Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables for a good reason. The health benefits of carrots will help you crunch your way to better health this year. However, there are some guidelines to follow when shopping, planting, or cooking carrots that will allow you to maximize their health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Carrots
Available throughout most of the year, carrots are a staple of a healthy diet and a well-known source of Vitamin A. Contrary to popular notion, Vitamin A is not a single nutrient, but a group of related nutrients: retinols and carotenoids.
Our bodies require retinol for supporting a healthy immune system among other biological functions. Retinols are found in animal foods, but the body can also make retinol from carotenoids. Carotenoids are largely found in vegetables–and carrots are at the top of the list.
The carotenoids found in carrots have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties counter processes that can lead to illness and chronic disease. The human body does a great job converting carotenoids into retinoid forms within the body. This means that having a daily dose of carrots is a real boost to the immune system and other systems that help protect you from illness.
Along with helping your immune system, carrots are also beneficial for your eye health. They are a rich source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that can prevent eye damage by free radicals. These free radicals can lead to cell damage, aging, and eye disease. This means carrots might help you look younger, similar to the effects of glowing skin.
Carrots are also high in fiber which may reduce one’s cancer risk. A 2015 study linked high fiber foods, including carrots, to a lower risk of colorectal, prostate, lung, and ovarian cancer.
Since carrots are a high fiber food, they may also help support weight loss. When you eat foods that are high in fiber, you feel full faster. This curbs your tendency to overeat and can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Another beneficial nutrient found in carrots is lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that promotes good heart health. It is important to note that only red and orange carrots have lycopene so if you want to promote good heart health, buy or grow these colors. Both the lycopene and carotenoids in carrots have been found to produce good heart health.
Due to the various health benefits of carrots it might be time to start buying or growing them if you aren’t already!
When purchasing carrots, look for organic bunches with deep green tops and firm bodies. All colors of carrots (yellow, red, white, purple, orange) are good for your health. All varieties are delicious!
If possible, shop local for your carrots. Farmer’s markets or locating organic farms nearby is a great way to make sure you’re getting high quality carrots. This is a good rule of thumb when it comes to shopping for most produce. Organic, local produce is often more nutrient-dense because it is grown in soil full of nutrients. Much of the food in grocery stores is grown in nutrient depleted soil, which can mean that when you eat the produce, you don’t get the necessary nutrients to keep your immune system healthy. By buying local carrots grown in good soil, you are strengthening your immune system and giving your body the nutrients it needs.
If you want to get the added health benefits of gardening as well as healthy, local produce, consider growing your own carrots.
Apartment dwellers and those with small homes might not be able to pursue this option because carrots need to grow in full sun. They should be grown in a loamy, sandy soil. Make sure there are no rocks or even soil clumps in the soil where you want to grow your carrots.
You’ll want to start growing your carrots a couple weeks before the last freeze at the earliest or a couple weeks after at the latest. In some parts of the United States, that could be early March while in others it’s April. From seed to harvest, carrots typically take 50-75 days. Water the carrots every week during from planting until harvest. Since carrots need to grow in cool soil, mulch around the carrots and make sure to plant early enough that the carrots are ready before the heat of summer.
Carrots may be enjoyed raw, steamed, or in a stir-fry dish. Boiling is not recommended as that can deplete nutrient density. Some studies suggest that pureed, cooked carrots may have a higher concentration of beta carotene than raw carrots.
You can also use carrots in fermenting recipes, pickling, and add to broth or stew. Shredded carrots can be added into cake or cookie recipes, ground-meat or meatless entrees such as meatloaf and burgers. The possibilities are carrot-astic!
Experience the nutty sweetness of carrot cake in a healthy, bite-size truffle. In this recipe, bound to be a favorite at your holiday gatherings, walnuts and pecans provide healthy fat, while carrots, coconut flakes, and medjool dates provide nutrient density. Cinnamon and nutmeg top off the autumn notes while ginger adds zing.
Prep Time: 10 Mins
Total Time: 40 Mins
Serves 12 (serving size: 2 truffles)
- 1 cup raw unsalted walnut halves
- 1 cup raw, unsalted pecans
- 1 cup pitted medjool dates
- 1/2 cup dried unsweetened pineapple
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for coating (if desired)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots
Carrots are a great addition to your plate (and maybe your garden!). They promote good heart health, a healthy immune system, and may even protect against cancer. To get the full benefit of carrots, buy local and organic or check out my free guide on how to start your own organic garden.
Want more advice on how gardening and healthy food choices can improve your health? Subscribe to my newsletter. Each week I send advice on how to be happier and healthier with nature.