Carrots are probably one of the most popular vegetables ever. They taste sweet and can be nibbled straight out of your hand. But they can also be processed into salads, vegetables, juice, and even cakes in no time at all. Since carrots are also one of the top sources of carotenoids, they are also extremely healthy – especially for the eyes, skin, and heart. At the same time, they protect against diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and cancer. By the way, carrots – also known as carrots – are not only available in orange. They are also available in white, purple, and almost black.
Carrots – Healing and Pleasure
In the beginning, there was the wild carrot. Like all other types of carrots, it belongs to the Umbelliferae family, as do dill, coriander, and fennel. Their homeland is probably the Near East.
Today, however, it can be found all over Europe on meadow edges and roadsides. You can easily recognize them with their unique flowers. Because only the wild carrot has a black dot – the so-called carrot flower – in the middle of its snow-white umbel flower. Hence the name carrot, as it is still called in some regions of Germany today.
The wild carrot was already used by Stone Age people as a foodstuff, but also as a medicinal plant. Thus, its leaves were used for injuries and wounds, while its seeds were used as a contraceptive. Its thin, pole-shaped root, on the other hand, was considered a symbol of fertility and was used as an aphrodisiac.
But while the wild carrot is unfortunately hardly noticed anymore and is only appreciated by wild herb lovers, one of her daughters has taken the world by storm.
The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) – also known as garden carrot, carrot, yellow turnip, or carrot – emerged from a cross between the wild carrot and other types of carrot and was already considered a very popular vegetable in ancient times.
Compared to its ancestor, the carrot has a special advantage: a much larger, juicier, and sweeter root. This beet is the reason why the carrot is now the most important vegetable in Europe after the tomato.
Colorful carrots are on the rise
If you ask someone today what color the carrot is, the answer will most likely be orange! That was not always so. Because long before the orange carrot gained popularity, white, yellow, red, and purple carrots were eaten.
While the beets of the wild carrot and the carrots once cultivated in the Mediterranean region are white, the yellow, red, and violet forms have their origin in Afghanistan. They did not reach Spain and Italy until the 12th century. From the 16th century, yellow turnips were the undisputed number one across Europe. According to many sources, the very first orange carrots were grown in Holland at exactly that time, allegedly to honor the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nassau.
However, this is only a legend, as some old illustrations clearly show that the orange carrots must have existed in ancient times. It should also be said that the word “orange” was only used in the 16th century and was previously described with adjectives such as yellow-red or dark yellow. Nonetheless, it really was the Dutch who made a name for themselves by selectively breeding orange carrot varieties.
These varieties were not only popular because of their color, but also because of their taste, that in the course of the 19th century the yellow beet was only used as animal feed, while the red and purple carrots were completely forgotten. In the meantime, carrots of different colors are increasingly being grown and offered, which today – just like the orange carrot back then – attract a lot of attention because of the colors that are perceived as atypical.
Purple carrots in particular are now available in some supermarkets. They are called Purple Dragon, Purple Haze, Lila Luder, or even Black Spanish.
The nutrients of the carrot
Like most vegetables, carrots consist of almost 90 percent water and have a calorific value of 109 kJ (26 kcal). Despite their natural sweetness, the delicious carrots are very low in calories, with raw carrots being more filling than cooked ones. 100 g of fresh carrots contain round:
Per 100g carrots:
- Calorific value: 26 kcal / 109 kJ
- Carbohydrates: 4.8 g (of which sugars: 2 g)
- Fiber: 3.6 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Fat: 0.2g
The glycemic index of carrots
The glycemic index (GI) of food has long been popular as part of the so-called glycemic diet. The GI indicates how much the respective food affects the blood sugar level. The higher the GI, the faster the blood sugar level rises after eating the food, and the less favorable this is said to be in terms of weight. The GI of glucose (100) is the highest.
Depending on the source, raw carrots have a GI of 20 to 30, and cooked carrots have a GI of 40 to even 85 – which is an extremely high GI value. For comparison: White bread also has a GI of 85, while table sugar only has a GI of 70. It is understandable that carrots suddenly got a bad reputation, at least among those who wanted to take the GI into account in their diet.
