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Do you think mom knew all the health benefits of carrots when she told you that they're good for your eyes? Because she was right.
In fact, carrots are so good for your eyes that studies show carrot nutrition can help prevent macular degeneration, development of cataracts in elderly people, and improve night vision.
What Makes Carrots Nutritious?
Carrots are loaded with vitamin A, and are actually the richest source of carotenes in the vegetable world. They also have a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, manganese, molybdenum, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, phosphorous, magnesium, and folate.
You basically can't go wrong by eating a lot of carrots, and the health benefits of carrot juice are the same. You do best to do your own juicing because by the time you buy a bottle of it from the store, many of the nutrients will have leeched away.
Many times the health benefits of vegetables includes prevention of cardiovascular disease and heart disease, and carrot nutrition is no different. The high levels of antioxidants in carrots helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that when people eat a good amount of carotenes, even one carrot each day, they can reduce their risk of developing heart disease by up to 60% (Massachusetts study).
Another common thing we see from studying vegetables is that they often help to regulate blood sugar. Eating carrots can help lower blood sugar levels and regulate insulin levels.
One of the coolest health benefits of carrots is that they seem to actually help prevent cigarette smokers from developing lung cancer. A study at Kansas State University found that there is a carcinogen in cigarette smoke that leads to vitamin A deficiency, and when a person ate as little as one carrot per day, they boosted their levels of vitamin A enough to make up for that deficiency. Now, I'm not advocating smoking, but if you know someone who does and you can't convince them to stop, eating carrots might be a way to hedge off lung cancer.
The carotenes in carrot nutrition are shown to be linked to a huge decrease in prostate, colon, cervix, larynx, esophageal, bladder, and breast cancer.
Although beta carotene is the most widely known nutrient in carrots, they also something called falcarinol. Falcarinol is another phytonutrient, and studies have shown that when people eat a lot of carrots, they have lowered risk of cancers. Colon cancer especially seems to be affected by high amounts of falcarinol in the diet, as the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported.
As always, I highly recommend looking for carrots from a local farmers market. They are usually mild weather vegetables, so you'll normally find the sweetest ones at the end of winter into the spring, as well as in the fall. Check out all the different colors of carrots as well; they come in purple, white, yellow, stripes, as well as the standard orange. They all have slightly different flavors and I think they're all delicious.
The more orange the carrot, the more beta carotene in it, and therefore the more health benefits of carrots you will get.
When you're selecting them, make sure they are hard and never wilty or limp. They should be fairly straight and without cracks. Their leaves should be bright in color and not wilted.
If you store your carrots properly, they'll last a long time. I like buying them with their tops, but cut them off before you refrigerate them or they'll start to get limp in the fridge. You can use the top for soups and vegetable stocks, or even eat them. Wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a sealed plastic bag in a cool part of the fridge, away from fruits.
Carrots are delicious raw, and can be served with any number of dips. I like cashew ranch dressings and nutritional yeast cheeses, but I also like eating them plain as well.
You can also grill them or roast them, both of which enhance the sweetness of the flavor. I'll usually brush them with olive oil and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper before cooking, but again, they can also be done plain.
When you start weaning your baby, carrots are a good food for around 8 months of age. You should steam them, then puree them, and then strain, just to make sure there are no strings or large, hard pieces left over.
A lot of people like to juice, and the health benefits of carrot juice can be nutritionally equivalent to raw carrots if you juice them yourself. I don't love the wasted pulp made by most juicers and I feel like you lose a lot of the health benefits of the carrots (or other vegetables) when you take away the pulp, so I like to just throw my carrots in the Vitamix with some ice cubes. It makes a fabulous carrot juice. You can also try combinations like carrot-apple-banana, or carrot-ginger, which are other favorites at my house.
Any way you enjoy them, the health benefits of carrots are just an added benefits to the incredible flavor of fresh carrots.