Health Benefits of Carrots

Tens of millions of Americans grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. The famous aficionado of carrots once crooned, “Oh carrots are divine, you get a dozen for a dime, it's magic.”

You can't get a dozen carrots for ten cents any more, but carrots are an inexpensive, versatile addition to juice blends or great to juice and drink all by themselves. The key to making flavourful carrot juices is combining them with just a pinch of other herbs and vegetables in the same plant family.

What's a Carrot?

The carrot, or at least the part we usually eat, is the long taproot of a plant that has multiple stems covered with hundreds of small, parsley-like leaves. It is possible to eat the leaves as greens, although most people find them to be something of an acquired taste.

Modern carrots are usually orange, but there are also yellow, purple, and white varieties still in cultivation. The orange carrot was popularized by the House of Orange, the ruling family of the Netherlands, back in the seventeenth century. Prior to that time, most carrots were purple or white, and had forked roots.

If you really don't want to eat GMO carrots, then avoid the yellow varieties. Yellow carrots grown from seed are sold by the Syngenta Company, and are genetically modified. Most commercial yellow carrots, not otherwise labelled, will have been grown from Syngenta seeds.

Orange carrots are one of the very best sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene. (Only red peppers contain more.) Beta-carotene is a kinder, gentler version of vitamin A that the body can use to make vitamin A is it is needed without the rare, although potentially toxic, side effects of vitamin A overdose.

White carrots aren't especially rich in beta-carotene although they are a good source of vitamin E.

What Health Issues Are Especially Responsive to Carrots?

There's probably no keener use of carrots than that of preventing sunburn. The beta-carotene and related carotenoid antioxidants in carrots help the skin “neutralize” UV rays so that it doesn't burn as quickly.

Other health applications of carrots include:

Reducing the salt content of sausages. A little grated carrot added to cured pork may actually enhance the taste while reducing the amount of sodium per serving.

Protecting against a particularly aggressive kind of lung cancer known as mesothelioma. As little as one serving a month is associated with about a 50% reduction in risk. No other vegetable has this productive benefit for mesothelioma.

Reducing rates of glaucoma and bone fractures in women after menopause. African-American women in particular seem to benefit from eating carrots. About one serving a week is enough to make a difference for these conditions.

Reducing the risk of stomach cancer, especially in Mexico and Central America, where many people are unusually sensitive to nitrites in meat. Stomach cancer rates are unusually high, but they are 50% lower in people who consume vegetables that contain cinnamic acids, secoisolariciresinol and coumestrol, primarily carrots, but also pinto beans and squash (calabaza, the yellow summer squash).

Juicing is the best way to serve raw carrots to toddlers and pre-schoolers, so there is less danger of the food “going down the wrong pipe.”

Where Do Carrots Fit in the Families of Vegetables?

Carrots are members of the plant family Apiaceae (formerly known as the Umbelliferae). Carrots are plant cousins of parsley, the South American vegetable arracacha, celery, chervil, cilantro (the leaf) or coriander (the seed), cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, and sea holly, all of which complement their flavour. Start with just a pinch, about 1/8 teaspoon (less than half a milligram), and add more if you like the taste.

What Is the Best Way to Eat Carrots Raw?

A surprising fact about carrots is that cooking them concentrates their beta-carotene content, and dehydrating them at low temperature concentrates beta-carotene even more. But if you just want to enjoy the fresh, sweet flavour and crunch of a raw carrot, simply peel and eat as is.

The actual peel of a carrot doesn't contain nutrients that the human digestive tract can digest. Bacteria in the gut can digest carrot fibre, but whether that is a good thing or not depends on a number of factors. If you have only recently (in the last 30 days) started eating more fruits and vegetables, then avoid carrot peels for a while to give your healthy bacteria a chance to multiply so that they can handle the fibre.

The digestive tract can't absorb beta-carotene, and other antioxidant nutrients from carrots, without the help of at least a bit fat. So when you are snacking on carrot sticks, eat at least a little creamy or oily dip as it will bring out their flavour and also help your digestive tract absorb the beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, alph-carotene, and other antioxidants.

What Is the Best Way to Use Carrots in Salads?

