Carrots are orange vegetables with green leafy stems that can be grown in gardens or purchased in supermarkets. The potential benefits of carrots stem far beyond their well-known ability for improving one's vision. They are full of compounds that have the ability to prevent certain cancers from growing in the body. Those compounds also fight against heart attacks and help lower cholesterol.
The orange color of the carrot comes from the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the larger benefits of carrots. Beta-carotene fights free radicals, malicious molecules inside the body that cause heart disease and cancer. Free radicals also cause macular degeneration, the leading cause of older adults losing their vision.
Beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A once inside the body. This conversion is what helps improve vision. It is a well-known fact that carrots were cultivated during World War II to help the pilots see better at night.
Vitamin A forms a purple pigment that our eyes need for seeing in dim light. This purple pigment is known as rhodopsin and is located in the light-sensitive area of the retina. The more Vitamin A inside the body means we produce more rhodopsin. People with low levels of rhodopsin may develop night blindness, making it nearly impossible to drive at night or see in a movie theater after the lights are dimmed.
Another antioxidant that makes the benefits of carrots so important is alpha-carotene. Alpha-carotene, although not as well-known as beta-carotene, has been proven to fight cancer. Studies have further shown that we are less likely to die of cancers if we consume a diet high in antioxidants.
While most vegetables lose their nutrients through cooking, cooking is actually one of the unusual benefits of carrots. Cooking them for a small amount of time causes the high levels of dietary fiber inside carrots to release the beta-carotene from its cells so the body can absorb it. Making carrot juice also breaks up the fibers, allowing the beta-carotene to escape and be absorbed.
Beta-carotene needs fat to travel through the intestinal wall and into the body. Eating vegetable dip with carrots will help this process occur throughout the digestion process. It is wise to trim the greenery from carrots before storing. The leafy top will draw out the nutritional benefits and moisture from the carrots before they can be eaten.
Eating too many carrots can cause an unpleasant side effect where the skin turns orange. This condition is called carotenosis. Carotenosis is harmless and can be resolved by not eating carrots for a day or two until the skin returns to normal. This is frequently seen in babies who are given pureed carrots, sweet potatoes and squash in their daily diet.