The mighty carrot had a lot going for it even before Bugs Bunny discovered its unique health benefits. In fact, you can go back thousands of years and find mentions of carrots in books and literature.
What’s the allure? Certainly, this root vegetable has an appealing taste and a uniquely crisp texture. But beyond those two things, there are several carrot nutrition facts that make it a welcome addition to most anyone’s diet.
The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health states that foods rich in Vitamin A — such as carrots — can help with the following:
Cell differentiation (cells know which tissue to become a part of, like blood, brain, lungs, etc…)
Immune system regulation (white blood cell production to fight off viruses and bad bacteria)
Surface lining integrity (eyes, lungs, intestines and urinary tracts)
All carotenoids are important, as a diet rich in them may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancers, including bladder, cervix, colon prostate, larynx and esophageal.
Several studies (such as this one focusing on lung cancer, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology) have found that a diet high in carotenoids can lead to a reduced risk of cancer.
In the book ‘150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,’ author Johnny Bowden, a Ph.D. in nutrition, dedicates an entire chapter on carrots. He says in the book that although carrots are best-known for their beta-carotene, they also contain alpha-carotene, which might be equally as protective against diseases, if not more so, than beta-carotene.
Indeed, one study by Japanese biochemists suggested that alpha-carotene was 10 times more powerful than beta-carotene in inhibiting tumor growth.
Alpha- and beta-carotene convert in the body to Vitamin A, hence the reason why a single serving of carrots supplies 200 percent of the FDA’s suggested daily amount of Vitamin A.
Good for vision
The micronutrients in carrots that promote optimal vision are two other carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the only carotenoids found in the retina. They may help in the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to one study in the Archives of Opthamology.
The aforementioned Dr. Bowden’s ode to carrots also mentions that carrots contain a purple pigment, rhodopsin, which helps with vision in dim lighting.
Nutrition data for carrots
Three medium-sized carrots contain:
6-8 mg of calcium
58 mg of potassium
Approximately 7 percent of the FDA’s suggested daily amount of magnesium, phosphorous and Vitamin C
30,000 International Units (IUs) of Vitamin A
15,000 IUs of beta-carotene
6,000 IUs of alpha-carotene
5 grams of fiber
Nutrition data from the FDA says that one-half cup of baby carrots contains three grams of sugar. One gram of carbohydrates (sugar is a carb, in case you didn’t know) equals four calories. Thus, a single serving of carrots has 12 calories of sugar out of 30 total calories.
Diane Madrigal, a San Diego-based clinical nutritionist, says that that amount of sugar does not make carrots unhealthy.
“Carrots are extremely healthy whether or not you have diabetes, because in its whole nutritious form, you’re getting all the nutrients and fiber, which will slow down the release of sugar,” she says.
But Madrigal says that because Vitamin A, which carrots are loaded with, is a fat-soluble vitamin, to get the most out of carotenoids, eat them with a little fat.
“Hummus, guacamole, tzatziki and babaganoush are excellent dips for carrots,” says Madrigal.
Skin turning yellow?
Beta-carotene may accumulate in your skin if you eat too many carrots, coating it with a yellowish tint. This discoloration, scientifically referred to as ‘carotenemia,’ is usually harmless. If your skin changes color, cut down on your dietary beta-carotene and discontinue any supplements that contain it. The whites of your eyes, however, should not turn yellow. If they do, seek immediate medical help.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.
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