Carrots add a sweet, crunchy note to salads. Typically, grated carrots are combined with fruits (such as pineapple or raisins) to make them sweeter, but it can be more interesting to add a pungent note. Add red bell pepper (for even more antioxidants), pickled peppers, hot peppers, or just a little bit of wasabi into the mix.

Or you could use the carrot to make the dressing for another salad:

Japanese Carrot Dressing

This is a dressing similar to the house dressings a lot of Japanese restaurants use on iceberg lettuce served for lunch in special bento boxes. It's not especially high in antioxidants, but it is high in anti-inflammatory compounds due to the ginger.

To make the dressing, you will need:

1 small peeled carrot

2 tablespoons (30 ml) of mirin

1 tablespoon (15 ml) of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of prepared mustard, but not “hot” Chinese mustards (Grey Poupon or any kind of mustard with visible seeds works well)

1 inch by 1 inch (about 15 grams) of cube peeled fresh ginger root

Pop all the ingredients into a blender, and then process until smooth. Add grated carrot for colour, if desired, after blending other ingredients. Mix with tahini for a Japanese-style dressing, giving the mix a nutty, sesame taste.

What Is the Best Way to Cook Carrots?

Cooking concentrates the antioxidants in carrots. Boiling can leach out potassium and other mineral nutrients, but steaming, stir frying, braising, or even roasting carrots, preserves most of the nutritional content. Roasting or stir-frying carrots brings out the flavours of their sugars, and adding just a tiny amount (maybe a teaspoon/5 ml) of honey to oven or pan-roasted carrots, greatly increases their taste.

Texas, in the American Southwest, and in Mexico, some adventurous cooks combined carrots with tequila. About a pound (450 grams) of carrots cooked in 1/4 pound (100 grams or so) of butter with dill seeds, and 1/4 cup (60 ml) of tequila, produces a very interesting flavour. Most, but not all of the alcohol in the tequila, boils off, and the flavour of the spirit stays in the sauce.

What Are the Best Carrots for Juicing?

The best tasting carrots are fresh. Fresh carrots are crisp. They have a definite crunch. The ideal carrots for making juice are fresh ones that stored at a temperature of 40°F/4°C in the crisper of the refrigerator after purchase. Surprisingly, cutting carrots increases their available beta-carotene and other antioxidants, and juicing them makes even more antioxidants available. Orange carrots contain the most beta-carotene, but white, Daucus carrots contain the most vitamin E.

Dried carrots concentrate beta-carotene, containing about four times as much pigment as fresh. Of course, they can't be juiced. If you simply want to add beta-carotene to other juice mixes you make with apples, apricots, beet, or leafy vegetables, toss in a little dried carrot, however much you like, into the mix. Up to 1 oz. (30 grams) of dried carrot in 1 quart (about a litre) of juice of any kind, adds subtle flavour and lots of beta-carotene. Canned carrot juice contains slightly more beta-carotene than fresh because processing breaks down fibres that trap antioxidants, but fresh carrot juice tastes better.

Baby carrots, despite what you may have heard, are OK for juicing. It is true that baby carrots are cut out of carrots that are not pretty enough to sell without trimming, but they are just as likely to be fresh, and they have fewer bacteria than the carrots bought by the bunch.

Carrot juice, by the way, isn't a very good source of beta-carotene. That's because most juicers express the juice that lies between the fibre-coated cells in the root without breaking them, thus leaving the beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, and lycopene inside. Most of the nutritional benefit of the carrot stays in the juicer. It's best to run carrots through a food processor first and then put them in the juicer, to release more – about 600% more – of their antioxidant content. It also helps if you consume just a small amount of some fatty food, such as nuts, when you drink carrot juice, so that your digestive tract can better absorb the antioxidants.

What Are Some Ways to Make Carrot Juice More Interesting?

Carrots are great juiced by themselves. They are also great in combinations:

Even though they are in different plant families, pineapple and grated ginger make spicy, sweet addition to carrot juice. You could juice carrots with oranges, grapefruit, or tangerines, or with apples and/or beets.

Grated carrot makes a nice garnish for carrot juice, as does chopped parsley (added after juicing).