However, the GI always refers to 50 g of carbohydrates. White bread now consists of almost 50 percent carbohydrates. This means that the negative effect on the blood sugar level is already evident after eating 100 g of white bread because then you have consumed 50 g of carbohydrates with this food.
But steamed carrots are only 4 percent carbohydrate. So to take in 50g of carbohydrates with carrots, you would have to eat 1.25kg of it, which hardly anyone will do. And even if you did, it would not be comparable to eating white bread, since the carbohydrate content of food alone is not enough if you want to assess its health value.
The GI is therefore not very practical and should in no way prevent you from preparing delicious carrot vegetables as often as possible.
The carrot fiber
The carrot dietary fiber is a very favorable combination of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Even people who are normally sensitive to fiber are generally not so when it comes to carrots.
While soluble fiber stimulates metabolism and can help lower blood lipid levels and eliminate cholesterol, insoluble fiber stimulates bowel activity and alleviates gastrointestinal problems. Carrots have the great advantage that they can work wonders for both constipation and diarrhea.
Moro’s carrot soup against diarrhea
A specially prepared carrot soup – Moro’s carrot soup – is said to be even better at helping with diarrhea than antibiotics. The soup was named after Professor Ernst Moro, who practiced as a pediatrician in Munich and Heidelberg at the beginning of the 20th century. He discovered that his carrot soup could drastically reduce death and complication rates in children from diarrheal diseases.
Since that time, carrot soup has always been administered by a spoonful in many households and also in clinics in the event of diarrhea. Only when antibiotics came onto the market a few decades later did the soup fall into oblivion.
Carotenoids: Beta carotene becomes vitamin A
Carrots also contain large amounts of secondary plant substances. The most important role is played by the carotenoids, which are natural pigments that are usually orange. This primarily includes beta-carotene, the most important precursor of vitamin A, which is why beta-carotene is also called provitamin A. In addition, other carotenes such as alpha-carotene can also be converted into vitamin A in the body.
Depending on the variety, cultivation method, and storage, only 100 g of raw carrots contain around 7,800 µg of beta carotene. If you divide the amount of beta-carotene by six, you get the amount of vitamin A that the body can – at least mathematically – produce from the existing beta-carotene.
1,300 µg of vitamin A can be produced from 7,800 µg of beta-carotene, which is significantly more than you would need to take in vitamin A per day because the official daily requirement for vitamin A is just 800 µg.
If you eat food that contains vitamin A directly or if you take the vitamin as a dietary supplement, then theoretically overdoses can occur (e.g. with cod liver oil or frequent consumption of liver), which is not the case with the consumption of beta-carotene-rich foods. Because here the body can decide for itself how much vitamin A it needs and how much vitamin A it, therefore, forms from the available carotenes.
Because just as natural pigments protect plants from damage caused by UV rays and infections, they can also protect us, humans, from diseases such as e.g. B. cancer, arteriosclerosis, and cataracts and even contribute to recovery.
Colorful carrots: Identify the secondary plant substances by their color
Incidentally, carotenoids can be found in all carrots, regardless of their color. Whether a carrot is white, yellow, orange, red, or violet: the color is determined by the different content or composition of the pigments.
When it comes to beta-carotene, the orange carrot is the undisputed number one. Yellow beets, on the other hand, contain little beta-carotene, but they contain more lutein than orange ones. In terms of total carotenoid content, the orange variety is followed by the purple carrot. It also contains a lot of beta carotene and beats all the others because of its high proportion of alpha carotene and lutein. Red carrots, on the other hand, like tomatoes, are characterized by the carotenoid lycopene, which has a higher antioxidant potential than other carotenoids.
The white carrots fare the worst here: their carotenoid content is extremely low, which is also reflected in their colorlessness. But apart from the coloring agents, the white carrot also contains valuable ingredients, as a long-term study in the Netherlands has shown: because white fruit and vegetables are said to best protect the brain from stroke, which is due to the roughage and the specific secondary plant substances of the fruit or vegetable in question are returned. So count e.g. B. pears and apples to the white fruit.
