how healthy are carrots

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide important nutrients that restore and nourish the body’s cells. Carrots are an extremely beneficial source of nutrients – but just how healthy are carrots?

Carrots also known as, Daucus carota, are part of the Apiaceae family— a root vegetable, grown worldwide.1 Most carrots that are grown and harvested are orange, yellow, purple, black, or red in colour.1

Just like many fruits and vegetables, carrots can be processed into juice, concentrate, powder, or pickled. They can be boiled, roasted, eaten raw or mashed.

Carrots have an annual production rate of approximately 428 million tons worldwide.1 China and India are the top two major carrot-producing countries.2

Vitamin A

How healthy are carrots? Carrots are high in fibre and are a good source of carbohydrates.1,2 They also contain vital minerals such as magnesium, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.1,2

Carrots also contain four major phytochemicals: carotenoids, ascorbic acid, phenolics, and polyacetylenes.1 Phytochemicals, found in a variety of plants, have health boosting properties.1

Carrots are a rich source of carotenoids. An average carrot will contain approximately 100g of carotenoids in its root (edible portion). 2 This is what gives the carrot its highly pigmented orange colour.2

Beta carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin—carotenoids found in carrots, produce Vitamin A in the body. 1 One molecule of beta-carotene produces two molecules of vitamin A.2 Vitamin A is helpful in fighting oxidative damage to essential molecules such as DNA, proteins, and lipids. 1 Studies show that carrots decreased oxidative damage by up to 20.7%. 1

Vitamin A plays an essential role in maintaining healthy organs, good vision and a strong immune system. 1The body absorbs less beta-carotene from raw carrots than it does from cooked carrots. This is because the strong cell walls are broken down during the cooking process, allowing the body to more easily absorb the beta-carotene.2

Certain carotenoids can pass through the retina and make up the macula of the eye.1 The macula is an important light-filtering system in the eye.1 It can protect against harmful light.1

Consuming carrots may help protect against free radicals—harmful molecules, that contribute to a variety of diseases such as, cancer.

Vitamin C

Scurvy is a disease that results from an insufficient vitamin C intake.1 Vitamin C also known as L-ascorbic acid found in carrots, provides the maintenance of cellular functioning and survival.1

The reduction of cholesterol, the maintenance of healthy gums and skin and a healthy immune system are some of the many benefits linked to Vitamin C.1

Phenolics & Polyacetylenes

The peel of a carrot has 54% of phenolics even though its weight only contributes to 11% of the total weight of a carrot.1 Hydroxycinnamic acid found in the tissues of a carrot have an estimated 40% to 60% of total phenolics.1 High concentrations of phenolics in carrots can reduce the risk of heart disease, due to their antioxidant concentrations—properties that are known to contribute to overall heart health.1

Phenolics aid in maintaining a healthy nervous system and normal blood sugar levels.1 Additionally, they digest free radicals in the body, and have anti-inflammatory properties.1

Polyacetylenes are another phytochemical found in carrots. 1 They result in the apoptosis of cells affected by leukaemia.1 Please consult your physician for medical advice regarding your health concerns.

Varieties of Carrots

How healthy are carrots? Is one type of carrot more nutritious than another? Research provides evidence that the colour of a carrot does in fact contribute to differences in phytochemical composition.

High concentrations of phenolics are found in black carrots, alpha and beta carotene in orange carrots, lycopene in red carrots anthocyanins in purple carrots and lutein in yellow carrots.1 Research continues to investigate how black carrots (in the presence of other medications) are used in the treatment of cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy.

Diabetes and Obesity

A glycemic index is represented by a number that describes the potential of a specific food to raise blood glucose levels after consumption.3 Greater than 70 is a high glycemic index and less than 55 is considered a low glycemic index.3 Low glycemic index diets may control blood glucose levels and contribute to weight loss.3 A low glycemic index is beneficial to people with diabetes.5 Those who are overweight or who struggle with obesity may benefit from a low glycemic index diet.5 Studies show that cholesterol levels were significantly lowered from a low glycemic index diet.3 Boiled carrots have a glycemic index of 39.4 In comparison raw pineapple had a glycemic index of 59 while boiled potato had a glycemic index of 78.4 These values take into account a +/- 4 difference.4

Potassium and Fiber

Potassium is essential for protein synthesis, reduction in blood pressure, enzyme activation, and water balance.6 The World Health Organization suggests an increase in dietary potassium of at least 90 mmol/day.6 Potassium helps reduce the risk of stroke and high blood pressure.6 A low potassium diet can result in kidney disease and other life-threatening disorders.6 One study looked at potassium intake from vegetables in a Polish diet.6 Carrots provided an overall 1.36 out of 16.24 in potassium intake from diet.6

Fiber is indigestible, meaning, it does not get absorbed by the body. 2 Dietary fiber prevents bowel complications like constipation and helps prevent heart disease and cancer. 2 The fiber in carrot pomace contributes to a 37% to 48% total dietary fibre intake.2 Suggesting that carrots and their byproducts are a good source of fibre.

How healthy are carrots? Carrots are very healthy. In moderation and with a balanced diet, substances in carrots provide essential nutrients that maintain good health and prevent disease.

References:

  1. Ahmad, T., Cawood, M., Iqbal, Q., Ariño, A., Batool, A., Tariq, R., Azam, M., & Akhtar, S. (2019). Phytochemicals in Daucus carota and Their Health Benefits-Review Article. Foods (Basel, Switzerland)8(9), 424. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods8090424
  2. Sharma, K. D., Karki, S., Thakur, N. S., & Attri, S. (2012). Chemical composition, functional properties and processing of carrot-a review. Journal of food science and technology49(1), 22–32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-011-0310-7
  3. Eleazu C. O. (2016). The concept of low glycemic index and glycemic load foods as panacea for type 2 diabetes mellitus; prospects, challenges and solutions. African health sciences16(2), 468–479. https://doi.org/10.4314/ahs.v16i2.15
  4. Atkinson, F. S., Foster-Powell, K., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2008). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes care31(12), 2281–2283. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc08-1239
  5. Zafar, M. I., Mills, K. E., Zheng, J., Regmi, A., Hu, S. Q., Gou, L., & Chen, L. L. (2019). Low-glycemic index diets as an intervention for diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition110(4), 891–902. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz149
  6. Górska-Warsewicz, H., Rejman, K., Laskowski, W., & Kowalcze, K. (2019). Food Sources of Potassium in the Average Polish Diet. Nutrients11(12), 2905. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11122905
  7. Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay 
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