Carrot (Daucus carota) is a root vegetable belonging to the family Apiaceae. The root is generally orange in color with green leaves at one end. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is the taproot, which has a crunchy texture and a sweet, minty aromatic taste.
While carrots are usually associated with the orange color, but they actually come in a variety of colors, including purple, yellow, white, and red. In fact, the first carrots cultivated were yellow, purple, and white – not orange in color.
A Brief History of Carrots
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), carrots originated in Afghanistan and Central Asia, possibly Iran and Pakistan. Carrots were first cultivated thousands of years ago in Afghanistan and were initially available only in purple and yellow, dating back to 900 – 1000 AD. White carrots were reported in Europe in the 1700s.
The orange variety of carrots was created by the Dutch by mixing different varieties to honor the color of the contemporary Dutch flag. This carrot quickly became popular and was further developed to become the sweet, succulent orange carrot, which is the most recognized carrot used throughout the world today.
Currently, the purple and yellow wild carrots still exist in the Middle East, white carrots persist in Europe, and the red variety is found in Japan.
Nutritional Value of Carrots
Carrot is a highly nutritious vegetable. Just one cup provides over four times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 21 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin K. Carrot is also rich in fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese.
Moreover, carrots contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant which gives carrots their bright orange color. Many studies have shown that beta carotene supplementation may offer protection against the free radicals, reduce cataracts risk, and slow down the aging process.
Here are the nutrition facts for one cup (128 grams) of chopped, raw carrots :
- Calories: 52.5
- Carbohydrate: 12.3 g
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Dietary fiber: 3.6 g
- Vitamin A: 21400 IU
- Vitamin K: 16.9 mcg
- Vitamin C: 7.6 mg
- Potassium: 410 mg
- Manganese: 0.2 mg
Carrots are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. They can be eaten raw as a snack, boiled, steamed, sauteed, roasted, or used in breads and cake. They can also be juiced and mixed with various fruit purees for a healthy smoothie.
Health Benefits of Eating Carrots
1. Maintain a healthy eyesight
Carrots are the best food to eat for a healthy eyesight. They contain huge amounts of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, an essential vitamin for healthy vision. Deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness. Beta-carotene is also known to protect against senile cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Additionally, carrot contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
2. Prevent cancer
Many studies have shown that eating carrots may help lower the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. Recently, researchers have isolated a compound called falcarinol in carrots that may be largely responsible for their anti-cancer benefits.
Falcarinol is a natural pesticide found in carrot that protects it from fungal diseases. In the human diet, carrot is probably the only source of this compound.
A study conducted on mice found that those who were fed with either raw carrots or falcarinol had one-third less risk of colon cancer than mice did not fed with them .
3. Prevent heart disease
Studies have also shown that eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots reduces the risk of developing heart disease. In fact, a Dutch study showed that eating deep orange produce by just 25 g can lead to a 32 percent lower risk of heart disease .
The fiber in carrots also boosts heart health by eliminating excess LDL (bad) cholesterol from the artery walls and blood vessels.
4. Regulate blood sugar levels
Carrots can help regulate blood sugar as they contain carotenoids. The plant pigments have been found to inversely affect insulin resistance, and thus lower blood sugar, which help diabetics people to live a normal and healthy life .
They also regulate the amount of insulin and glucose that is being used and metabolized by the body, so that there are fewer blood sugar fluctuations in diabetic patients.
5. Boost immune system
Due to their high vitamin C content, carrots can give your immune system a boost. It stimulates the activity of white blood cells, which are an important part of the immune system.
Carrots also have antiseptic and antibacterial properties that make them ideal for boosting the immune system.
6. Promote skin health
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A, which are essential for your skin health. They help to speed up healing, prevent wrinkles and support the skin’s immune system. They also assist in promoting and maintaining a healthy dermis and epidermis, the top two layers of your skin.
7. Maintain oral health
Carrot acts as a natural abrasive that scrubs away plaque and leftover food particles. Chewing on crunchy carrots at the end of a meal can clean the teeth and decrease the risk of cavities.
Eating carrots also stimulate the production of saliva, which helps to prevent tooth decay by neutralizing the acids produced by bacteria in your mouth.
How to Choose and Store Carrots
When buying carrots, look for ones that are firm, well-shaped, and brightly colored. If the tops are still attached, make sure that they are bright green and fresh-looking. Also, be sure to choose medium-sized carrots that taper at the ends. Larger-sized carrots may be woodier and tougher to eat.
To preserve the freshness of carrot roots, remove the tops as soon as you get them home – as they draw away moisture from the root. Then, place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Do not wash carrots until they’re ready to use, as the added moisture in the bag could cause spoilage. Using this method will keep them stay fresh and crisp, with minimal nutrient loss, for about 10 days or up to two months if properly prepared or packaged.