What are carrots?
A popular root vegetable of the Apiaceae family, carrots (daucus carota) are incredibly versatile – enjoy them raw as a snack or in salads, cooked for soups and sides or added to sweet bakes.
Although most of us associate carrots with their bright orange colour, the original carrots were yellow and purple. The most commonly eaten part of the plant is the root, although the stem and leaves are also edible and used in some parts of the world as a herb or salad leaf.
In the Western diet, carrots are an important source of dietary carotenes and make a valuable contribution towards our vitamin A requirements.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides or check out some of our best carrot recipes, from impressive snacks, like our carrot and cumin hummus with swirled harissa, to our top-rated easy carrot cake.
An 80g serving of carrots (raw) provides:
2mg vitamin C
An 80g serving of carrots contributes one of your five-a-day, check out our handy infographic for more information on what counts.
Top 5 health benefits of carrots
1. Rich source of dietary carotenoids
As their name suggests, carrots are rich in plant compounds called carotenoids – these compounds accumulate in the root, the part we most enjoy eating. About 80 per cent of the carotenes in carrots are a type called beta-carotene, and are often referred to as pro-vitamin A because we convert them to vitamin A in our intestines. The majority of these carotenoids are in the flesh or outer section of the root, rather than the core. Carotenoids play an important role in eyesight – the old wives tale of eating carrots to help see in the dark has more than an element of truth in it.
Carotenoids also help maintain a well-functioning immune system, are important for skin health and aging and support our mucosal membranes in important areas like the respiratory system.
Interestingly, when we cook carrots by roasting, baking, griddling or microwaving we can improve, or at the very least maintain, their carotenoid content. Puréed and enjoyed with a little fat or oil and you’ll increase your ability to absorb the pro-vitamin A content even more.
2. May support cholesterol balance and heart health
Carrots are a source of fibre as well as protective plant compounds, including carotenoids as well as vitamin C, all of which contribute to their heart protective properties. Of particular note, carrots appear to help modify cholesterol absorption and as a result may improve cholesterol balance.
However, much of this evidence is derived from animal studies and more human trials are needed before a heart protective benefit can be confirmed.
3. May help with weight loss goals
Low in calories and a good source of fibre, research suggests that including vegetables, like carrots, in your diet helps increase fullness and a sense of satiation. Nevertheless, some weight loss plans, like the very low-carb diet plans, advise avoiding carrots because they contribute more in the way of simple carbs. This approach ignores the other health benefits of carrots and the fact that when eaten in their whole form the structure, fibre and high water content of carrots helps curb appetite, whilst their natural sweetness may be helpful when reducing other sugars in the diet.
4. May reduce the risk of cancer
Being rich in protective plant compounds, including carotenoids, chlorogenic acid and falcarinol, carrots have been associated with reduced cancer risk, however, evidence to support this is inconclusive.
Associations may be due to the fact that carrots are enjoyed by people who are more likely to eat a healthy diet, rich in a wide variety of vegetables.
5. May support gut health
A study in young women who ate sufficient carrots to supply 15g of fibre per day over a three week period reported that the fibre was highly fermentable. Further, studies confirm the vegetable has a prebiotic role, which means the fibre is a good source of fuel for the beneficial bacteria that reside in the gut. Many of these gut bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which have benefits not only for the gut but for our wider health too.
Are carrots safe for everyone?
For the majority of people, and as part of a balanced, healthy diet, carrots are generally recognised as safe unless you have an allergy to them. An allergy to carrots appears to be more likely in parts of Europe than elsewhere in the world and may be associated with pollen-food cross reactivity.
Eaten in excess, carrots may lead to a condition called carotenemia, where the skin takes on a yellowish appearance. Intakes of around 1 kg per day of juiced or raw carrots have also been associated, in rare cases, with neutropenia (a reduced level of white blood cells), and amenorrhea (cessation of periods).
This article was published on 9th November 2021.
Kerry Torrens is a Registered nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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