The Health Benefits of Carrots
Carrots are one of the cheapest, most abundant, and – best of all, one of the healthiest vegetables known to man. We review the health benefits of carrots and look at what scientific studies have concluded about the remarkable power of this little handheld vegetable.
Found in virtually every farmer’s market and fruit shop across the planet, carrots are truly the universal vegetable. They are used in almost every type of cuisine you can imagine, from traditional British fare such as casseroles and stews, to the Indian subcontinent where carrots are used to make bhajis and specialty dishes like carrot jelly, to the Middle East where carrots are often roasted and served as a prominent accompaniment to main meals. The culinary uses for carrots, then, are indeed almost endless – but what about the nutritional aspects? Just how good are carrots for you, specifically?
The answer: extremely good.
Carrots are actually a remarkable vegetable – numerous scientific studies have suggested that they have beneficial effects for eyesight and cardiovascular health, and that they lower the risk of diabetes and certain types of cancer (mainly prostate and lung cancer).
The Journal of Nutrition published a study in 2006 detailing a 16-week long study on mice specially bred to develop atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits such as cholesterol accumulate in the artery walls, leading to extreme cardiovascular stress. The mice were split into two groups. One group was fed a vegetable-free diet for the duration of the study, and the other group was fed a diet consisting of vegetables – primarily carrots and peas. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the mice on the carrots and peas diet had a 38 percent reduction in plaque, and a 37 percent reduction in serum amyloid – a type of protein associated with inflammation. The reduction of the serum amyloid could be attributed to the decreased inflammation and reduced plaque in the blood vessels and arteries of the mice.
The researchers concluded that “The results indicate that a diet rich in green and yellow vegetables (carrots) inhibits the development of atherosclerosis and may therefore lead to a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.’’
Another study conducted in Japan, published in the Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that diets rich in alpha and beta-carotene, which carrots are in abundance of, resulted in a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The study was done on 3,061 Japanese men and women between the ages of 39 and 80 and the results can be found here.
If you needed more evidence that carrot intake is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk, another study, this time published in the Journal of Nutrition, conducted on 559 elderly Dutch men over a period of 15 years, showed that the men with higher levels of beta-carotenes had notably reduced rates of death from cardiovascular disease. The study concluded that ‘Dietary intakes of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are inversely associated with CVD mortality in elderly men.’. Pretty convincing evidence, if you ask us.
The benefits don’t just stop there, however – carrots have also been shown to have a noticeable effect in reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. Read on and discover more about this fantastic inanimate orange rod.
Carrots have been shown to have significant effects in reducing the risk of contracting certain cancers. One study highlighting this fact was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which examined the relationship between colorectal cancer in rats and their intake of carrots as well as a compound called falcarinol – a natural pesticide and fatty alcohol found only in carrots. The rats were split into three groups, with the initial group being fed a standard rat diet plus 10% freeze-dried carrots, the second group being fed a standard rat diet plus added falcarinol, and the final group being fed only the standard rat diet. The study concluded that after the 18 week trial period, the first two groups – the rats with added carrot and falcarinol in their diets – had a 33% reduction in their likelihood of developing colorectal cancer than the rats who were fed the standard rat food.
A study entitled ‘Dietary phytoestrogens and lung cancer risk’, published by the Department of Epidemiology at The University of Texas in 2005 set out to determine if there was a relationship between dietary intake of phytoestrogens, a type of hormone that occurs naturally in carrots, and risk of lung cancer.
What they found was astonishing.
The study compared the dietary habits and patterns of 1,674 people to those of 1,735 healthy people. The study specifically accounted for the effects of smokers, ensuring participants who were smokers or non-smokers did not artificially affect the results, and found that the incidence of lung cancer in people with the highest levels of phytoestrogen consumption was 46 percent lower that the people with the lowest levels of phytoestrogen consumption.
The researchers did add a caveat to their findings, stating that ‘‘there are limitations and concerns regarding case-control studies of diet and cancer,’’ but concluding that ‘‘these data provide further support for the limited but growing epidemiologic evidence that phytoestrogens are associated with a decrease in risk of lung cancer.’’.
Carrots have also been shown to have beneficial effects in helping to reduce the chance of getting diabetes. The reason that carrots have that lush, vibrant orange color is the carotenoids within them, a type of organic pigment, and these carotenoids are also known to be an antioxidant. A study from the Journal of Epidemiology found that these carotenoids most likely have a beneficial effect in prevent diabetes. The study was conducted on 4,493 people between 18 and 30 over a period of 16 years – and concluded that people who had diets high in carotenoids (and who were also non-smokers) were found to be about 48% less likely to develop diabetes.
Prostate enlargement is a condition affecting most men 30 years of age and above which results in – you guessed it – an enlarged prostate gland.
The condition might not sound so serious, but later in life if untreated it can lead to increased urinary frequency, a random urgent need to urinate (including incontinence), and involuntary urination at night (wetting the bed, basically).
The good news is that carrots can help reduce the risk of developing this problem. A study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that men between the ages of 46 and 81 who ate a diet high in beta-carotene (again, found in large quantities in carrots) had a 13 percent reduced risk of developing an enlarged prostate than those who ate only negligible amounts of beta-carotene.
Perhaps the most well known health benefit that carrots provide is improved eye health. Research published in the mid 60’s showing a positive correlation between beta-carotene consumption and improved eyesight caused wannabe pilots everywhere to walk around everywhere with a carrot in hand, in the hope of improving eyesight to eagle eye levels of precision. While the benefits don’t quite work like that, carrots still play an important role in maintaining eye health.
Age-related macular degeneration is a condition that causes damage to the retina and a subsequent loss of vision in the center of the visual field. People above 55 are particularly vulnerable to this condition, and a study in 2005 published in the The Journal of the AMA was conducted on 4,000 people in this age group to determine whether consumption of beta-carotene had any effect on the likelihood of developing it. The study lasted for eight years, and researchers recorded and studied the changes in eye health of each participant and how they correlated with diet – particularly with any consumption of foods containing beta-carotene. They concluded that participants who ate an above-average amount of foods containing beta-carotene, along with vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, benefitted from a 35% reduced chance of contracting macular degeneration.
In conclusion, then, whilst I don’t think that anyone actually doubted that carrots, as with all vegetables, are an essential part of any healthy diet, it’s still somewhat surprising just how many different health benefits can be obtained from this humble little vegetable. Carrots are cheap to buy in bulk, too, which makes them an ideal candidate for juicing, and personally, I find them a lot more palatable than many other vegetables, so I throw them into most dinners I make, even if just as a side dish. They’re versatile, tasty, easy to cook, and best of all – you could be looking at a longer, healthier life just by eating one of these nutrient-filled vegetables a day.