Sarah Garone, Eat This, Mar 25, 2021
There's no doubt carrots fall squarely in the "health food" category. Bugs Bunny's favorite orange veggies are a nutritious go-to for side dishes or anytime snacking. But beyond their status as the star of veggie trays, did you ever wonder exactly what happens to your body when you eat carrots?
Carrots are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and even a bit of fiber - all of which promote good health in various ways. Here are seven reasons why eating more of them might help you say "What's up, doc?" to your healthcare provider a bit less often. And for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
If you had to name one nutrient in carrots, we're willing to bet you'd mention vitamin A. Over the years, carrots have earned renown for their high content of this micronutrient associated with eye health. So does eating these veggies really give you superhuman vision?
"While it is true that vitamin A can support healthy eyes, it is important to note that the benefit is specific to decreasing risk of night blindness (the inability to see in the dark) and certain diseases of the eye," says Lauren Manaker, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and author of Fueling Male Fertility.
Still, even though crunching on a carrot or two won't necessarily grant you instant eagle eyes, carrots' combination of nutrients does support eye health in general.
"Lutein can help reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration," says Manaker. "So, since carrots contain both vitamin A and lutein, they offer a one-two punch in the eye health department."
All that vitamin A isn't just a workhorse for your eyes- it also may play a role in cancer prevention.
"Carrots are high in the vitamin A antioxidant beta carotene," says Edie Reads, RD and chief editor at healthadvise.org. "Antioxidants protect our body from destruction from free radicals and may help prevent chronic diseases, including certain cancers."
Specifically, carrots have been studied for their effects on cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate, among others. A 2018 meta-analysis found that a higher intake of carrots was associated with decreased risk of breast cancer, while a 2020 study of over 57,000 people indicated that carrots could protect against colorectal cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there is "convincing" evidence that combining non-starchy vegetables (like carrots) with fruit reduces the risk of cancers of the digestive tract. Sounds like a good reason to get crunching!
When you've got a jar of Ranch dressing crying out for something to dip in it, choosing carrots over, say, potato chips is clearly a smart move for weight loss.
"Carrots are a weight-loss-friendly food, as they are fairly low in calories," says Reads.
For your daily bit of crunch, swapping out fried or salty snacks for carrots may also keep you fuller longer, despite the veggies' lower calorie count.
"A normal-sized carrot contains 1.7 grams of fiber, which accounts for 5 to 7.6% of a normal person's daily fiber needs," says Reads. "This high level of fiber promotes good gut health and a feeling of fullness for mindful eating."
Want to maintain that youthful glow? A skin protector may lie in your veggie crisper.
"While data is still emerging, there is some evidence to suggest that eating carotenoids may protect against sun damage," saus Manaker. "Carrots are a natural source of carotenoids, and thus may help protect the skin from sun damage. Plus, carrots contain vitamin C, which can help support collagen formation."
"Carrots are not traditionally known for their bone-health benefits, but they offer a significant amount of two bone-supporting nutrients," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD of Balanced One Supplements. "Your bones are strengthened and supported by providing your body with calcium and vitamin K."
For the record, one cup of carrots contains 40 milligrams of calcium (4% of the recommended daily intake) and 15.8 micrograms of vitamin K (17.5% of the daily recommendation for women and 13.2% for men).
To be sure your body absorbs as much vitamin K as possible, pair your carrots with any kind of healthy fat.
"Eating fat-soluble vitamins - like vitamins A and K - along with a source of fat can help the body absorb the nutrients," says Manaker. "So drizzling some olive oil or avocado oil on some roasted carrots can be a smart choice for your overall health."
As veggies go, carrots are on the sweeter side (which is probably why even toddlers will eat them without complaints!). But in terms of raising your blood sugar, they won't have a serious impact.
"Carrots contain natural sugars, hence their sweet taste," explains Reads. "However, they have a lower glycemic index because they have a relatively lower amount of sugar and calories while high in fibers. That makes up a GI score of around 39. This will unlikely cause a sugar spike for diabetes patients."
Want to enjoy carrots' sweetness in a healthier package than an indulgent carrot cake?
"Carrots can be a tasty addition to a smoothie," says Manaker. "Simply add some carrot to your classic recipe for a boost of sweetness along with some key nutrients."
Eat too many carrots and you'll turn orange? It sounds like an urban legend (or something out of a horror movie), but it's actually true! The pigments in carrots' beta-carotene flow through your bloodstream - and, in excess, can make their way into your skin. Orange-tinged skin is more commonly visible in people with a lighter complexion and usually shows up first in areas of the body with the thickest skin, like the palms, elbows, and soles of the feet.
Fortunately, breaking out in all-over orange is quite rare, and doesn't pose any health risks.
"It is not harmful and will go away after you stop overeating the carrots," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.
So go ahead and enjoy your carrots, but watch out for this red - er, orange - flag that you're overdoing it.
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