‘Eat your carrots, they are good for you’ at some point or the other you have heard this statement or maybe told someone else. This crunchy vegetable is usually incorporated into daily food preparation and we enjoy the sweetness, flavour and vibrant colour it adds to every meal, but have you ever wondered what health benefits you get from carrots?
Carrots are a power food as they are packed to the brim with nutrients, which provide you with energy and heal you from the inside out. They are also very rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules found in mostly fruits and vegetables. They fight the damage of cells in the body caused by toxins that are found in processed foods, pollution and lack of exercise. When it comes to carrots, you get all you need and just a little bit more.
Benefits of Carrots:
The one thing that science and health agree on, carrots are good for eyesight, especially for night vision. This is due to the antioxidant beta-carotene which is transformed into Vitamin A in the liver. When the Vitamin A is transported to the eye through the different arteries, it converts to rhodopsin, a purple pigment that supports the retina and other parts of the eye. Rhodopsin is essential for night vision. Vitamin A is also known to be helpful for the mucous filled membrane and the skin around the eye making them better barriers for protection against infections. Interesting research done at the Jules Stein Institute in Los Angeles found that women who consume carrots, at least twice a week, had significantly lower glaucoma (a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve) another study conducted found that people who ate more carrots reduced their risk of developing macular degeneration by up to 43%.
Prevent Heart Disease
The antioxidant properties in carrots protect from cardiovascular damage, especially the arteries that transport blood to the different organs in the body. A study was done in the Netherlands where participants were followed over a certain period of time. In this study the participants were given fruits and vegetables based on colour. Out of the different colours given, the colour yellow/orange was determined the most effective for preventing cardiovascular diseases. To narrow it down even further, carrots were found to be most effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Carrots consist of Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Vitamin C. These together with other components stabilise cholesterol levels to avoid blockage in the arteries so that oxygen rich blood is transported to and from the heart. With all this goodness in carrots, it is no wonder that a study conducted in Harvard found that individuals who eat more than 6 carrots a week are less likely to suffer from a stroke in comparison to people who do not eat carrots at all.
Carrots have been found to be effective for different cancers such as leukaemia, lung, prostate and colon cancer, this is due to the properties in the carrots like beta-carotene and other powerful antioxidants. There is a natural substance found in carrots called falcarinol (a natural pesticide that protects the carrot from fungal diseases) that has had positive results on research done. Studies done showed that falcarinol slows down the development of cancer cells. Another study was conducted on individuals where they drank carrot juice daily. Individuals who drank about one and a half cups of carrot juice had small but significant effects on their colon health. Another way that carrots help prevent cancer is the high fibre content which regulates sugar, sugar is one of the main causes of cancer in the body as it is toxic when consumed in large quantities creating cancer causing free radicals.
Helps Prevent Infection
Diseases and infections enter the body through different sources such as physical contact with an infected individual and ingesting contaminated foods etc, however these infections will only enter and stay if your immune system is compromised. With the excellent source of vitamins and minerals such a Vitamin A, which forms a shield or barrier against germs and viruses trying to force their way into the body, Vitamin C which forms antibodies, the good soldiers in the body that fight off viruses already in the body so you feel better quicker and zinc iron and copper which help reduce inflammation while developing more ‘soldiers’ or white blood cells to fight off infections
Cleanses the Body
Carrots contain up to 87% water. Water is the number one component for flushing out toxins in the body. The vitamins, minerals and natural sugar in the carrots will keep your energy. Another reason why carrots are excellent for a cleanse is the fibre which eliminates any unwanted body waste and helps to maintain regular bowel movement.
Protects Teeth and Gums
Chewing on carrots, especially raw carrots promotes the production of saliva. Saliva is alkaline by nature and it balances the acidity in the mouth caused by eating and drinking processed foods or any foods that are naturally acidic. The alkalinity in the saliva prevents cavities. Minerals like potassium and phosphorus strengthen the gums and teeth.
Slows Down Aging
One of the vitamins found in carrots, Vitamin C builds collagen, collagen is a protein that is used to maintain the elasticity in skin. Loss of collagen results in wrinkly and saggy skin. Vitamin A on the other hand is known to tackle uneven skin tone and give you a healthy, youthful glow making you look years younger.
Carrots contain a wide variety of nutrients, the graph below gives a breakdown of what you get in 1 cup of raw carrots. To add onto the existing information, according to http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2383/2 carrots are very low in cholesterol and saturated oils making them effective for weight loss and optimum health.
All this nutrition in carrots is stored in tiny protein sacs. The nutrition is only released when the carrot is broken down in the form of cooking, steaming, juicing, pureeing or simply chewing a raw carrot.
How to prepare carrots for maximum nutrient absorption
Carrots are very easy to prepare, you can have them as a snack, a starter for a meal, they can be added to baking or in soup however in order to get the most benefits from carrots, they are best when consumed raw or lightly steamed. When purchasing carrots, go for fresh carrots not tinned or frozen and make sure that they are firm. A good tip to go by is, the brighter the colour the higher the antioxidant levels. But before preparing your carrots here are some tips for you:
- Whenever possible, purchase organic carrots, the best way to do this is by purchasing your produce from local farmers.
- Thoroughly wash the carrots, if necessary gently scrub them with a brush to remove tough dirt.
- There is no need to peel carrots unless they are old, thick or not organically grown.
- If the stem end of the carrots is green, cut it away as a green stem is usually bitter.
- To keep carrots crisp and fresh while in storage, cut off the green stem as these draw nutrients from the carrots. If the stem is left attached the carrots become limp and discolour quicker.
One of the quickest ways to enjoy a large amount of carrots in just one glass of juice. It takes between 3 to 6 carrots to make one glass of juice. This varies of course depending on the size of the carrot and the size of the glass. You are more unlikely to eat 3-6 carrots in one sitting, so juicing does all the chewing for you and you get your nutrients in one go.
When it comes to smoothies, carrots are effective because you not only get the nutrients but both the soluble and the insoluble fibre which is good for regular bowel movement. Carrots blend well with apples, bananas, ginger and mangoes. You can also add carrots to green smoothies to add that little bit of sweetness.
Steamed carrots are known to increase the availability of antioxidants and prevent the loss of nutrients compared to other preparation methods such as cooking, baking and roasting. Steaming also retains the flavours and the texture in carrots so they do not taste bland as often experienced in over boiled carrots. For variety, you can add some mixed herbs and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Adding fats or oils in steamed carrots is known to increase the amounts of carotenoids (the pigment of the carrot) by up to 600% and they are completely absorbed into the blood as carotenoids work more effectively with fats than with water.
Carrots add the “crunch” to your salad. They also add colour and combine very easily with other vegetables and fruit to create different flavours, tastes and textures to any salad.
So there you go, eat your carrots everyday. They are good for you!
Information adapted from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=21