While carrots can be enjoyed in a wide variety of colors—from whites and yellows to reds and purples—the most commonly consumed carrots in the U.S. are orange in color. For this reason, we recommend an approach to carrots that treats them as a vegetable in the yellow/orange category. (For more details about yellow/orange vegetables, please see our Vegetable Advisor.) As a minimum daily goal for vegetable intake from the yellow/orange group, we recommend 1/2 cup per day. A more optimal intake level would be one cup per day. Of course, alongside of carrots, vegetables like sweet potato, yellow summer squash, and yellow corn can contribute to your daily yellow/orange total.
If you opt for red or purple carrots instead of orange or yellow ones, we recommend that you treat your carrots as part of the red/purple vegetable subgroup. Once again, you will find more information about this group in our Vegetable Advisor. Our minimum recommended intake level for this subgroup is 1/2 cup per day and our more optimal recommended intake is one cup. Beets, red bell peppers, red tomatoes, and eggplant would be examples of other vegetables in this red/purple subgroup, right alongside of purple carrots.
Carrots are perhaps best known for their rich supply of the antioxidant nutrient that was actually named for them: beta-carotene. However, these delicious root vegetables are the source not only of beta-carotene, but also of a wide variety of other health-supporting nutrients.
All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients. Included in this category of nutrients are traditional antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as phytonutrient antioxidants like beta-carotene. In most varieties of carrots, beta-carotene is by far the most plentiful antioxidant nutrient, accounting for over 95% of all carotenoids in many carrot varieties. Other carotenoids typically present in carrots include alpha-carotene and lutein. Listed below are some of the more common antioxidant nutrients found in carrots.
For anthocyanin benefits, you'll want to select red and purple varieties of carrots. In some studies, anthocyanin content is highest in what are often referred to as "black carrots." To the naked eye, these varieties can appear almost black in color, but they are actually very deep and dark shades of purple. But it's important to remember that carrots of all colors will provide you with great antioxidant support.
In large-scale studies of food and health, carrots are often included among yellow/orange vegetables and analyzed for their health impact. While these studies have not focused solely on carrots per se, they have still provided us with evidence about carrots and their cardiovascular benefits. In one large-scale study from the Netherlands, participants were followed for a period of 10 years and their meal plans were analyzed for fruit and vegetable intake in four color categories: green, orange/yellow, red/purple, and white. Among these four color categories, it was orange/yellow foods—and in particular, foods with deeper shades of orange and yellow—that were determined to be the most protective against cardiovascular disease (CVD). Within this dark orange/yellow food group, carrots were determined to be the single most CVD risk-reducing food. Participants who had the least carrot intake had the least amount of CVD risk reduction, even though they still received risk-reduction benefits from their intake of carrots. 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 CVD risk by making a food like carrot part of the everyday diet. In our website carrot profile, we use one cup (122 grams) as our standard serving size. As such, a single serving of carrots per day would actually exceed the highest level of benefits identified in this study.
We've seen health studies on carrots showing benefits across a wide range of areas, including not only cardiovascular health as described above, but also eye health, liver health, and cancer protection. These studies give us confidence in the ability of carrots to provide support for a wide variety of body systems. However, it is also important to note studies on carrots also have some limitations at this point in the research process. For example, researchers often analyze carrots as part of a larger food group (for example, yellow/orange vegetables) rather than focusing on them specifically. In addition, many of the studies that we have seen on the health benefits of carrots have been conducted using mice and rats rather than people, or depend on analysis of human cell lines in a laboratory setting.
The ability of carrots to provide cancer-protective benefits has been and continues to be an active area of research on this root vegetable. Of special interest in this area are components of carrot called polyacetylenes. Carrots have the ability to take their fatty acids and convert them into molecules called polyacetylenes. These polyacetylenes include molecules like falcarinol and falcarindiol. Polyacetylenes provide carrots with protection from microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria, and they have also shown anti-cancer properties in lab and animal studies. Lymphocytic leukemia and colorectal cancer are two of the cancer types that have been studied in relationship to carrot polyacetylenes.
Studies on the benefits of carrots for eye health have not usually focused on carrots themselves, but on carotenoids as a group of nutrients and carotenoid levels in the bloodstream. However, we have seen some small-scale studies in which participants with greater carrot consumption had lower rates of glaucoma than participants with little carrot intake. (The term "glaucoma" refers to a condition involving damage to the optic nerve that is often associated with excessive pressure inside of the eye). Glaucoma-lowering benefits in one study were associated with two weekly servings of carrots. We have also seen several animal studies on risk of cataracts and intake of carrot extracts. One of these studies identified a specific phytonutrient in carrots—geranyl acetate—as a substance likely to be involved in cataract protection.
Over time, we expect to see more studies on humans and meal plans that include carrots, and we also expect to see a wide range of health benefits that extends across many body systems.
