Carrots, specifically baby carrots might well be the snack you should reach for a healthy start to 2023. They’re a go-to side dish and a staple veggie. Crunchy, tasty and easy to reach for, they’re a very nutritious snack option whether you opt for the full-size or baby variety.
High in fiber and packed full of vitamins and antioxidants, carrots are often hailed as the ‘perfect health food’. But what makes them so good for you, what are the benefits of including them in your diet, and can you eat too much?
What makes carrots so healthy?
Carrots are packed full of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. But more than that, they’re also associated with a number of health benefits such as lower cholesterol levels, reduced risk of cancer, improved eye health, and even weight loss. When you think of carrots, your brain probably goes straight to Bugs Bunny’s favorite food, orange carrots.
However, carrots come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, red, and purple. Orange carrots, the most commonplace type, get their color from the beta-carotene they contain. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A, which is what is great for eye health. This is where the association between carrots and seeing in the dark comes from.
A nutritious choice
Nutrition-wise, they are made up of about 86-95% water, with the remainder made up of carbs. They contain very little fat and protein. Packed full of fiber, a medium-sized carrot will offer about 2 grams of fiber.
They are also a low GI food, which means that they don’t raise the blood sugar too high after eating. This makes them a great option for people with diabetes.
It is worth mentioning that the GI range does vary depending on whether they are cooked or not. Raw carrots are the lowest GI, cooked are a little higher, and puréed are the highest of all. So, if you are looking for low-GI food, it’s best to eat them raw when you can.
Packed full of vitamins and minerals
Carrots are a great source of many vitamins and minerals. The most prominent are ‘biotin, potassium, and vitamins A (from beta carotene), vitamin K1, and vitamin B6’. But what does each of these offer in terms of health?
- Biotin: Previously known as vitamin H, biotin is vital for metabolizing fat and protein. A deficiency can result in thinning hair and a rash on the face or body.
- Potassium: An essential mineral for the body, potassium is linked to controlling blood pressure, maintaining levels of fluid in the cells, and also activates cell and nerve functions.
- Vitamin A: Carrots are particularly rich in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A promotes visual health, boosts immune function, as well as boosts growth and development.
- Vitamin K1: Vital for blood coagulation and known for promoting bone health, it’s also known as phylloquinone.
- Vitamin B6: It’s actually a group of vitamins that is heavily involved in successfully converting food into energy to power the body.
The many benefits of eating carrots
They offer more than just a tasty snack to fight off cravings for sweets, and they are linked to a huge array of health benefits.
Lower cholesterol: High blood cholesterol levels are a huge risk for heart disease. Studies have shown that eating carrots is directly linked to lower cholesterol levels. So, if you struggle with high cholesterol, start eating some more carrots.
Weight Loss: They are a seriously low-calorie food, and their high fiber content can help to make you feel full whilst consuming less. This is what makes them a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet. Especially if you are looking to lose a few pounds.
Eye Health: Low levels of vitamin A (found in beta carotene) are directly linked with night blindness and poor sight. This association with night blindness in particular is what sparked the old tale that eating more carrots will help you to see in the dark. Carotenoids are also linked to a reduction in the risk of macular degeneration, which is often age-related.
Reduced risk of cancer: Carotenoids may also help to protect the body against certain types of cancer. Prostate, colon, and stomach cancers and even breast cancers are all associated with reduced risk when carotenoid levels are high.
Could eating too many carrots be dangerous?
As with most things, carrots should be eaten as part of a balanced diet. Generally, eating too many won’t have any effect beyond causing the skin to become a little yellow or orange. This is due to too much carotene and is harmless. The skin will regain its normal coloring when the levels of carotene in the body normalize. So, if your skin does go a bit of a funny color, you might want to lay off the carrots for a while.
Other risks are, bizarrely, allergy related. Some studies have found that carrots can cause pollen-related allergic reactions in about 25% of people with food allergies. This is due to the fact that the proteins found in carrots are similar to those found in certain pollen. If you are allergic, you might experience a tingly or itchy mouth. Occasional, severe reactions can lead to anaphylaxis, but this is relatively rare.
What is the white stuff you find on baby carrots?
Often, when you open your baby carrots, you’ll see that they’re covered in a white layer. But what is this white stuff and what does it mean? Does it mean that your carrots are going bad? Are they still okay to eat? Not to worry, as it turns out, it’s completely normal and definitely safe to eat.
Whilst you might have heard that this white film is caused by chlorine, that is completely untrue. In reality, it’s caused by slight dehydration, which is most commonly known as ‘carrot blush’. This happens when baby carrots are exposed to the atmosphere.
This results in a loss of moisture and rougher skin with a white layer. Essentially, it’s due to exposure and damage to the skin cells of the carrot. The thin, white film is completely harmless and can be removed by washing them. Leaving them to soak in water will also help to rehydrate them and bring back that bright orange hue. If you’re snacking on some baby carrots, you can safely eat them if they do have this white layer. All it means is that your baby carrots are a bit dry.
Carrots make a great snack and baby ones are probably the easiest to snack on. Raw carrots are low GI and contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Carrots also offer huge health benefits, including reducing your risk of some cancers and boosting your eyesight. Unless you have an allergy to carrots, you’re generally safe to eat as much as you want. The worst that could happen is that your skin gets an orange or yellow tinge (oops).
However, this is harmless and your skin will return to normal once levels of carotene are reduced. If you’re eating baby carrots, and they have a white film on them, don’t worry! It’s completely harmless, they’re just a bit dehydrated, and soaking them for a while will bring them back to normal.