Purple carrots also contain special pigments called anthocyanins, which are flavonoids. They improve vision and have an anti-inflammatory and vascular protection effect. As you can see, it is very worth resorting to the colorful variety of carrots. This is how you can cover your need for secondary plant substances in a comprehensive and at the same time simple and tasty way.
Do carotenoids increase the risk of cancer?
Studies have shown that with regard to the health-promoting effect, the combination of all secondary plant substances in food is important. Because these activities in an isolated form – e.g. B. in highly concentrated preparations – are by far not as good and comprehensive as in combination with the other ingredients. On the contrary, beta-carotene in particular is considered carcinogenic when taken in isolation and in highly concentrated form (e.g. as a dietary supplement), but so far only for heavy smokers and alcoholics.
At the same time, other researchers came to a completely different conclusion: For example, around 22,000 subjects between the ages of 40 and 84 took part in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (as early as 1996) – including 11 percent smokers and 39 percent former smokers. They took a very high daily dose of 50 mg ergo 50,000 µg of beta-carotene for 12 years. The scientists concluded that this did not in any way increase the risk of developing or dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
So it would be completely nonsensical to let messages like “beta-carotene is carcinogenic” discourage you from eating healthy carrots. Rather, carrots are an important part of a diet that can protect against cancer.
Carrots Against Cancer: Prevention and Cure
Many studies have already been published that have clearly shown that the consumption of carrots or carrot juice protects against cancer and e.g. B. can reduce the risk of lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain tumor, or leukemia. There are also a number of indications that carrots not only have a preventive effect but can even help to cure tumor diseases.
However, studies in this regard have so far mostly been carried out with animals or in test tubes – and of course, no carrots have been used, but individually isolated substances from them. Nevertheless, scientists see great potential for cancer therapy in various ingredients in carrots.
The carrot also has a very old tradition in the treatment of certain types of cancer, such as leukemia. For a long time, this anti-cancer effect was primarily attributed to the carotenoids contained, which intercept harmful free radicals and render them harmless.
In the meantime, however, more and more studies indicate that other secondary plant substances such as anthocyanins are also effective. However, polyacetylenes such as falcarinol seem to have the edge in this regard. In 2012, a study at Sheffield Hallam University showed for the first time that these substances are able to inhibit the spread of leukemia cells and activate their suicide program (apoptosis).
Carrot and beetroot juice helps with leukemia
Three years later, Egyptian researchers went a step further and treated 76-year-old leukemia (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) patients with carrot and beetroot juice. After a month and a half of therapy, the woman felt visibly better, had more appetite, and was able to cope with her daily activities much better.
In addition, the juice has been recognized as a good adjuvant to support chlorambucil chemotherapy. With this combined therapy, the leukocytes and lymphocytes in the blood could be reduced and a decisive improvement in the relevant biochemical parameters could be achieved.
Based on the study, the scientists came to the conclusion that carrot and beetroot juice is an effective treatment both in combination with chlorambucil and as a sole therapy – provided it is drunk daily.
Carrots against metabolic syndrome and its complications
According to the German Society for Nutrition, a carotenoid-rich diet or a high carotenoid concentration in the blood also reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome (obesity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure). The consequences include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and arteriosclerosis.
Lycopene is said to have a particularly positive effect on vascular function and arteriosclerotic changes. Furthermore, an increased dietary carotenoid intake can help to prevent cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure.
A French study published in 2017 showed that fat-soluble micronutrients or phytochemicals counteract the metabolic syndrome due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In the same year, Iranian researchers from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences concluded that carotenoids are important in the management of diabetes because they increase insulin sensitivity.
In addition to the carotenoids, the anthocyanins contained in purple carrots also play an important role here, as they have a preventive effect on obesity.
Vitamin A protects against night blindness
Carrots are good for the eyes. Or have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses? The bunny joke isn’t exactly a hoot, but there’s a lot more to it than a grain of truth. Because the vitamin A formed from the carrot carotenoids is not called the eye vitamin for nothing. It is transported to the photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye as needed, where it ensures clear vision.
