What are carrots good for?
Carrots belong to the Apiaceae family, and are considered to be one of the most popular and valuable root vegetables grown abundantly around the world.1 They're a versatile ingredient that can be used from appetizers to desserts. You can eat them raw, steamed, roasted, stir-fried, stewed, pureed, sautéed or pickled.2
The carrots we know today are a domesticated version of the wild carrots native to Europe and Southwest Asia. Although most recipes call for just their taproots, the stems and leaves are edible, too.3
Carrots come in assorted colors such as purple, red, black and white, but the orange variety is considered the "normal" carrot, as it's more commonly used. Different colors of carrots also have subtle differences in flavor, which tend to be noticeable when they're eaten raw.4 Remember: The darker the color, the sweeter the flavor.5
The color of the carrot influences its phytochemical content as well. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Foods, "high contents of alpha- and beta-carotene are present in orange carrots, lutein in yellow carrots, lycopene in red carrots, anthocyanin in the root of purple carrots and phenolic compounds abound in black carrots."6
When buying carrots, choose ones that are firm and stiff, with smooth skin and bright green tops. To keep carrots fresh for several weeks, snap off their greens and place them in an open bag inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.7
Health Benefits of Carrots
Carrots have long had the reputation of being good for the eyes because they're very high in vitamin A,8 an essential nutrient for visual health.9 They're also loaded with beta-carotene,10 a carotenoid that subsequently converts into vitamin A in your liver.11 In fact, it's no coincidence that "carotene" sounds like "carrot." The word was devised in 1831 by a German scientist after he crystallized the carotene compound from carrot roots.12
Other carotenoids present in carrots include lutein, cryptoxanthin, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Research shows that dietary consumption of these carotenoids may help protect your DNA, proteins and lipids against oxidative damage while helping maintain healthy skin, optimal immune function and normal mucosal membranes.13
You can obtain various phenolic compounds from carrots, including anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids, and phenolic acids, such as caffeic, chlorogenic and hydroxybenzoic acid.14 These polyphenols contribute to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of carrots, helping reduce your risk for degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disorder, cancer and neurodegenerative disease.15
Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin C,16 an antioxidant that plays a role in collagen biosynthesis, iron absorption, protein metabolism and tissue repair.17 To learn more about the nutrients that carrots provide, check out the table below:18
Carrot Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
Total Fat0.24 g
Saturated Fat0.032 g
Total Carbohydrates9.58 g
Dietary Fiber2.8 g
Vitamin A 835 mcgVitamin C5.9 mg
Calcium 33 mgIron0.3 mg
Studies Done on Carrots
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food19 found that the bioactive chemicals in carrot juice extracts may help in the management of certain cancers, including leukemia, due to the beta-carotene and polyacetylene antioxidants found in this vegetable. The mechanisms of action by which these compounds help reduce the risk for cancer include induction of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest.
Carrots were specifically mentioned in a list of foods responsible for helping lower the risk of bladder cancer in a study at San Diego Medical Center.20 Meanwhile, a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition centered on the carotenoid content of raw carrots in comparison with cooked carrots. The results showed that more beta-carotene can be obtained from cooked carrots than when they're eaten raw.21
Carrot Healthy Recipes:
Carrot Coconut Soup
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups and 1 tablespoon bone broth, set aside separately
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder or turmeric
2 cups sliced carrots, about 1/4-inch thick
1 cup sweet potato, cut into about 1/2-inch cubes
5 ounces coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat 1 tablespoon of broth in a medium saucepot. Sauté the onion in broth over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring often.
- Add garlic and ginger and continue to sauté for another minute.
- Add curry powder or turmeric and mix well with onions.
- Add broth, carrots and sweet potato, and then simmer on medium-high heat until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes, then add the coconut milk.
- Blend in batches, making sure the blender is not more than half-full. Add salt and pepper to taste.
(Recipe adapted from The World's Healthiest Foods22)
Carrot Fun Facts
The ancient history of carrots is difficult to unravel because they used to be confused with parsnips. It wasn't until 1753 that the distinction between these two vegetables was finally clarified when Linnaeus introduced scientific nomenclature in the book "Species Plantarum."23
The wild counterpart of carrots, also known as Queen Anne's Lace, were used as a medicinal plant in ancient Rome, particularly as an aphrodisiac and an ingredient for concoctions that help inhibit poisoning. The seeds of wild carrots, which contain estrogens, were detected in Roman-made pills recovered from a 130 BCE shipwreck, indicating that they may have been used as a form of contraception back in the ancient times.24
Carrots are full of flavor, crunch and nutrients. They're an excellent source of phytochemicals that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, including carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as anthocyanins and phenolic acids. These bioactive compounds may help reduce your risk for degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.25
This staple root vegetable can be enjoyed raw or cooked, as it goes well with many dishes, whether savory, salty, spicy or sweet. Carrots also come in an array of other colors, including purple, red, white and yellow. When choosing between these varieties, keep in mind that the darker the carrot is, the sweeter its taste.26,27