Carrot: a powerful natural healer

Include carrots regularly in your diet as they are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds, and are the richest vegetable source of beta-carotene

Vibrant bunch of carrotsCarrots, the favourite food of Bugs Bunny, hardly need a description for they are well known and loved by even children. Carrots benefits are legendary. Remember your grandmother telling you to eat more of this veggie to keep your eyesight bright?

We usually associate carrots with the colour red/orange, but the fact is, carrots grow in a host of other colours including white, yellow, red, or purple, the latter being the colour of the original variety. Carrot is a plant with a thick, fleshy, deeply coloured root, which grows underground, and feathery green leaves that emerge above ground. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, named after the umbrella like flower clusters that plants in this family produce.

Why include carrots in your diet

Carrots are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds, and are the richest vegetable source of the pro-vitamin A carotenes. Beta-carotene helps to protect vision, especially night vision. Beta-carotene’s powerful antioxidant actions also help provide protection against macular degeneration and the development of senile cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Research conducted at Kansas State University suggested that if you are frequently exposed to second-hand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as carrots, part of your diet is an intelligent decision to save your life. This is because beta-carotene in the carrot can be easily changed by our body into vitamin A, which is essential for healthy cell growth and a strong immune system. Therefore including as little as one carrot per day could cut the rate of lung cancer in half. Just 100g of carrots provides 6,460ug of beta-carotene and 8840ug of total carotenes.

The researches also found that carrot contains bulk of folic acid, a group of vitamin B, which can fight against free radicals [substances that cause cancer] in our body. The lignin found in carrot helps strengthen the immune system to fight against cancerous cells.

High carrot intake has been linked with a 20 per cent decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer and 50 per cent decrease in the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and oesophagus. It also has anti-hypertensive drug properties which help to reduce the blood pressure. Therefore, it is also regarded as a good addition for hypertensive patients. But carrots should be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas since exposure to this gas makes them bitter. Carrot Juice

Carrots are rich in fibre and are a good low-calorie substitute. Calorie content of 100g carrots is just 48 calories and hence serves as a good meal filler for people on a diet. The fibre in carrots helps to cleanse the stomach and this helps to prevent constipation. All you have to do is blend fresh organic carrot juice in a juicer and dip a drop of olive oil into the glass. Stir the mixture and have 150 ml of this juice every morning. This will help relieve you from the most undesirable constipation. In fact, carrots also act as a tonic in conditions like diarrhoea.

How to cook carrots

Carrots are delicious when eaten raw or cooked. Beta-carotene is not destroyed by cooking; in fact, cooking breaks down the fibre, making this nutrient and carrots’ sugars more available, thus also making them taste sweeter. Take care not to overcook carrots to retain their maximum flavour and nutritional content. As carrot has fat-soluble substances, its nutrition is absorbed better with the presence of oil. Therefore, it is better to dip one drop of olive oil into a glass of carrot juice.

Like many foods, carrots too, when eaten in excess produce unhealthy results. Consuming too many carrots or drinking too much juice can turn your skin, mostly the hands, yellowish-orange. This could be due to two reasons. Either your body is unable to process all the carotene you consume, or your liver is toxic. This condition is called carotenemia. Though the skin discolouration is harmless and is not a threat to your health, it might be shocking to some who may find this appearance absurd. Remember that excess carotene can often cause this condition in children and is uncommon in healthy adults because their liver mainly functions well enough to convert the beta-carotene to vitamin A and eliminate the rest from the body.

How to select and store carrots

The selection of carrots is of great importance. Always choose carrots whose roots are firm, smooth, relatively straight and bright in colour. The deeper the orange-colour, the more beta-carotene is present in the carrot. If the green tops are attached, they should be brightly coloured, feathery and not wilted. Since the sugars are concentrated in the carrots core, generally those with larger diameters will have a larger core and therefore be sweeter.

Carrots are rough and tough vegetables that will remain fresh longer than many others, if stored properly. The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimise the amount of moisture they lose. To do this, make sure to store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which will reduce the amount of condensation. This method will keep them fresh for about two weeks.

Have this attractive vegetable for its wholesome benefits and boost your health.

Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.


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