A common root vegetable, carrot is one of the richest sources of beta carotene, a vitamin A precursor.
Being the same substance that gives carrots their brash orange colour, beta carotene is also responsible for providing many of their health benefits.Â Beta carotene is an antioxidant compound that fight free radicals, the unstable molecules in the body that contribute to conditions ranging from heart disease and cancer to vision loss in older adults.
Why is beta carotene so important to us?
The beta-carotene in carrots converts to vitamin A in the body and helps improve vision. This eye appeal is so well-known that researchers in World War II cultivated carrots that were high in beta-carotene to help pilots see better at night. Vitamin A helps vision by forming a purple pigment called rhodopsin that the eye needs in order to be able to see in dim light. The more vitamin A you get, the more rhodopsin your body is able to produce. In addition, vitamin A helps the mucous membranes of your respiratory tract defend your lungs against bacterial and viral invasion.
The healing potential of carrots goes far beyond their ability to help our eyesight. They contain additional antioxidants including alpha carotene, which fights cancer and heart disease. Carrots also may help prevent and treat heart disease because they are rich in calcium pectate, a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol.Â Carrot is also an excellent source of vitamins B1 and B2 and of the minerals potassium, sodium and silicon.
Carrot juice, while pleasant on its own, also provides good basis for the addition of other less palatable juices such as celery or beet.
- When you buy carrots with the greenery still on them, trim it off before storing them. Otherwise, those leafy tops will act like nutrient vampires, sucking out the vitamins and moisture before you can eat the carrots.
- While many foods are more nutritious raw than cooked, carrots can benefit from a little cooking. Carrots have a lot of dietary fiber which traps the beta-carotene, says John Erdman, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana. Cooking carrots helps free beta-carotene from the fiber cells, making it easier for your body to absorb.
- Another way to release more of the beta-carotene from carrots is to make a carrot cocktail. Processing carrots in a blender breaks apart the fibers, allowing the beta-carotene to get out, says Dr. Erdman.
- Itâ€™s recommended that the intake of carrot juice should be limited to no more than four cups a day since over-consumption can cause yellowing of the skin, a condition known as xanthosis.
- Selene Yeager. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies. New York: Rodale Inc., 2007.
- Dr Michael Sharon. Nutrients A-Z â€“ A User Guide to Foods, Herbs, Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements. Great Britain: Prion Books Ltd, 1998.
- Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. Food as Medicine â€“ How to Use Diet, Vitamins, Juices, and Herbs for a Healthier, Happier, and Longer Life. New York: Atria Books, 2003.