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Seeing red... Carrots   

February 2010  

 

Seeing red...carrots

carrotsCarrots are such a staple food that they are rarely given the attention they deserve.

Carrots are packed full of useful goodness. The most obvious is their orange colour which comes from a molecule called beta-carotene, a molecule that is part of the family of chemicals called the carotenoids.

Beta-carotene is important for various reasons, including its anti-oxidant properties. But carrots are also full of lots of other excellent nutrients such as falcarinol, which has anti-cancer properties, protein, sugar, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. They are also a good source of dietary fibre.

The belief that carrots are good for your vision isn’t totally an old wives tale. Vitamin A can help prevent night blindness and also to maintain a healthy, clear cornea. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, mangoes and apricots - other bright orange fruits and vegetables - are also rich sources of beta-carotene.

Interestingly, carrots also contain lutein, which is an antioxidant. Lutein increases pigment density in the macula, the oval-shaped yellow spot near the centre of the retina. This helps protect your retina, and lowers your risk of macular degeneration.

While that is all good, that is as far as it goes. Carrots won’t correct your vision, however many you eat; the main result if you eat an excessive amount of carrots is that your skin could turn orange!

Another good point though is that carrots are low in calories, a medium sized carrot will probably have around just 35 calories. They keep well, can be cooked in lots of different ways, can be used for savoury meals or in deserts and cakes such as carrot cake, and they even add great colour for a main meal.

Which is all very good going for something that is really just a root! Carrots are taproots, a root which grows downwards into the soil. They were originally native to Afghanistan and were certainly popular during the ancient Greek and roman civilizations.

Their fame spread east as well as west and by the 13th century India, China and Japan had well established carrot crops. Carrots in those days weren’t as we know them now. They came in a variety of colours but the main colours were purple and yellow. The red carrot that we know didn’t really arrive until the 13th century or later. There are some reports that the modern orange or red carrot was developed by Dutch growers who made selections from a gene pool involving a range of different carrots and certainly it was in Holland that the modern orange carrot first became strongly established.

Carrots steadily grew in popularity and were very popular throughout Victorian times, especially during the two World Wars when other food sources became scarce.

Today carrots are used by almost every family. They are quick and easy to grow ensuring we should all be able to obtain a good regular supply. Fields are seeded generally between January and July; carrots take between six to 21 days to germinate and 70 to 100 days to fully mature. Then the carrots are ready to be pulled up.

There are some problems; carrots can be affected by numerous diseases such as black root rot, cavity spot and carrot fly; but generally they are reasonably easy to grow.

Once you have your carrot, they can be boiled, steamed, roasted or sliced and eaten raw. Recent research does show that the anti-cancer properties of carrots are more potent if the vegetable is not cut up before cooking.

According to researcher Dr Kirsten Brandt, from Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, carrots found that carrots which were boiled whole without being cut up first, contained 25% more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those that were chopped up first. Evidently chopping up the carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water during cooking. Keeping them whole locks in the nutrients and taste.

All in all, carrots appear to be one of the mainstays of a good diet. Perhaps the only reason that they are not classed as a superfood is the fact that they are reasonably cheap and in plentiful supply!


 

Nutricentre Discount for laterlife visitors If in any doubt about any of the information covered in health and nutrition related articles and it's relevance for you, consult your GP.

 

 



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