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The carrot has a reputation for improving vision. But do you know the various other health benefits of carrots? Learn why eating carrots or drinking carrot juice is beneficial to you and your family.
'Carrots are good for the eyes.' Perhaps this is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of carrots. But do you know there is more to this wonderful vegetable in terms of its health benefits, medicinal properties and nutritional value? Apart from its numerous benefits for the skin, hair, vision, heart and liver, it is also a good first food for babies above six months of age. So, the next time you are munching on a carrot, drinking carrot juice or snacking on 'gajar halwa', it would be good to know how carrots are adding value to you and your family's health.
Carrot (gajar in Hindi) known by its scientific name Daucus carota L. is a root vegetable in the Apiaceae family. Carota is a Latin word which means 'burnt' probably referring to its colour. Records indicate that humans have been consuming carrots for over 4,000 years. The ancient Romans and Greeks considered carrot as a medicinal plant.
Carrots are usually orange in colour, although there are other varieties which are yellow, white, red and purple. The common varieties of carrots are Nantes, Imperator, Chantenay and 'Mini' or baby carrots. It can grow throughout the year in hilly regions and is a winter crop in the plains of North India.
Raw carrots taste a bit earthy and have a sweet flavour. Carrots are used in preparing curries, salads and pickles. 'Gajar halwa' is a delicious and popular sweet preparation with carrot as the main ingredient.
Data based on USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Carrot is a good source of beta-carotene (8285.00mcg in 100mg of raw carrot). Beta-carotene is effective in protecting the skin from the harmful effects (solar erythema or sunburn) of ultra-violet (UV) rays as demonstrated in various studies. A review by Kopcke et al titled, 'Protection from sunburn with beta-Carotene - a meta-analysis', published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology in 2008 states as follows - "dietary supplementation of humans with beta-carotene provides protection against sunburn in a time-dependent manner."
Carrot also contains lycopene which is effective in reducing roughness of the skin due to its strong antioxidant properties. This was indicated in a study by Darvin et al where higher lycopene concentration was found to have a significant correlation with lower levels of skin roughness. Lycopene is also a photoprotective agent which protects the skin from UV radiation.
Vitamin C found in carrot is essential for maintaining good skin health and relieves skin disorders such as psoriasis and skin rashes. It prevents ageing and damage to skin by inhibiting oxidative stress caused by action of free radicals and hastens wound healing. It also activates fibroblast cells that produce collagen, which is responsible for keeping the skin smooth and firm.
Making carrots a part of your diet can help you lose weight faster. Since it is rich in fibre and low in calories, it helps you feel full longer and may prevent you from binge eating. These positive effects of having carrots as a part of a mixed meal are mentioned in a study by Moorhead et al published in the British Journal of Nutrition (2006).
A carrot-rich diet can stimulate bile secretion in the liver. Bile is a fluid which spikes up the rate at which fat is broken down in the body and gets converted to energy. A study by Hsu et al titled, 'Carrot insoluble fiber-rich fraction lowers lipid and cholesterol absorption in hamsters', published in the LWT - Food Science and Technology in 2006, shows that consumption of the insoluble fibre in carrot causes significant reductions in serum triacylglycerol and serum and liver cholesterol, while increasing fecal cholesterol and bile acid excretion.
Carrots contain carotenoids (alpha-carotenoid and beta-carotenoid) which are converted to vitamin A in our body. These carotenoids help to activate the enzymes that metabolise cancer-causing cells. Due to their importance in a cancer-protective diet, The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) has included carrots in its list of foods that fight cancer.
Vitamin C in carrots plays a role in fighting skin cancer. The antioxidant activity of vitamin C helps to ward off damage caused by free radicals and prevents the formation of nitrosamines, which is a carcinogenic compound. It also helps to maintain healthy immune function in the body.
Research also suggests that eating low starchy vegetables like carrots lower the risk of esophageal and stomach cancer. Presence of carotenoids helps to protect against lung, mouth, pharynx, and laryngeal cancers.
There are many studies to show that a carotenoid-rich diet reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack. The anti-aggregatory property of polyacytelenes present in carrot reduces the risk of blood clotting. Also, potassium helps in tackling blood cholesterol level.
Dietary fibre plays a very important role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular illnesses. Raw carrot is rich in calcium pectate, a pectin fibre with amazing cholesterol lowering properties. Brouns et al in their study titled, 'Cholesterol-lowering properties of different pectin types in mildly hyper-cholesterolemic men and women', published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012, describe the effectiveness of pectin in lowering cholesterol based on its source and type.
The cardioprotective effect of dietary antioxidants on cardiovascular health is a well-established fact based on various studies. Consuming carrots can enhance the antioxidant levels in the body which decreases oxidative stress and prevents heart disease.
Antioxidants in carrots help in cleansing the liver of toxins and improve liver health. Beta-carotenoids, glutathione and flavonoids also play a role in maintaining healthy liver function. The high fibre content in carrot helps in the elimination of uric acid from the body and is useful in conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation website, in fact, lists carrots in its list of best vegetables for arthritis due to the presence of carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin, which reduce the risk of developing arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Carrot pure is an excellent choice of first food for babies as it is soft in consistency and tastes sweet. Also, carrot juice for babies is extremely beneficial for their overall growth and development.
To know more about the health benefits, nutritional value and side effects of giving carrots to infants, read - Carrot For Babies.
As with any other food, overconsumption of carrots can also result in uncomfortable side effects. A few of these side effects are listed below:
Eating cooked carrots helps in better absorption and utilisation of beta carotene when compared to eating it raw. This is because cooking breaks down the cell walls of the vegetable and makes the nutrients available for absorption. Also, vitamin A is fat soluble, so eating carrots along with a fat source such as sunflower oil or olive oil aids in greater absorption.
Here are some healthy ways to eat carrots:
With all this information on this nutritious vegetable, ensure it features regularly in your dinner plate.
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About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 8 November 2019; updated on 26 February 2021
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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