Botanical name: Daucus carota
Extremely versatile to eat and available nearly anywhere in the world, carrots have been around for centuries. Historians believe that carrots were cultivated by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, as they were mentioned by Pliny the Elder and prized by Emperor Tiberius. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, a term derived from the umbrella-like flower cluster on top of the plants in this family. You’ll find similar fern-like leaves on plants thecarrot is related to, such as fennel, parsley, dill, and anise.
Colors of carrots first ranged from black, pink, red, yellow and white before the more common orange hue emerged, reportedly just after the fifth century. In the Middle Ages, references to carrots and parsnips seemed to be interchangeable, in spite of the marked size and color difference.
In today’s kitchens you’ll find carrots in everything, from healthy vegetable soups to salads. They can also be juiced and sliced into sticks for raw snacking. Carrots can be sliced, grated, julienned, sautéed, puréed, and baked as chips – and you’ve only just started! As if the creation of all those dishes wasn’t enough, carrots also have an amazingly long list of health advantages.
Health Benefits of Carrots
When kids ask if it’s true that carrots are good for their eyes, you can answer in the affirmative, because carrots are very high in vitamin A, an essential nutrient for good vision. In fact, carrots are loaded with beta carotene and are subsequently converted into vitamin A in your liver. Because beta-carotenes can’t be manufactured in the body, they must be obtained from your diet.
It’s no coincidence that “carotene” sounds like “carrot.” The word was devised in the early 19th century by a German scientist after he crystallized the carotene compound from carrot roots. Beta-carotene is one of more than 600 carotenoids, which are the pigments that give color to egg yolks, tomatoes, fruits, dark leafy vegetables and some types of seafood.
Known for ultraviolet radiation protection, carrots are also noted for the role they play in heart disease and stroke prevention, as a poultice to prevent infection in cuts and scrapes, for maintaining youthful skin, and for colon cleansing and toxin flushing.
The calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in carrots help build strong bones and a healthy nervous system. Calcium consumption, especially, is essential for healthy heart muscles. Phosphorus is essential for softening skin and strengthening teeth, hair, and bones, while magnesium can be thanked for its role in mental development, digestion of fats, and nutrient absorption. Carrot crunchers also get the benefits of potassium, vitamins C and B6, copper, folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium.
What's New and Beneficial about Carrots
• We are fortunate to have the results of a new 10-year study from the Netherlands about carrot intake and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)—and those results are fascinating. Intake of fruits and vegetables in the study was categorized by color and focused on four color categories: green, orange/yellow, red/purple, and white. Out of these four categories, orange/yellow (and in particular, foods with deeper shades of orange and yellow) emerged as most protective against CVD. And even more striking, carrots were determined to be the most prominent member of this dark orange/yellow food category. Participants who had the least carrot intake had the least amount of CVD risk reduction, even though they still received risk-reducing benefits from their carrot intake. However, participants who ate at least 25 more grams of carrots (with 25 grams being less than one-quarter of a cup) had a significantly lower risk of CVD. And the groups of participants who ate 50- or 75-grams more had an even more greatly reduced risk of CVD! We're not sure how any study could better demonstrate how easy it can be to lower disease risk by making a food like carrot part of the everyday dietin such achievable amounts.
• Much of the research on carrots has traditionally focused on carotenoids and their important antioxidant benefits. After all, carrots (along with pumpkin and spinach) rank high on the list of all commonly-consumed U.S. antioxidant vegetables in terms of their beta-carotene content. But recent research has turned the health spotlight onto another category of phytonutrients incarrots called polyacetylenes. In carrots, the most important polyacetylenes include falcarinol and falcarindiol. Several recent studies have identified these carrot polyacetylenes as phytonutrients that can help inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells, especially when these polyacetylenes are found in their reduced (versus oxidized) form. These new findings are exciting because they suggest a key interaction between the carotenoids and polyacetylenes in carrots. Apparently, the rich carotenoid content of carrots not only helps prevent oxidative damage inside our body, but it may also help prevent oxidative damage to the carrot polyacetylenes. In other words, these two amazing groups of phytonutrients in carrots may work together in a synergistic way to maximize our health benefits!
• Even people who usually boil carrots have discovered that they taste better steamed! In a recent study examining different methods for cooking vegetables, study participants were asked to evaluate the flavor and overall acceptability of the results. In comparison to boiling, participants in the study significantly favored the flavor and overall acceptability of steamedcarrots to boiled carrots. This preference was also expressed by participants who had always boiled carrots in their previous kitchen practices.
• Not surprisingly, research on the carotenoids in carrots has become fairly sophisticated and we now know that it's especially important to protect one specific form of beta-carotene found in carrots called the (all-E)-beta-carotene isomer. That form of beta-carotene appears to have better bioavailability and antioxidant capacity than another beta-carotene form called the Z (cis) isomer form. With this new knowledge of beta-carotene specifics, researchers in Victoria, Australia wondered about the stability of (all-E)-beta-carotene under proper storage conditions. What they found was excellent retention of (all-E)-beta-carotene under the right storage conditions. Over several weeks period of time at refrigerator temperatures and with good humidity (as might be provided, for example by the wrapping of carrots in damp paper and placement in an air-tight container), there was very good retention of the carrots' (all-e)-beta-carotene. While we always like the idea of vegetable consumption in freshly-picked form, this finding is great news and gives all of us more flexibility for incorporating carrots into ourdiet.