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Health benefits of carrots and their antioxidant properties – Vegan Food and Living

4 minutes, 51 seconds Read

Whether you enjoy them in coleslaw, with your roast dinner, or in hearty soups and stews – carrots are a versatile veg staple. But they’re not just tasty, the nutritional benefits of carrots go far deeper than the stories we were told as children…

These tasty root vegetables have been around for 5,000 years and were first cultivated in what is now Iran and Afghanistan.

Far from what we’re used to today, those early carrots were purple or yellow, with the familiar orange ones not being developed until much later – probably in Central Europe.

While most carrots are now orange, there are purple, red, white and yellow varieties available if you look for them.

Do carrots provide antioxidants?

Like other brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, carrots are packed with antioxidants, such as carotenoids and anthocyanins, which not only give them their vibrant colour, but also confer real health benefits.

Antioxidants prevent damage to our cells from unstable molecules called free radicals. If not kept in check, free radicals can lead to health problems such as cataracts, cancer and other degenerative diseases1.

Carrots are a particularly rich source of antioxidants, but also provide other important nutrients, including vitamins B6 and K, biotin and potassium.

They rank low on the glycemic index – a measure of how quickly foods raise our blood sugar after a meal. So, carrots are useful for people who need to control their blood sugar levels.

One medium carrot (60 grams) contains more than two grams of fibre, which not only helps control blood sugar levels, but feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut and may also help to lower cholesterol2.

Boost your gut health with these top 20 high fibre foods

Do carrots improve your eyesight?

We were told as children that carrots would give us super-power night vision. While this may have been an exaggeration, like all good myths, there’s a tiny bit of truth in it.

The beta-carotene in carrots doesn’t just benefit our skin and immunity. It is also used by the body to produce a form of vitamin A that is important for ocular health and can help our eyes’ ability to adjust to low lighting conditions.

However, unless you are actually deficient in vitamin A, carrots probably won’t help you see any better in the dark than you do already.

Be aware that high doses of vitamin A (from supplements or animal foods such as liver and liver pâté, which are very high in vitamin A) can be dangerous, although carrots are quite safe.

How much vitamin A is too much?

The NHS says that men need 700 micrograms of vitamin A each day and women, 600 micrograms.

A single very large dose (over 200,000 micrograms) may cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and problems with coordination.

Taking more than 10,000 micrograms a day over time can lead to liver damage, joint pain and may cause birth defects and bone thinning.

Research shows that retinoic acid (which the body makes from vitamin A) stimulates cells called osteoclasts, which dissolve old and damaged bone tissue, but suppresses osteoblasts, which replace the dead cells with healthy new ones3. So, even mild excesses of vitamin A may increase the risk of bone fracture.

An average 100 gram portion of cooked liver contains between 10,000 and 25 ,000 micrograms and experts warn that eating liver regularly over time could lead to osteoporosis.

On the other hand, high intakes of beta-carotene from vegetables do not cause the same problems as preformed vitamin A from animal foods and studies show that diets rich in carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are linked to a lower risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

They may also protect against cataracts and the most common cause of vision loss, which is age-related macular degeneration.

You do need the whole food to get the benefits, not supplements. High-dose supplements with beta-carotene (either alone or with vitamins E or A) , do not reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease and may even be harmful to smokers or former asbestos workers who are vulnerable to an excess of vitamin A.

How to get the maximum health benefits of carrots

Unlike most vegetables, carrots may actually become healthier through the cooking process, because this makes it easier for our bodies to absorb their protective antioxidants.

In a similar way, cooking tomatoes increases the availability of the protective antioxidant lycopene.

One study found that stir frying carrots increased the availability of carotenoids by more than six times4.

Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient, which means that it is best absorbed by the body when it is eaten along with fat. It doesn’t have to be a lot,  just three to five grams (about a teaspoonful) of a healthy fat in your meal should be enough to ensure proper absorption.

To sum them up, carrots come in many colours and sizes and are a perfect snack – crunchy, packed with nutrients and low in fat.

They are associated with many health benefits, including a lower risk of several diseases and are a great addition to a healthy diet.

Discover the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet

Featured photo © Ekaterina Fedulyeva via Getty Images

References:

  1. Pham-Huy LA, He H, Pham-Huy C. 2008, Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. Int J Biomed Sci. Accessed via www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697/
  2. Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. 1999, Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. Accessed via pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9925120/
  3. Henning P, Conaway HH, Lerner UH. 2015, Retinoid receptors in bone and their role in bone remodeling. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). Accessed via www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4356160/
  4. Ghavami A, Coward WA, Bluck LJ. 2012, The effect of food preparation on the bioavailability of carotenoids from carrots using intrinsic labelling. Br J Nutr.  Accessed via pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21923982/

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