Carrots are often thought of as the ultimate health food. Generations of parents have told their children: “Eat your carrots, they are good for you,” or “Carrots will help you see in the dark.”
People probably first cultivated the carrot thousands of years ago, in the area now known as Afghanistan. It was a small, forked purple or yellow root with a bitter, woody flavor, quite different from the carrot we know today.
Purple, red, yellow, and white carrots were grown long before the appearance of the sweet, crunchy, and aromatic orange carrot that is now popular. This type was developed and stabilized by Dutch growers in the 16th and 17th centuries.
This feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Find out more about the nutrients in carrots, their health benefits, tips for eating more carrots, and any precautions.Fast facts on carrots:
Here are some key points about carrots. More detail is in the main article.
- Carrots were first grown in Asia, and they were not orange.
- Carrots contain antioxidants, which may protect against cancer.
- While they may not help you see in the dark, the vitamin A in carrots helps prevent vision loss.
- Carrots are available all year round and can be used in savory dishes, cakes, and juices.
Carrots contain vitamin A, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Evidence suggests that eating more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, can help reduce the risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Carrots are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Here are some ways in which carrots might be healthful.
A variety of dietary carotenoids have been shown to have anti-cancer effects, due to their antioxidant power in reducing free radicals in the body.
Studies have found a possible link between diets rich in carotenoids and a lower risk of prostate cancer, but more evidence is needed to confirm whether the link is causal.
Carrots contain beta-carotene. Past studies have concluded that beta-carotene supplementation may reduce the risk of lung cancer.
A meta-analysis published in 2008 found that people with a high intake of a variety of carotenoids had a 21 percent lower risk of lung cancer, after adjusting for smoking, compared with those who did not.
The same pattern was not true for any individual carotenoid, such as beta-carotenoid. Among smokers, beta-carotene supplementation may increase the risk of lung cancer.
Consuming more beta-carotene may reduce the risk of colon cancer, according to researchers who studied 893 people in Japan.
A 2011 study found that carrot juice extract could kill leukemia cells and inhibit their progression.
Can carrots help you see in the dark? In a way, yes.
Carrots contain vitamin A. A vitamin A deficiency can lead to xerophthalmia, a progressive eye disease that can damage normal vision and result in night blindness, or the inability to see in low light or darkness.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a lack of vitamin A is one of the main preventable causes of blindness in children.
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States (U.S.), but eating carrots contributes to vitamin A intake and helps prevent a deficiency. So, in a way, carrots do help you see in the dark.
However, most people are unlikely to experience any significant positive changes in their vision from eating carrots, unless they already lack vitamin A.
The antioxidants and phytochemicals in carrots may help regulate blood sugar.
Around a quarter of the carbohydrate in carrots is sugar, but the amount of carbohydrate in carrots is relatively small.
According to Harvard Health, the glycemic index of carrots is 39, meaning the impact on blood sugar is fairly low.
A half-cup serving of chopped carrot contains 1.8 grams (g) of fiber and 205 milligrams (mg) of potassium.
Before the age of 50 years, men need 38 g of fiber a day, and women need 25 g. After this age, women need 21 g per day, and men need 30 g.
Health authorities advise people to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. The recommended intake of potassium is 4,700 mg.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend consuming a fiber-rich diet and increasing potassium while reducing sodium intake to protect against high blood pressure and heart disease. Carrots offer a good balance of these nutrients.
Carrots contain vitamin C, an antioxidant. This helps boost the immune system and prevent disease. Vitamin C can help reduce the severity of a cold, and the length of time it lasts.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one cup of chopped carrots, containing 128 grams (g) of carrot, provides:
- 52 calories
- 12.26 grams (g) of carbohydrate
- 3 g of sugars
- 1.19 g of protein
- 0.31 g of fat
- 3.6 g of fiber
- 1069 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A
- 7.6 vitamin C
- 42 mg of calcium
- 0.38 mg of iron
- 15 mg of magnesium
- 45 mg of phosphorus
- 410 mg of potassium
- 88 mg of sodium
- 0.31 mg of zinc
- 24 mcg of folate
- 16.9 mcg of vitamin K
One cup of chopped carrots provides more than 100 percent of an average adult male or female’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A.
Carrots also contain various B vitamins.
Antioxidants and the color of carrots
The antioxidant beta-carotene gives carrots their bright orange color. Beta-carotene is absorbed in the intestine and converted into vitamin A during digestion.
Farmer’s markets and some specialty stores offer carrots in a range of colors, such as purple, yellow, and red.
These contain a variety of antioxidants that give them their color. For example, purple carrots contain anthocyanin, and red carrots are rich in lycopene.
Carrots in the diet
There are two seasons a year for carrots, and local carrots are available in the spring and fall. However, they can be found in supermarkets all year. They can be bought fresh, frozen, canned, or pickled.
Carrots are best stored in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag. If the greens are still attached to the top of the carrot, remove them before storing to prevent the greens from drawing out moisture and nutrients from the roots.
Carrots should be peeled and washed before consuming.
They are a versatile vegetable. They can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, roasted, and as an ingredient in many soups and stews.
- Use shredded carrots in coleslaws, salads, wraps
- Add shredded carrots to baked goods, such as cakes and muffins
- Snack on carrot sticks or baby carrots as snack or with herbed dips and hummus
- Use carrots in juice for a sweet, mild flavor
Raw or steamed carrots provide the most nutritional value.
Overconsumption of vitamin A can be toxic to humans. It may cause a slight orange tinge in skin color, but this not harmful to health.
An overdose of vitamin A is unlikely to happen because of diet alone, but it may result from supplement use.
People who are taking medications derived from vitamin A, such as isotretinoin (Roaccutane) for acne or acitretin for psoriasis, should avoid eating large amounts of carrots, as they could lead tohypervitaminosis A, an overdose of vitamin A.
Anyone who is starting a new medication should check with their doctor about any recommended dietary changes.