Crazy for Carrots
Carrots have a lot going for them—and for you. In addition to being cheap, always available, and easy to grow, they offer even more health benefits than the Vitamin A you might know about.
They’re nutritious. A single carrot, raw or cooked, will provide more than a day’s worth of Vitamin A.
Carrots are also a good source of fiber, and deliver a variety of vitamins and minerals in lesser amounts.
Low in calories, carrots also carry a low glycemic load (an indicator of how much a serving will raise blood sugar).
Carrots contain high levels of several carotenoids, plant compounds that may protect eye and cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
They also contain other bioactive phytonutrients called polyacetylenes. In carrots, the polyacetylenes falcarinol and falcarindiol have shown anti-tumor activity.
They’re versatile in the kitchen, and good to “wash, grab, and go” for snacking. There’s almost no recipe that couldn’t handle a carrot or two.
They’re among the easiest crops to grow. Home gardeners can produce two pounds or more of fresh carrots in a square foot of good, loose soil.
If you hanker to learn more, visit the World Carrot Museum, a British website describing itself as the “first virtual museum in the world entirely devoted to the history, evolution, science, sociology and art of Carrot.” They’ve collected and organized pretty much everything known about carrots there (e.g., Carrot records: the heaviest carrot recorded weighed 20 lbs, the longest was 19 ft, 2 in).
Every vegetable should have its own online museum!
Storing and cooking carrots
To enjoy the greatest health benefits from carrots, store fresh carrots for up to 21 days at room temperature, or around two months at 39ºF, and eat them raw, or boiled for less than 15 minutes.
The carrot rainbow
If you get bored with the typical orange carrot, plant breeders (traditional, not genetic engineers) have developed a rainbow of carrot colors, ranging from nearly black to purple, fuschia, red, yellow, beige, and white. The first cultivated carrots were purple, originating in Afghanistan around 1,000 years ago from the wild plant we now call Queen Anne’s lace.
Each color signals the presence of specific phytocompounds, chemicals plants produce to protect or heal themselves, and which may confer specific health benefits on humans who consume them.
Too many carrots?
You may have heard that too much vitamin A may cause adverse health effects or harm a developing fetus. That’s true, but not from the so-called provitamin A found in carrots and other yellow and green vegetables.
Instead, the danger comes from consuming preformed vitamin A, usually from dietary supplements, fish oils, or eating a lot of liver.
However, munching a lot of carrots may cause an alaming but harmless condition called carotenemia, when the skin turns yellow or orange. (It’s especially prevalent in infants who eat a lot of mashed carrots.) Carotenemia doesn’t cause yellowing of the whites of the eyes; if that happens, consult your doctor.
Because a large and growing body of research confirms that eating a wide variety of veggies and fruits lowers mortality from all causes, make sure to diversify your diet to include many other kinds of vegetables and fruits.
Sadly, some people are allergic to carrots. People who experience oral allergy syndrome from eating carrots generally experience an itchy mouth, tongue, or throat, which disappears shortly after the food is swallowed. If you or your child experience stronger effects such as swelling tongue or throat while eating carrots, see your health professional.
Quaff a carrot?
Yep, you can drink your carrots, too, and not just as juice. A Dutch company recently introduced 24 Carrot Liqueur, packaged in a mason jar for reuse.
Curious about the taste? “Think of carrots, freshly picked from sandy soil on an early summer-morning; [the liqueur] tickles the tongue, gives a round bitter sweet spiciness through to the end.”