Botanical name: Daucus carota
Extremely versatile to eat and available nearly anywhere in the world, carrots have been around for centuries. Historians believe that carrots were cultivated by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
In today’s kitchens you’ll find carrots in everything, from healthy vegetable soups to salads. They can also be juiced and sliced into sticks for raw snacking. Carrots can be sliced, grated, julienned, sautéed, puréed, and baked as chips – and you’ve only just started! As if the creation of all those dishes wasn’t enough, carrots also have an amazingly long list of health advantages.
When kids ask if it’s true that carrots are good for their eyes, you can answer in the affirmative, because carrots are very high in vitamin A, an essential nutrient for good vision.
In fact, carrots are loaded with beta carotene and are subsequently converted into vitamin A in your liver. Because beta-carotenes can’t be manufactured in the body, they must be obtained from your diet.
It’s no coincidence that “carotene” sounds like “carrot.” The word was devised in the early 19th century by a German scientist after he crystallized the carotene compound from carrot roots. Beta-carotene is one of more than 600 carotenoids, which are the pigments that give color to egg yolks, tomatoes, fruits, dark leafy vegetables and some types of seafood.
Known for ultraviolet radiation protection, carrots are also noted for the role they play in heart disease and stroke prevention, as a poultice to prevent infection in cuts and scrapes, for maintaining youthful skin, and for colon cleansing and toxin flushing.
The calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in carrots help build strong bones and a healthy nervous system. Calcium consumption, especially, is essential for healthy heart muscles. Phosphorus is essential for softening skin and strengthening teeth, hair, and bones, while magnesium can be thanked for its role in mental development, digestion of fats, and nutrient absorption. Carrot crunchers also get the benefits of potassium, vitamins C and B6, copper, folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium.
A 2011 study1 found overwhelming evidence that the bioactive chemicals in carrot juice extracts may play a role in treating certain cancers, including leukemia, due to the beta carotene and polyacetylene antioxidants found in the vegetable. The study found that when myeloid and lymphoid leukemia cell lines were treated, cancer-causing cell growth was inhibited. Carrots also are mentioned specifically in a list of foods responsible for lowering the risk of bladder cancer in a study at San Diego Medical Center2.
While most of us have been taught that raw vegetables have the highest nutritional value, surprisingly, recent studies have found that cooking helps increase the health benefits of carrots.
Research conducted at the University of Arkansas centered on the antioxidant activity of raw carrots in comparison with cooked carrots3. The result was that pureed, cooked carrots not only retained their nutritional value, but actually contained more healthy properties than when eaten raw. Over a period of four weeks, it was discovered that the phenolic acids and beta-carotene levels increased dramatically when the carrots were introduced to heat.
The study also indicated that the antioxidant activity continued to increase in the pureed carrots even after a week of refrigeration. Although the levels dropped after that time period, they did not drop to the antioxidant levels of carrots in the raw.
That’s a huge health benefit, since antioxidants are known scavengers of free radicals in your body, which in turn could help prevent chronic diseases as cancer, Alzheimer's, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other health problems.
Wild carrots are often seen in fields and along roadsides, only they’re usually known by a more common name: Queen Anne’s Lace. Pull up the root of a wild carrot, and you’ll find a long, fibrous tuber. Break it and you’ll discover it has the unmistakable aroma of a carrot.
Carrots contain higher levels of beta carotene than any other vegetable or fruit. Why is that important? Not only does beta carotene give carrots their distinctive orange color, more importantly, it converts in your body to vitamin A. Noted for health benefits throughout your body, including cancer cell growth inhibition, carrots have that distinction known in many other foods grown in the garden – they’re nutritious and delicious.
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