The World's Healthiest Foods
Carrots

Easy to pack and perfect as crudités for that favorite dip, the crunchy texture and sweet taste of carrots is popular among both adults and children. Although they are shipped around the country from California throughout the year, locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall when they are the freshest and most flavorful.

The carrot has a thick, fleshy, deeply colored root, which grows underground, and feathery green leaves that emerge above ground. It is known scientifically as Daucus carota, a name that can be traced back to ancient Roman writings of the 3rd century. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family along with parsnips, fennel caraway, cumin and dill which all have the umbrella-like flower clusters that characterize this family of plants.

 


Health Benefits

Carrots are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds, and the richest vegetable source of the pro-vitamin A carotenes. Carrots' antioxidant compounds help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer and also promote good vision, especially night vision.

Carotenoids and Heart Disease

When six epidemiological studies that looked at the association of diets high in carotenoids and heart disease were reviewed, the research demonstrated that high-carotenoid diets are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. In one study that examined the diets of 1,300 elderly persons in Massachusetts, those who had at least one serving of carrots and/or squash each day had a 60% reduction in their risk of heart attacks compared to those who ate less than one serving of these carotenoid-rich foods per day.

Better Vision

Beta-carotene helps to protect vision, especially night vision. After beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the liver, it travels to the retina where it is transformed into rhodopsin--a purple pigment that is necessary for night-vision. Plus beta-carotene's powerful antioxidant actions help provide protection against macular degeneration and the development of senile cataracts--the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Carotenoids and Cancer

Carrots are by far one of the richest source of carotenoids--just one cup provides 16,679 IUs of beta-carotene, more than 250% of the RDA, and 3,432 REs (retinol equivalents), or roughly 686.3% the RDA for vitamin A. High carotenoid intake has been linked with a 20% decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer and an up to 50% decrease in the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus. Extensive human studies suggest that a diet including as little as one carrot per day could conceivably cut the rate of lung cancer in half. Remember the study in which heavy long-term cigarette smokers were given synthetic beta-carotene, and it did not appear to prevent them from developing lung cancer? Well, not only is synthetic beta-carotene not biochemically identical to the real stuff found in carrots, but scientists now think that carrots' protective effects are the result of a team effort among several substances abundant in carrots, including alpha-carotene--another, less publicized carotenoid. A recent National Cancer Institute study found lung cancer occurence was higher in men whose diets did not supply a healthy intake of alpha-carotene.

Carotenoids and Blood Sugar

Intake of foods such as carrots that are rich in carotenoids may be beneficial to blood sugar regulation. Research has suggested that physiological levels, as well as dietary intake, of carotenoids may be inversely associated with insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels.

Falcarinol in Carrots Protects against Colon Cancer

Although best known for their high content of beta carotene, carrots also contain a phytonutrient called falcarinol that may be responsible for the recognized epidemiological association between frequently eating carrots and a reduced risk of cancers.

Falcarinol provides protection against colon cancer, suggests a study published in the February 2005 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Three groups of rats in whom precancerous colon lesions (aberrant crypt foci) had been chemically-induced were fed a standard diet, one supplemented with freeze-dried carrots naturally containing falcarinol, or one supplemented with an extract of falcarinol. After 18 weeks, precancerous lesions in the animals given diets containing carrots or falcarinol were much smaller than those in the control animals, and far fewer of the lesions had grown in size or progressed to become tumors.

Protection against Emphysema

If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as carrots, part of your healthy way of eating may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.

While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.

Baybutt's earlier research had shown that rats fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.

In his initial research, Baybutt took just weaned male rats and divided them into two groups, one of which was exposed to cigarette smoke, and the other to air. In the rats exposed to cigarette smoke, levels of vitamin A dropped significantly in direct correlation with their development of emphysema. In the second study, both groups of rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, but one group was given a diet rich in vitamin A. Among those rats receiving the vitamin A-rich foods, emphysema was effectively reduced.

Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema. And if they have a poor diet, forget it." If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, protect yourself by making sure the World's Healthiest Foods rich in vitamin A (carrot's beta-carotene is converted in the body into vitamin A) are a daily part of your healthy way of eating.

Description

Carrots? The favorite food of Bugs Bunny hardly needs a description for they are well known and loved by even the youngest children in the United States. Carrots benefits are legendary. Bet your mother told you that eating carrots would keep your eyesight bright.

While we usually associate carrots with the color orange, in fact, carrots grow in a host of other colors including white, yellow, red, or purple, the latter being the color of the original variety. The carrot is a plant with a thick, fleshy, deeply colored root, which grows underground, and feathery green leaves that emerge above ground. It is known scientifically as Daucus carota, a name that can be traced back to ancient Roman writings of the 3rd century.

Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, named after the umbrella like flower clusters that plants in this family produce. As such, carrots are related to parsnips, fennel caraway, cumin and dill. There are over 100 different varieties that vary in size and color. Carrots can be as small as two inches or as long as three feet, ranging in diameter from one-half of an inch to over 2 inches. Carrot roots have a crunchy texture and a sweet and minty aromatic taste, while the greens are fresh tasting and slightly bitter.

History

The carrot can trace its ancestry back thousands of years, originally having been cultivated in central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. These original carrots looked different from those that we are accustomed to today, featuring deep purple coloring, ranging from lavender to deep eggplant. This coloration was a reflection of the anthocyanin phytochemical pigments these carrots had. In pre-Hellenic times, a yellow-rooted carrot variety appeared in Afghanistan and was further cultivated and developed into an earlier version of the carrot we known today. Both types of carrots spread throughout the Mediterranean region and were adopted by the ancient Greeks and Romans for their medicinal use.