The name "carrot" comes from the Greek word "karoton," whose first three letters (kar) are used to designate anything with a horn-like shape. (That horn-like shape, of course, refers to the taproot of the carrot that is the plant part we're most accustomed to consuming in the U.S.). The beta-carotene that is found in carrots was actually named for the carrot itself!
Even though U.S. consumers are most familiar with carrots as root vegetables bright orange in color, an amazing variety of colors are found worldwide for this vegetable. Here is a short list of some of the more popular carrot varieties, categorized by color.
In science terms, carrots belong to the genus and species of plant known as Daucus carota. This genus/species is part of a much broader plant family traditionally known as the Umbelliferae, but more commonly referred to in research as the Apiaceae family. Included alongside of carrots in this plant family are vegetables like parsnips and celery, as well as herbs and spices like caraway, coriander, cyumin, dill, fennel, and parsley.
Carrots are native to large sections of the world's geography, including Africa, Asia, and Europe. They have become naturalized to many other parts of the world and are widely cultivated as a food crop. On a global basis, over 40 million tons of carrots are grown each year. Among all countries, China is the world's top carrot producer, growing about 45% of the world's total crop. Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation account for about 9% of the world's total crop, and the United States for about 3.5%. However, many other countries play an important role in the commercial production of carrots, including the Ukraine, Poland, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Italy, France, India, Canada, and Mexico.
Within the United States, California is by far the largest carrot-producing states. Other states playing a major role in U.S. production include Michigan, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
U.S. consumers averaged about 5 pounds of carrots per person per year in 2014, or roughly 1/4 cup of carrots per week. Despite this relatively low intake, however, carrots served as the 6th most consumed vegetable in the U.S. (following potatoes, tomatoes, onions, head lettuce, and sweet corn).
Carrot roots should be firm, smooth, relatively straight and bright in color. The deeper the orange-color, the more beta-carotene is present in the carrot. Avoid carrots that are excessively cracked or forked as well as those that are limp or rubbery. In addition, if the carrots do not have their tops attached, look at the stem end and ensure that it is not darkly colored as this is also a sign of age. If the green tops are attached, they should be brightly colored, feathery and not wilted. Since the sugars are concentrated in the carrots' core, generally those with larger diameters will have a larger core and therefore be sweeter.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and carrots are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including carrots. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells carrots but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown carrots is very likely to be carrots that display the USDA organic logo.
Carrots are hardy vegetables that will keep longer than many others if stored properly. The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimize the amount of moisture they lose. To do this, make sure to store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which will reduce the amount of condensation that is able to form. Loss of some nutrients in carrots—for example, its vitamin C content—is likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
They should be able to keep fresh for about two weeks. Carotenoids in carrots—including beta-carotene—tend to be well-retained if the carrots are properly stored. Carrots should be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas since it may cause them to become more bitter in taste.
If you purchase carrot roots with attached green tops, the tops should be cut off before storing in the refrigerator since they will cause the carrots to wilt prematurely as they pull moisture from the roots. While the tops can be stored in the refrigerator, kept moist by being wrapped in a damp paper, they should really be used soon after purchase since they are fragile and will quickly begin to wilt.
Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating carrots. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare carrots the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods may lead to a condition called carotoderma in which the palms or other skin develops a yellow or orange cast. This yellowing of the skin is presumably related to carotenemia, which is a term that refers to excessive levels of carotene in the blood. The health impact of carotenemia is not extensively researched. Eating or juicing high amounts of foods rich in carotene—including carrots—may result in body storage of excess amounts in the skin. If a person does develop carotenemia as a result of consuming very high amounts of beta-carotene through very high carrot intake, this condition typically disappears once consumption is greatly reduced. However, since we focus throughout our website on the pleasures and health benefits of the World's Healthiest Foods consumed in everyday amounts, we view this issue as an appropriate one for your healthcare provider rather than an issue involving your World's Healthiest Foods meal plan.
Carrots, sliced, raw
|vitamin A||1019.07 mcg RAE||113||40.7||excellent|
|biotin||6.10 mcg||20||7.3||very good|
|vitamin K||16.10 mcg||18||6.4||very good|
|fiber||3.42 g||14||4.9||very good|
|molybdenum||6.10 mcg||14||4.9||very good|
|potassium||390.40 mg||11||4.0||very good|
|vitamin B6||0.17 mg||10||3.6||very good|
|vitamin C||7.20 mg||10||3.5||very good|
|vitamin B3||1.20 mg||8||2.7||good|
|vitamin B1||0.08 mg||7||2.4||good|
|pantothenic acid||0.33 mg||7||2.4||good|
|vitamin E||0.81 mg (ATE)||5||1.9||good|
|vitamin B2||0.07 mg||5||1.9||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%