food that is relatively low in sugar. For this reason, it scores low on the glycemic index (GI). This index can help people with diabetes understand which foods are likely to raise their blood sugar levels.
Boiled carrots have a GI score of around 39. This means that they are unlikely to trigger a blood sugar spike and are safe for people with diabetes to eat.
Meanwhile, authors of a 2018 review concluded that consuming a high-fiber diet may help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. High-fiber foods may also help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
What is the 7-day diabetes diet plan? Find out here.
Blood pressure and cardiovascular health
The fiber and potassium in carrots may help manage blood pressure.
The American Heart Association (AHA) encourage people to add less salt, or sodium, to meals, while eating more foods that contain potassium, such as carrots. Potassium helps relax the blood vessels, reducing the risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.
One medium carrot provides around 4% of a person’s daily requirement of potassium.
Meanwhile, a 2017 review concluded that people with a high fiber intake are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than people who eat little fiber. Eating plenty of fiber may also help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood.
Which foods may help reduce blood pressure? Find out here.
Immune function and healing
Another antioxidant that carrots provide is vitamin C.
Vitamin C contributes to collagen production. Collagen is a key component of connective tissue and essential for wound healing and keeping the body healthy.
The vitamin is also present in immune cells, which help the body fight disease. A healthy immune system may prevent a range of diseases, including cancer, according to a 2017 study.
If a person is unwell, the immune system has to work harder, and this may compromise vitamin C levels.
Some experts believe that taking additional vitamin C may boost the immune system’s function when it is under stress. Consuming vitamin C may, for example, slightly reduce the severity and duration of a cold.
Learn about 15 foods that can boost your immune system.
Carrots contain vitamin K and small amounts of calcium and phosphorus. All of these contribute to bone health and may help prevent osteoporosis.