A little tarragon, a few chives, or a bit of honey, all help bring out the “carrot-y” flavours in carrot juice. Virgin olive oil contrasts carrot flavours and also helps your body absorb their beta-carotene. Just a teaspoon of olive oil is enough to make a difference. Smoked paprika oil also works well.

If you are looking to make a gourmet carrot juice, add just a little bit of the tops to the mix. If you like parsley, chances are that you will like carrot tops—but the juice will turn out to be green or greenish in colour.

It's possible to bring out the sweetness in carrots by roasting a few in the oven and then adding them to your regular carrot juice mix. Some people also add roasted onions and beet. Don't do an entire batch of juice with only roasted root vegetables though. Tossing the leftovers in with other veggies for juicing will add complex, sweet caramel flavours to the juice.

If you want to go higher-protein with your carrot juice, then make a carrot juice smoothie. You can do this by tossing in a little (about 2 oz. / 60 grams) of cheese. Soft white cheese, like San Andreas cheese, is especially tasty.

Try adding carrot juice to chicken soup. Make a carrot juice orange ginger sorbet with 2 cups (about 500 ml) of carrot juice, 2 cups of orange juice, and the juice from a knob of ginger. Pour the mixture into a pan and place into the freezer for an hour. You then loosen the crystals of the frozen mixture with a fork to make a sorbet. Serve a big spoon of the sorbet with a shot of cucumber juice.

For another tasty sorbet you can serve on its own, put equal amounts of carrots and sweet potatoes in the juicer, and then use the resulting juice to make a sorbet, with or without ginger.

How Do I Get Kids to Like Carrots?

Sometimes you just can't get kids to like carrots no matter how hard you try. However, as long as the child is getting some kind of brightly coloured vegetable every day, such as tomato, squash or pumpkin, the body can interconvert beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, into the vitamin A the child needs. A study in China found that children who get at least one serving of coloured vegetables every day grew faster than those who did not. Even yellow-fleshed potatoes, chili peppers, Napa cabbage, and, believe it or not, ketchup, can all help the body make the nutrients it gets more easily from carrots.

How Long Does Carrot Juice Keep?

Disease-causing bacteria like Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), are found in tiny quantities, even on washed carrot roots, though not enough to make anyone sick. The bacteria do not multiply on the root when it is kept in the crisper.

Once the carrot is turned into juice, any bacteria on the root begin to multiply. Keeping carrot juice in the main part of the refrigerator for 24 hours will allow any bacteria to multiply about 10,000 times. Keeping carrot juice at room temperature for 24 hours will allow bacteria to multiply nearly 1,000,000 times in 24 hours. However, if you keep containers of juice in the vegetable crisper, the coldest part of the refrigerator, there should be no significant multiplication of harmful bacteria for about a week.

Tips for Frugal Use of Carrots

Carrot tops are tasty when they are at their freshest (bought within the last 48 hours), but they do turn bitter rather quickly. Cooked carrot greens are sweeter than raw greens. They can be used in place of basil to make pesto, but they need to be cooked, with rather aggressive salting, to make sure the pesto isn't bitter. They should be shocked in cold water after they are blanched for about two minutes in boiling water. It is also important to squeeze out the cooking liquid from the cooked carrot tops before adding them to the food processor to make the pesto; otherwise the mixture will be runny. You can mix cooked carrot tops with raw basil to make the pesto, if you like, and use cashews instead of pine nuts.


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Gómez-Aldapa CA, Torres-Vitela MD, Acevedo-Sandoval OA, Rangel-Vargas E, Villarruel-López A, Castro-Rosas J. Behaviour of four diarrheagenic Escherichia coli pathotypes on carrots and in unpasteurizedcarrot juice. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2013 Aug 13. doi: 10.1111/lam.12145. [Epub ahead of print].

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About Andy Williams

Andy Williams has a Ph.D. in biology and a strong interest in health and nutrition. The Paleo Gut web site was created to explore the health benefits of the Paleo diet and see how it is changing lives. Also, get our free daily Paleo Gut newspaper delivered to your inbox. Please feel free to contact me and let me know about your Paleo experiences or favorite recipes.

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