The carrot is a thick, red/orange vegetable. It is a root and grows underground. Above the ground it sprouts green feathery leaves which almost look like fresh dill. Its scientific name is Daucus Carota and it belongs to the Unbelliferae family along with parsnips, fennel, caraway, cumin and dill all of which have umbrella like flower clusters that are characteristic to this family. It is a naturally sweet root and is extremely rich in the protective antioxidant pigment beta carotene and alpha carotene. It is a highly beneficial vegetable as it may help prevent cancers of the mouth, stomach, lung and rectum. Scientific study also shows that consumption of carrots helps fight listeria infections as well as increase absorption by the body.
Carrots are abundant in carotenes, with every 100gm having 5,330 mcg of the antioxidant pigments. It is this pigment that gives them their bright reddish orange colour. When the body’s stores of vitamin A are low, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the intestinal wall as well as in the liver. Carrots are also rich in potassium, phosphorous, and manganese.
Chinese medicine use carrots to stimulate the elimination of wastes and to dissolves stones in the gall bladder. Carrots are also used to get rid of putrefactive bacteria in the intestines as they contain an essential oil which is also effective against ringworms. Lastly, traditional medicine in the west use carrots for its diuretic properties and to cure heartburn.
Consumption of beta carotene is highly beneficial for vision, especially night vision. The beta- carotene is converted to Vitamin A by the liver, from it is transported to the retina where it is converted into rhodopsin, a purple pigment essential for night vision. Other than the carrot being beneficial for night blindness, the beta carotene’s powerful antioxidant actions gives the eye protection against macular degeneration and retards the development of cataracts.
Stomach and Lung Cancer
The beta carotene in the carrots has the ability to soak up and make harmless the dangerous by products of metabolism and pollution known as free radicals. If left unattended to these free radicals are thought to be able to damage cells and starts carcinogenic changes.
Beta carotene has been found to increase the absorption of iron from food substances such as cereals up to almost three times. Scientists say that the beta carotene joins forces with iron and keeps it in a soluble form, ensuring that the phytates in cereals don’t block iron absorption.
Postmenopausal breast cancer
High carotene intake has been linked witha 20 percent decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer and upto 50 percent decrease in the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx and oesophagus.
Consumption and Storage
While buying carrots choose firm, smooth, well shaped, bright orange carrots, avoiding those carrots that have cracks or soft areas. Ideally buy younger carrots as they contain more carotenoids. Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week, but they should be stored unwashed.
Carrots can be eaten whole, raw, grated or sliced in salads. Alternatively they can be boiled, steamed or micro-waved and added to stews, soups, casseroles and bakes. Normally cooking carrots helps to improve the availability of the beta carotene to the body and ideally they should be served with a little bit of fat.
- Carrot juice
- Lightly steamed carrots
- Grated carrots added to fruit salads like chopped apples, raisons, and pineapple and they can also be added to vegetable salads.
- Carrots can also be added to baked goods, such as carrot cakes and muffins, soups, casseroles, and other recipes
Apart from beets, carrots have the highest amount of natural sugar among all vegetables. Since the fibre levels go down in processed and cooked carrots they may alter blood sugar levels. Thus people suffering from diabetes ought to have carrots in a raw and natural form, rather than canned, pureed, etc.
- The Complete Guide, Healing Foods by Amanda Ursell, published by Dorling Kindersley