If, on the other hand, there is a vitamin A deficiency, not enough visual purple can form in the rods, which leads to so-called night blindness. The light-sensitive rods ensure that we can still see something even in poor lighting or moonlight.
Carotenoids against eye diseases
A study at the University of California-Los Angeles with 1,155 older women from different US regions even showed that fruits and vegetables rich in carotene can protect against glaucoma. Those women who ate carrots more than twice a week were less likely to get glaucoma than those who ate them less than once a week. The risk was 64 percent lower for carrot lovers. Along with carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin also contribute to eye health, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin.
This study, in which more than 1,800 subjects between the ages of 50 and 79 took part, came to the following conclusion: Those women whose diet contained the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a 23 percent lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). to get sick. This is a widespread disease of the macula lutea, i.e. the so-called yellow spot on the retina of the eye, which particularly affects people over the age of 50.
What is curious is that zeaxanthin and lutein are not only found in the carrot, but also in the retina, especially in the yellow spot. They have the task of protecting the retina from excessive exposure to light. If you eat carrots, the two carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein contained therein are transported directly to the eye, where they can immediately fulfill their tasks (protection and antioxidant).
So if you want to do something for your eyes – whether they are sore and tired from looking at the screen, whether your eyesight is declining or whether you already have an eye disease – eat and drink carrots of all kinds. Another way to protect the eyes would be to eat oranges. The vitamin A obtained from it also protects and heals mucous membranes – and the conjunctiva in the eye is such a mucous membrane.
Carotenoids can prevent hay fever
The respiratory tract is also lined with mucous membranes, so it is understandable that the vitamin A from carrots is able to protect the mucous membranes of the nose and bronchi and, as a result, allergic reactions such as hay fever occur less frequently. According to German researchers from the GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health, people with a high concentration of carotenoids in their blood plasma have a lower susceptibility to allergy-related inflammation of the nasal mucosa, e.g. B. hay fever.
The study involved 547 adults between the ages of 19 and 81, in which the concentration of six carotenoids was measured. They were divided into four groups. In the group with the highest carotenoid content, the risk of developing allergic rhinitis was 56 percent lower than in the group with the lowest carotenoid content.
The researchers concluded that a diet rich in carotenoids has a protective effect against allergic rhinitis and can prevent the onset of allergies in adulthood.
Carrots for healthy teeth
In order for teeth, gums, and jawbones to remain healthy and able to withstand daily stress, they need an adequate supply of nutrients, which the carrot is not stingy with. When you nibble raw carrots, the blood circulation in the gums is stimulated and the teeth are freed from leftovers.
Chewing vigorously stabilizes the bone substance and the periodontium and massages the gums. In addition, the flow of saliva is encouraged and harmful bacteria are flushed out. Carrots can therefore help to prevent dental diseases such as tooth decay and periodontitis.
However, chew the carrots really well and eat them slowly. Do not swallow them until they have chewed the piece of carrot into a pulp. Otherwise, pieces that are too large will weigh heavily on your stomach and you will have to say again: I just can’t tolerate raw food…
Carrots protect the skin
It is well known that beautiful skin comes from within and carrots nourish the skin in many ways. Vitamin A supports the structure of the skin, protects against free radicals as a potent antioxidant, and consequently counteracts inflammation and skin aging. Studies have shown that foods rich in carotenoids, such as carrots, have a preventive effect on skin cancer.
If you eat fruit and vegetables containing carotenoids every day for more than three weeks, this will even become visible externally: the skin takes on a yellowish-orange color (carotenoderma). However, this is completely harmless as there is no risk of overdose and even offers some advantages.
Because carotenoids, like melanin (the natural pigment of tanned skin), can provide some sun protection. They ensure that you can stay in the sun about two to three times longer than usual without risking sunburn – which corresponds to a sun protection factor of two to three.
In addition, carotenoids contribute to attractiveness. In the meantime, various studies have already shown that faces colored by carotenoids are perceived as particularly seductive, even more, attractive than skin tanned by the sun. This is attributed to the fact that this complexion is associated – subconsciously – with a healthy lifestyle.