It seems that carrots did not become a popular vegetable in Europe until the Renaissance. This was probably related to the fact that the early varieties had a tough and fibrous texture. Centuries later, beginning in the 17th century, agriculturists in Europe started cultivating different varieties of carrots, developing an orange-colored carrot that had a more pleasing texture than its predecessor. Europeans favored the growing of this one over the purple variety, which was and still is widely grown in other areas of the world, including southern Asia and North Africa. Carrots were subsequently introduced into the North American colonies. Owing to its heightened popularity, in the early 1800s, the carrot became the first vegetable to be canned. Today, the United States, France, England, Poland, China and Japan are among the largest producers of carrots.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Carrots:

Wash carrot roots and gently scrub them with a vegetable brush right before eating. Unless the carrots are old, thick or not grown organically, it is not necessary to peel them. If they are not organically grown, peel them; most all conventionally grown carrots are grown using pesticides and other chemicals. If the stem end is green, it should be cut away as it will be bitter. Depending upon the recipe or your personal preference, carrots can be left whole or julienned, grated, shredded or sliced into sticks or rounds.

Carrots are delicious eaten raw or cooked. Beta-carotene is not destroyed by cooking; in fact, cooking breaks down the fiber, making this nutrient and carrots' sugars more available, thus also making them taste sweeter. Take care not to overcook carrots, however, to ensure that they retain their maximum flavor and nutritional content.

A fFew Quick Serving Ideas:

Shredded raw carrots and chopped carrot greens make great additions to salads.

Combine shredded carrots, beets and apples, and eat as a salad.

For quick, nutritious soup that can be served hot or cold, purée boiled carrots and potatoes in a blender or food processor, and add herbs and spices to taste.

Spiced carrot sticks are a flavorful variation on an old favorite at parties or at the dinner table. Soak carrot sticks in hot water spiced with cayenne, coriander seeds and salt. Allow to cool, drain and serve.

Combine freshly squeezed carrot juice with soymilk and bananas to make a nutrient-dense breakfast shake.

Safety

Excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods may lead to a condition called caratoderma in which the palms or other skin develops a yellow or orange cast. This yellowing of the skin is presumably related to carotenemia, excessive levels of carotene in the blood. The health impact of carotenemia is not well researched. Eating or juicing high amounts of foods rich in carotene, like carrots, may over tax the body’s ability to convert these foods to vitamin A. The body slowly converts carotene to vitamin A, and extra carotene is stored, usually in the palms, soles or behind the ears. If the cause of the carotenemia is eating excessively high amounts of foods like carrots, the condition will usually disappear after reducing consumption.

Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver’s ability to process other toxins, the cells’ ability to produce energy, and the nerves’ ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. Individuals wanting to avoid these health risks may want to avoid consumption of carrots unless grown organically, since carrots are among the 20 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Carrots, Raw
1.00 cup
52.46 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 34317.40 IU 686.3 235.5 excellent
vitamin K 176.90 mcg 221.1 75.9 excellent
vitamin C 11.35 mg 18.9 6.5 very good
dietary fiber 3.66 g 14.6 5.0 very good
potassium 394.06 mg 11.3 3.9 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.18 mg 9.0 3.1 good
manganese 0.17 mg 8.5 2.9 good
molybdenum 6.10 mcg 8.1 2.8 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.12 mg 8.0 2.7 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 1.13 mg 5.6 1.9 good
phosphorus 53.68 mg 5.4 1.8 good
magnesium 18.30 mg 4.6 1.6 good
folate 17.08 mcg 4.3 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Baybutt RC, Hu L, Molteni A. Vitamin A deficiency injures lung and liver parenchyma and impairs function of rat type II pneumocytes. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5):1159-65.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Gaziano JM, Manson JE, Branch LG, et al. A prospective study of consumption of carotenoids in fruits and vegetables and decreased cardiovascular mortality in the elderly. Ann. Epidemiol. 1995; 5:255-260.
  • Harris RA, Key TJ, Silcocks PB, et al. A case-controlled study of dietary carotene in men with lung cancer and in men with other epithelial cancers. Nutrition and Cancer(1991)15:63-68.
  • Kobaek-Larsen M, Christensen LP, Vach W, Ritskes-Hoitinga J, Brandt K. Inhibitory Effects of Feeding with Carrots or (-)-Falcarinol on Development of Azoxymethane-Induced Preneoplastic Lesions in the Rat Colon. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Mar 9;53(5):1823-1827.
  • Kritchevsky SB. beta-Carotene, carotenoids and the prevention of coronary heart disease. J Nutr 1999 Jan;129(1):5-8.
  • Li T, Molteni A, Latkovich P, Castellani W, Baybutt RC. Vitamin A depletion induced by cigarette smoke is associated with the development of emphysema in rats. J Nutr.<./i> 2003 Aug;133(8):2629-34.
  • Michaud DS, Feskanich D, Rimm EB, et al. Intake of specific carotenoids and risk of lung cancer in 2 prospective US cohorts. Am J Clin Nutr(2000)Oct;72(4):990-7.
  • Suzuki K, Ito Y, Nakamura S et al. Relationship between serum carotenoids and hyperglycemia: a population- based cross-sectional study. J Epidemiol 2002 Sep;12(5):357-66.
  • Wald NJ, Thompson SG, Densem JW, et al. Serum beta-carotene and subsequent risk of cancer: results from the BUPA study. British Journal of Cancer(1988)57:428-33.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Ylonen K, Alfthan G, Groop, L et al. Dietary intakes and plasma concentrations of carotenoids and tocopherols in relation to glucose metabolism in subjects at high risk of type 2 diabetes: the Botnia Dietary Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jun; 77(6):1434-41.

© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation