What’s in a carrot? Such a humble, unassuming little vegetable, yet, for all its demure status, this little vegetable has it all and more!
The wild carrot was native to Europe and southwestern Asia, and may have appeared in different colors–purple, red, white, or yellow. The most common edible part of this vegetable is the taproot, the part that grows under the ground, yet the greens that grow out of the top are edible, too.
Most modern carrots are orange, and the bright orange color points to one of the main nutrients they give us—beta carotene, also present in many red, orange, and yellow vegetables. Beta carotene metabolizes into vitamin A in the presence of normal bile salts in the intestines. Carrots are also good sources of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and minerals, as well as mineral salts, biotin, and vitamins B, C, D, E, and K, potassium, thiamin, and magnesium. It’s nice to know these healthy roots are also fat free, saturated fat free, low in sodium, and cholesterol free. Can’t argue with that.
Now look at some of the things these delightful tasty roots give us. Eating carrots daily will bring improvements to your skin, hair, and nails, and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Good things happen, too, when the carrots team up and give us sweet, tasty, refreshing carrot juice. Carrot juice taken every day can prevent infections in the body, and help adrenal function. Then, of course, carrots improve eye health, regulate blood sugar, and are very fiber-rich for colon health.
For decades we’ve been told to eat carrots for better vision. Let’s look at the facts: 2 carrots provide approximately 4,000 retinol equivalents or 4 times the RDA of vitamin A. This important vitamin not only helps keeps your vision strong, but protects the eyes from macular degeneration or cataracts.
One thing that’s important to understand about beta carotene, however, is that you need to chew carrots well when eaten raw to help release more of the nutrients. In fact, oddly enough, carrots are the exception to the rule—we often hear we should eat fruits and vegetables raw for optimum health benefits, but the opposite is true with carrots.
Only 3% of beta carotene is released during digestion of raw carrots, and this poor statistic can be improved by as much as 39% by cooking, pulping, or adding cooking oil to the carrots. That’s a marked improvement. Carrots may also be chopped and boiled, steamed, fried, and cooked in soups, stews, or juiced. All of the methods help to release more of the beta carotene we need so badly, and that’s better than just eating these simple vegetables raw.
It’s probably not surprising given what you’ve already read so far, but carrots are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds which help the body stay free of cardiovascular disease and cancer. High levels of beta carotene intake have been linked with as much as a 20% decrease in post-menopausal breast cancer, and up to 50% in bladder, cervical, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus cancers. It seems it would be smart if you have a history of cancer in your family, to start taking up the habit of eating this very helpful vegetable on a daily basis.
Want to get to those carrots quickly? Here are some quick and easy serving ideas:
–Get a good juice extractor and make some tasty carrot juice daily.
–Add grated carrots to fruit salads. Try them with chopped apples, raisins and pineapple.
–Grated carrots can also be added to green salads.
–For a light lunch, gently steam some sliced carrots, season to taste.
–Boil and puree carrots for a delicious creamy soup, hot or cold.
–Carrots can be added to many baked goods for a delicious touch–carrot cakes and muffins, casseroles and other recipes.
Carrots are one of my favorite foods, raw or cooked, and it helps that they are so wonderfully nutritious to boot. Today, we have them readily accessible in those handy bags of mini carrots in the grocery store. Just open and eat, or, as we learned above, open, cook, and eat! Who can resist that piece of luscious, warm carrot cake slathered in lovely cream cheese frosting. Oh, so good, and easy to make, too. Bon appetite!