How carrots convince even non-vegetarians
In Germany, there is a trend toward undersupply of carotenoids. Many people do not even reach 50 percent of the recommended daily dose, which inevitably has a negative impact on their health. This is sometimes due to the fact that not enough fruit and vegetables are eaten.
Studies have shown that children and adults are much more likely to eat vegetables if the dishes contain spices such as B. turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, or sage can be refined. The name of a dish is also evidently decisive as to whether it is popular or not. In a 2017 experiment at a college cafeteria, researchers at Stanford University demonstrated that carrots and other vegetables are much more likely to be eaten when the dishes are advertised with exciting names.
If the dishes were simply advertised as “carrots” or provided with references to their health value (“light carrots – cholesterol and sugar-free”), the students were not so keen on eating vegetables. However, if there was one and the same dish called “Tender carrots glazed in a spicy lime sauce”, it sold like hot cakes.
If your children or partner are not vegetable lovers, you will no longer have low-calorie diet vegetables, but young broccoli florets with spicy rice and almond foam sauce. Of course, you no longer have a raw food platter with two kinds of dip, only beetroot and kohlrabi carpaccio with lemon-mustard vinaigrette and creamy cashew nut cream with fresh garden herbs.
With children and teenagers, you should of course come up with terms that go down well with the respective age group.
Carotenoids: Bioavailability varies greatly
However, it is often the case that people love fruit and vegetables more than anything, but the carotenoids they take in cannot be used well by the body. Because the bioavailability of carotenoids can vary greatly. It depends on numerous factors:
- Some medications, such as B. cholesterol-lowering drugs and laxatives, while the vitamin A reserves in the liver are used up by certain sleeping pills.
- The popular acid blockers (proton pump inhibitors, PPI) are also unfavorable since sufficient gastric acid is required for the optimal absorption of beta-carotene, which, however, is greatly reduced by these drugs.
- In addition, people who suffer from diabetes or an overactive thyroid have problems converting carotenoids into vitamin A.
- A French study also showed in 2017 that it can also be due to genetic predisposition if some people are not able to utilize carotenoids well.
How can the bioavailability of carotenoids be increased?
If carrots are prepared carelessly, the absorption rate of carotenoids can be as little as 3 percent in the worst case, depending on personal ability to use them. However, if you take two tips into account, the bioavailability of the carotenoids improves enormously:
Tip 1: Puree carrots or chew them thoroughly.
Tip 2: Put some fat or oil on the carrots.
But in general, the second tip is extremely overrated; as well as the advice that carrots should only be eaten cooked. Neither is necessary if the first tip is taken into account – and neither is of much use if the first tip is forgotten. We have already presented an interesting Swedish study here, which we will include in the following. In this study, the absorbed beta-carotene content was analyzed after different carrot preparations:
- Only 3 percent of the beta-carotene contained in raw carrots that were only roughly chopped could be absorbed. If you added a little fat to these carrot pieces, the absorbed beta-carotene increased by only 1 percent to 4 percent – and stayed at this value no matter how much oil you also added.
- If the coarse pieces of carrot were cooked, 6 percent of the beta-carotene was absorbed from them. Adding fat increased the amount of beta-carotene absorbed to a maximum of 8 percent.
- If you made a smoothie from the raw carrots, i.e. if you pureed them, 21 percent of beta-carotene could be absorbed without any fat and without cooking them. With fat, e.g. B. some coconut oil, this number rose to 28 to 34 percent – depending on the amount of oil. (Saturated fats are said to promote absorption more than unsaturated fats. Since vitamin E is also supposed to support the absorption of beta-carotene, almond butter can also be used).
- If you boiled carrots and then pureed them, then it was 27 percent beta-carotene. If the carrot puree was refined with oil, a beta-carotene yield of up to 45 percent was achieved.
As you can see, cooking carrots is not particularly important. And if instead of pureeing, you simply grate the carrots finely on the vegetable grater, prepare them in a salad, and serve them with nuts, then you also have very finely chopped carrots, fat, and vitamin E here – and thus all the prerequisites for very good absorption of the beta -carotenes.
However, you should not drink alcohol with meals as it can inhibit absorption.
