Carrots are perhaps best known for their rich supply of the antioxidant nutrient that was actually named for them: beta-carotene. However, these delicious root vegetables are the source not only of beta-carotene, but also of a wide variety of other health-supporting nutrients.
Antioxidant Benefits of Carrots
All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients. Included here are traditional antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as phytonutrient antioxidants like beta-carotene. In most varieties of carrots, beta-carotene is by far the most plentiful antioxidant nutrient. It accounts for over 95% of all carotenoids in many carrot varieties. Other carotenoids typically present in carrots include alpha-carotene and lutein. Listed below are some of the more common antioxidant nutrients found in carrots:
- Hydroxycinnamic acids
- caffeic acid
- coumaric acid
- ferulic acid
For anthocyanin benefits, you’ll want to select red and purple varieties of carrots. In some studies, anthocyanin content is highest in what are often referred to as “black carrots.” To the naked eye, these varieties can appear almost black in color, but they are actually very deep and dark shades of purple. But it’s important to remember that carrots of all colors will provide you with great antioxidant support.
Cardiovascular Benefits from Carrots
In large-scale studies of food and health, carrots are often included among yellow/orange vegetables and analyze for their health impact. While these studies have not focused on carrots per se, they have still provided us with evidence about carrots and their cardiovascular benefits. In one large-scale study from the Netherlands, participants were followed for a period of 10 years and their meal plans were analyzed for fruit and vegetable intake in four color categories: green, orange/yellow, red/purple, and white. Among these four color categories, orange/yellow—and in particular, foods with deeper shades of orange and yellow—was determined to be the most protective against cardiovascular disease (CVD). Within this dark orange/yellow food group, carrots were determined to be the single most risk-reducing food. Participants who had the least carrot intake had the least amount of CVD risk reduction, even though they still received risk-reducing benefits from their intake of carrots. However, participants who ate at least 25 more grams of carrots (with 25 grams being less than one-quarter of a cup) had a significantly lower risk of CVD. And the groups of participants who ate 50- or 75-grams more had an even more greatly reduced risk of CVD! We’re not sure how any study could better demonstrate how easy it can be to lower CVD risk by making a food like carrot part of the everyday diet. In our website carrot profile, we use one cup (122 grams) as our standard serving size. So you can see how a single serving of carrots per day would actually exceed the highest level of benefits identified in this study.
Other Health Benefits from Carrots
We’ve seen health studies on carrots showing benefits across a wide range of areas, including not only cardiovascular health as described above, but also eye health, liver health, and cancer protection. These studies give us confidence in the ability of carrots to provide support for a wide variety of body systems. However, it is also important to note studies on carrots also have some limitations at this point in the research process. For example, researchers often analyze carrots as part of a larger food group (for example, yellow/orange vegetables) rather than focusing on them specifically. In addition, many of the studies that we have seen on the health benefits of carrots have been conducted using mice and rats rather than people, or depend on analysis of human cell lines in a laboratory setting.
The ability of carrots to provide cancer-protective benefits has been and continues to be an active area of research on this root vegetable. Of special interest in this area are components of carrot called polyacetylenes. Carrots have the ability to take their fatty acids and convert them into molecules called polyacetylenes. These polyacetylenes include molecules like falcarinol and falcarindiol. Polyacetylenes provide carrots with protection from microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria, and they have also shown anti-cancer properties in lab and animal studies. Lymphocytic leukemia and colorectal cancer are two of the cancer types that have been studied in relationship to carrot polyacetylenes.
Studies on the benefits of carrots for eye health have not usually focused on carrots themselves, but on carotenoids as a group of nutrients and carotenoid levels in the bloodstream. However, we have seen some small-scale studies in which participants with greater carrot consumption had lower rates of glaucoma than participants with little carrot intake. (The term “glaucoma” refers to a condition involving damage to the optic nerve that is often associated with excessive pressure inside of the eye). Glaucoma-lowering benefits in one study were associated with two weekly servings of carrots. We have also seen several animal studies on risk of cataracts and intake of carrot extracts. One of these studies identified a specific phytonutrient in carrots—geranyl acetate— as a substance likely to be involved in cataract protection.
The name “carrot” comes from the Greek word “karoton,” whose first three letters (kar) are used to designate anything with a horn-like shape. (That horn-like shape, of course, refers to the taproot of the carrot that is the plant part we’re most accustomed to consuming in the U.S.). The beta-carotene that is found in carrots was actually named for the carrot itself!
Even though U.S. consumers are most familiar with carrots as root vegetables bright orange in color, an amazing variety of colors are found worldwide for this vegetable.
- Orange Carrots
- Scarlet Nantes (especially valued for its sweetness)
- Danvers (often raised for processing)
- Camden (often raised for processing)
- Other popular varieties include Navajo, Sirkana, Top Cut and Inca
- Purples Carrots
- Purple Dragon
- Cosmic Purple
- Purple Haze
- Yellow Carrots
- Solar Yellow
- White Carrots
- Creme De Lite
- White Satin
- Lunar White
- Red Carrots
- Atomic Red
- Supreme Chateney
- Red Samurai
In science terms, carrots belong to the genus and species of plant known as Daucus carota.
The Nutrient-Rich Way of Cooking Carrots
Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking carrots, our favorite is Quick Steaming. Quick Steaming—similar to Quick Boiling and Healthy Sauté, our other recommended cooking methods—follows three basic cooking guidelines that are generally associated in food science research with improved nutrient retention. These three guidelines are: (1) minimal necessary heat exposure; (2) minimal necessary cooking duration; (3) minimal necessary food surface contact with cooking liquid.
We think that Quick Steaming is a cooking method that gives carrots the greatest flavor. In fact, participants in a recent research study agreed with us. When study participants were asked to evaluate the flavor and overall acceptability of different carrot cooking methods, they significantly favored the flavor and overall acceptability of steamed carrots to boiled carrots. This preference was even expressed by participants who had always boiled carrots in their previous kitchen practices!
To Quick Steam carrots, fill the bottom of the steamer with 2 inches of water and bring to a rapid boil. Slice carrots ¼-inch thick and steam for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. For more flavor, toss carrots with our Mediterranean Dressing. (Looking for carrots with extra zing? Try our Carrots with Honey Mustard Sauce recipe.)
Nutrients in Carro
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0.2 g||0%|
|Saturated fat 0 g||0%|
|Polyunsaturated fat 0.1 g|
|Monounsaturated fat 0 g|
|Trans fat 0 g|
|Cholesterol 0 mg||0%|
|Sodium 69 mg||2%|
|Potassium 320 mg||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 10 g||3%|
|Dietary fiber 2.8 g||11%|
|Sugar 4.7 g|
|Protein 0.9 g||1%|
|Vitamin A||334%||Vitamin C||9%|
|Vitamin D||0%||Vitamin B-6||5%|
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