Carrots are low in calories and high in fibre, and they're an exceptional source disease-fighting antioxidants. They're perhaps best known for their exceptional beta carotene content, the antioxidant that gives them their signature bright orange colour.
Some of the beta carotene we eat gets converted to retinol, the active form of vitamin A. Vitamin A helps maintain immunity and prevent night blindness, dry eyes and impaired bone growth. Beta carotene also acts as a potent antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. Beta carotene's antioxidant properties are thought to help reduce cancer risk.
There's no official recommended dietary intake for beta carotene has been established but most health experts agree that a daily intake of 3 to 6 milligrams (mg) will maintain blood levels in a range that's associated with a lower risk of chronic disease. One-half cup (125 ml) of raw carrots contains 4.6 mg of beta-carotene and ½ cup (125 ml) serving of carrot juice contains 11 milligrams!
Beta carotene is a fat soluble compound, which you will absorb more of it with a little fat or oil. To boost your beta carotene absorption from carrots, eat them with a small amount of heart healthy fat such as olive oil, canola oil, walnut oil, almonds or avocado.
Canada's Food Guide recommends we eat at least one bright orange vegetable everyday, such as carrots. One serving is ½ cup (125 ml) chopped carrots or one large carrot.
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) chopped raw carrots:
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Carrots come in many varieties. They may be long, narrow and cylindrical or thick and short in shape. They may be purple, yellow or white, but orange carrots are the most common.
Carrots can grow as long as 2 or 3 feet, but most are 8 to 9 inches long when harvested for fresh market sale. Mature carrots tend to be used for processing.
Baby carrots are not a different variety of orange carrots. They are fully grown regular carrots cut into smaller, carrot-shaped pieces. Baby carrots were invented in the late 1980's by Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, as a way of making use of carrots that had too many imperfections for sale as full-size carrots. Yurosek looked for a way to reclaim what would otherwise be a waste product. He used an industrial green bean cutter, which cut his carrots into 5 cm lengths, and then placed these lengths into an industrial potato peeler creating the baby carrot.
Baby carrots are slightly lower in calories, vitamin A and fibre, slightly higher in sugar, iron and vitamin C than regular carrots.
Carrots are available for purchase year-round, although they grow best in cool weather. If you purchase carrots with their tops still intact, make sure the leaves are moist and bright green; carrots should be firm and smooth.
Avoid carrots with cracks and those that have softened or withered. The carrots should be uniform in size, shape, and in colour from top to bottom; slightly green crowns are fine, but dark coloured crowns indicate that the carrots are getting old.
For the best carrots, choose those that are young and slender. Remove carrot greenery right away after purchasing since it robs the roots of moisture and vitamins.
Carrots, like other root vegetables, are quite hardy and if stored properly can stay fresh for weeks, even months.
The key to maintaining the freshness of carrots is to minimize the amount of moisture they lose. Wrap carrots in a plastic bag or paper towels to reduce condensation and store them in the coolest part of the fridge. They can also be stored in a cool root cellar.
Be sure to store carrots separately from apples, pears and potatoes - since these items naturally release ethylene gas that can give carrots a bitter taste and cause them to spoil more quickly.
Young and baby carrots need only be rinsed before use. Older carrots should be peeled; removing the coarse core can make them more palatable. Limp carrots can have some of their crispness restored by placing in a bowl of ice water.
Enjoy carrots raw or cooked. Raw carrots are excellent as snacks, appetizers and additions to salads. Carrots can be cooked by steaming, sautéing, roasting and grilling. Enjoy cooked carrots on their own as a side dish, cooked with other vegetables, or made into savoury dishes such as stir fries, casseroles, quiches, omelets, soups and stews. Carrots can also be used in baked good recipes - their sweet flavour can be enjoyed in cakes, muffins, breads and cookies.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Carrots:
- Make a batch of whole-grain carrot muffins for a grab-and-go breakfast. Click here for a recipe.
- Add shredded carrot to an omelet.
- Finely chop carrots and add to a quiche
- Enjoy a bowl of homemade carrot soup for a satisfying mid-day meal. Click here for a recipe.
- Raw carrots add crunch, nutrients, and fibre to any lunch. Pack a few with sandwiches or soups to help fill you up with minimal calories.
- Carrots make a great side dish than accompanies almost any meal. Mix them with some honey and Dijon mustard for a sweet and savoury side dish. Click here for a recipe.
- Add small baby carrots or sliced carrots to stir fries.
- Shred carrots and add to spaghetti sauce.
- Finish a meal with a slice of homemade carrot cake. This version has a fraction of the calories and grams of fat found in most other recipes. Click here for the recipe.
- Enjoy a handful of baby carrots with hummus or tzatziki.
World's Healthiest Foods
Did you know?
- Carrots are a popular garden item and can be planted and harvested twice: plant once in early spring and enjoy before the heat of summer; plant again in late summer and harvest in the fall. Your best crops will come from carrots grown during the cooler periods of spring and fall.
- False: Baby carrots are the same variety as larger carrots.
- Apples need to be stored away from carrots as apples emit ethylene gas that can give carrots a bitter taste.
- False: Leaving the greenery on carrots will draw nutrients and water away from the carrots.
- True: You'd have to eat a fair number of carrots to turn your skin yellow, but it can happen. It's the beta carotene that colours your skin. It's not harmful though. The cure is to cut back on the carrots.