Are carotenoids heat-sensitive?
Beta carotene and lycopene are not particularly sensitive to heat. In studies, no impairment of beta-carotene quality and absorption could be observed up to 120 degrees, not even when carrots or spinach were heated at these temperatures for 40 minutes. However, if the temperature rises above 150 degrees, the absorption rate drops.
With regard to beta-carotene, there is nothing to be said about cooked carrot dishes. But you don’t just want to eat these two substances from carrots – and lutein and zeaxanthin (two other valuable carotenoids) as well as anthocyanins can be destroyed to a considerable extent depending on the heating time and temperature.
The anti-cancer substance falcarinol also reacts allergically both to heat and to mixing or pureeing: The content is reduced by up to 70 percent as a result.
Buy organic carrots!
So that the carrot tastes really good, you should also pay attention to a few things when buying it. A fresh carrot is bright in color and has a firm and crunchy texture. You should keep your distance when carrots bend easily. If the core is the same color as the flesh, this is a sign of quality. If you buy carrots in a bunch, the cabbage should not be wilted, but bright green and fresh.
Although carrots are among the least contaminated vegetables and the limit values for pesticides are rarely exceeded, organic carrots are the best choice. According to the Research Institute for Organic Farming (FiBL) and the German Nature Conservation Ring (DNR), carrots from organic farming also have a higher content of vitamins and secondary plant substances than conventionally produced carrots.
Also, pay attention to the country of origin of the carrots. Regional products stand for short transport routes, sustainability, and freshness and support local farmers. In Switzerland, almost all carrots come from domestic production, while in Austria a quarter of the demand is imported. In Germany, every second organic carrot bought now comes from the Netherlands, Italy, or Israel. The reason for this is that imported carrots can be offered more cheaply.
Store carrots properly
Only wash carrots just before eating, otherwise, the natural protective wax layer will be lost.
Demeter carrots are often obtained with soil still attached. It bears witness to freshly harvested carrots but dries out the roots during storage—unless you wrap them in a damp cloth and store them in the fridge in a box or crisper.
This is the way to store all carrots, with or without soil, with or without greens.
Theoretically, you can also store carrots in the cellar, but this is only worthwhile in a cellar with low temperatures (1 to 5 degrees) and at the same time high humidity of 80 percent. Only stored carrots are also suitable, i.e. no early carrots. They are placed in boxes filled with moistened sand.
In any case, it is important not to eat carrots next to fruit, e.g. B. apples, pears, avocados, cherimoyas, plums, figs, etc., as they secrete the so-called ripening gas ethylene. What makes fruit ripen faster would make carrots limp and wilt. This would shorten their shelf life. Berries, bananas, and tomatoes don’t give off as much ethylene.
You can also freeze carrots just fine. It is advisable to blanch and chop the vegetables before freezing. Freezing does have a somewhat negative effect on consistency, but not on color, smell, taste, and ingredients.
Carrots in the kitchen: Versatile and adaptable
Carrots are an important ingredient in most kitchens as they taste delicious and demonstrate diversity. They are suitable raw as a fresh ingredient for colorful salads and juices as well as cooked in soups, stews, risotto, as a side dish, and also in all kinds of desserts such as an aromatic carrot cake. Of course, colorful carrots promise a special aha effect.
Carrots also have the decisive advantage that they harmonize perfectly with practically all conceivable foods. Don’t forget to spice up your carrot dishes with herbs and spices as you prepare. Carrots are traditionally refined with dill, chervil, or chives. But also seasoned with chili, cardamom, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, garlic, or star anise, the result guarantees exclusive enjoyment.
If you buy carrots in a bunch, which usually contain significantly more antioxidants than those offered openly or wrapped in plastic, you can also use the leafy greens wonderfully in the kitchen. The carrot leaves are usually thrown away carelessly because they are classified as inedible. They are rich in nutrients such as magnesium and potassium, contain about 6 times as much vitamin C as the beet itself, and of course the health-promoting pigment chlorophyll.
The carrot green tastes a bit tart and is ideal as a seasoning for soups or stews, as pesto, or as an ingredient in green smoothies.