Many, many years ago, I was addicted to carrots. I ate a whole lot of carrots every day, for months. Carrots are healthy, what could go wrong? Well, my health didn’t suffer, but my skin turned orange. I went to see a doctor for a completely unrelated issue and he thought I had hepatitis. So yes, there can be too much of a good thing, the good thing being carotene, the inactive form of vitamin A found in carrots.
The humble carrot has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. It originated in Western Asia and cultivation and use spread into African and Eastern Asian lands. Interestingly, early carrots were black, white, red and purple but not orange. Orange carrots didn’t happen by accident. They were created in the Netherlands during the 17th century, by selective breeding, to honor the ruling House of Orange. So when you snack on carrots, you’re celebrating Dutch royalty. Who knew?
Carrots on the plate
Raw carrots are a great snack and a great simple addition to a meal. They’re easy to prepare — peel and eat. They’re crunchy, slightly sweet and filling. They keep well and they’re inexpensive. If you have space in a garden, they’re fairly easy to grow.
Carrots are also nutritious. A large carrot (about 8 inches long) has:
- about 30 calories
- 2 grams fiber
- 3.4 grams sugar, mostly sucrose
- 230 mg potassium
- almost 8500 micrograms of carotenes, which comes to about 600 micrograms Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).
RAE is a measurement of vitamin A activity that allows us to compare vitamin A values in different foods. For example, 12 micrograms of beta-carotene has the same vitamin A potential as 1 microgram of retinol. The recommended vitamin A intake is 900 mcg RAE for adult men and 700 for adult women. So one large carrot almost covers a woman’s daily vitamin A intake.
Purple carrots get their color from anthocyanins, a polyphenol also found in other purple plant foods like grapes, red cabbage, blackberries and purple potatoes. Anthocyanins are known to have antioxidant properties, and may have a beneficial effect on gut microbes. No word on whether eating lots of lots of purple carrots will turn your skin purple.
What about sugar?
It’s fashionable among the Food Scolds to screech about the sugar content of carrots. While carrots may have more sugar than other vegetables, they have less sugar than apples and other fruit. Even carrot juice is lower in sugar than fruit juices like orange juice. If you’re talking carrot cake, that’s a different story. Carrot cake is high sugar. The health benefit of the carrot content won’t cancel out the sugar.
Cooked vs Raw
Absorption of carotenes from carrots is only 10-30% efficient. Cooking may improve absorption slightly. Cooked carrots are certainly easier to chew, a boon to people with dental issues.
There are plenty of interesting cooked carrot recipes out there. Thanks to the dense texture and slightly sweet flavor, carrots blend well with spicy and savory seasonings. Roasted and glazed carrot recipes are simple: peel, toss with a glaze/oil seasoning, roast until done. Matchstick carrots are a great addition to stir fry and fried rice. Add chunks of carrots to stews and pot roasts; add sliced carrots to soups.
Shredding makes raw carrots easier to chew. Add them to salads, wraps, tacos, burgers or sandwiches.
A carrot a day?
I stopped eating carrots completely years ago. Gradually the carotene cleared out of my skin. Recently I’ve rediscovered them as a tasty afternoon snack, but one a day, not 6 or more. Chewing on a carrot is more satisfying than eating a cookie or chips. It takes awhile to eat a carrot; there’s much more chewing involved compared to a cookie. A carrot a day is not a bad idea. I highly recommend it.