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By Dr Harold Gunatillake

There is no question about it, we all agree that carrots are nutritious, and are good for our eyes. They are referred to as nutritional heroes. No other vegetable or fruit contains as much carotene (pigment) as carrots, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. The orange colour of carrots is due to beta-carotene. The carrots are a source of vitamin B, C, D, B6, E, folic acid, magnesium, as well as calcium pectate that has cholesterol-lowering properties due to its fibre content. It contains about 87 percent water, and also rich in micronutrients (minerals), including copper and potassium

Cooked carrots do not loose its vitamin A, B6, potassium, copper, folic acid and magnesium. Experiments have shown that eating lightly cooked carrots is much more beneficial than eating raw carrots, which confirms the ancient wisdom in traditional Chinese medicine. Recent research by Dr. Xiangdong Wang at Tufts University shows that beta-carotene in carrots can change in the human body into a substance called retinoic acid, which is used to treat cancers.

Carrots also contain small amounts of essential oils, and carbohydrates. For the assimilation and absorption of the nutrients in carrots, they should be chewed well. They are more nutritious when cooked than raw. (Cooked carrots have a higher concentration of sugar, and diabetic patients are cautioned to restrict eating up to two carrots a day) Cooked carrots are rated at 49 in the Glycaemic Index , the scale invented to help in the treatment of diabetes, and which is used to measure the rate at which blood sugar levels rise when a particular carbohydrate bearing food is ingested. The current thinking is that as the Glycaemic Index for carrots is 49, i.e. medium effect on blood sugar levels, they can be eaten in moderation. It is best that the diabetic patients discuss this problem of how much to eat with their own family physicians.

The antioxidants, beta-carotene, and others produced by carrots are beneficial to man to prevent illnesses, cancer and for longevity. They are Alpha Carotene, Phytochemicals and Glutathione , Calcium and Potassium and vitamins A, B1, B2, C and E, which are also considered protecting as well as nourishing the skin. Beta-carotene is found mainly in dark green, red, yellow and orange coloured plants.

Alpha carotene

Alpha carotene like beta-carotene is a carotenoid present in carrots. According to an article in NCI Cancer Weekly (Nov 13, 1989), Michiaki Murakoshi, who leads a team of biochemists at Japan's Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, contends that alpha carotene may be more powerful than beta-carotene in inhibiting processes that may lead to tumour growth.


These are found in vegetables, fruits, and nuts, may reduce risk of cancer, strokes, hinder the ageing process, balance hormonal metabolism, and have antiviral and anti bacterial properties. “Phyto” is a Greek word that means plant and phytochemicals are usually related to plant pigments. So, fruit and vegetables that are bright coloured- yellow, orange, red, green, blue, and purple-generally contain the most phytochemicals and the most nutrients. Eating carrots daily will benefit from these phytotochemicals.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A derived from beta-carotene of carrots is an alcohol. It is necessary for the health of skin, mucous membranes, bones, and teeth, vision and reproduction. Only a certain amount of beta-carotene taken in from carrots, are converted into Vitamin A, the remaining portion contributes to boosting the immune system and is also a potent antioxidant.

Benefits of eating carrots

Eating carrots boosts the immune system, (especially among older people).

Reduces photosensitivity and protects the skin from sun damage. This effect is produced by beta-carotene. Carrots benefit HIV patients by improving symptoms. Has a beneficial effect on symptoms, on those who withdraw from alcohol.

Carrots also benefit in the healing of minor wounds and after injuries.

Reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. Studies show that people who eat carotene-rich foods have lower risk of cancer, heart disease and arthritis. In a Swedish study involving women 50 years and over, those who ate about one-half a carrot's worth of beta-carotene daily had two-thirds lower risk for breast cancer compared to women who skimped on their carotene intake.

Carrots fight against infection (vitamin A keeps cell membranes healthy), making them stronger against disease causing germs

Improves eye health, and beneficial to prevent night blindness. According to the World Health Organisation, vitamin A deficiency partially or totally blinds nearly 350,000 children from more than 75 countries every year. Roughly 60 percent of these children die within months of going blind. However, vitamin A deficiency is preventable.

Incidentally, the radiating lines in a sliced carrot look like the pupil and iris of the human eye. The ancients equated that to mean that carrots are good for the eyes. Recent research has confirmed this scientifically.

High Potassium, in carrots .

Potassium is an electrolyte, which together with sodium and chloride, conduct electricity when dissolved in water. Electrolytes maintain “water balance and distribution, acid-base balance, muscle and nerve cell function, heart function and kidney and adrenal functions. Potassium helps keep your body from becoming too acidic. Eating meat, dairy products, cause an acidic reaction.

Cancer cannot exist in organs or tissues whose pH is above 5.7. So potassium is important to keep the pH more alkaline.

Certain fruits contain high potassium levels than sodium. The ratios between potassium and sodium of some known fruits are as follows-

Apples 90:1, Bananas 440:1, Carrots 75:1 , Oranges 260:1, Potatoes 110:1.

So, carrots having high potassium levels assist in controlling pH, and help to prevent cancer in the organs and tissues.

It is observed that taking excessive salt depletes the body of potassium, so does alcohol, coffee, excessive intake of sugar, prolonged diarrhoea, excessive sweating, vomiting, low blood sugar, and use of diuretics. Also, it is observed that Magnesium is a heart helper, and it is required for potassium to be pumped into the cell, so an adequate magnesium level should be maintained. Those who take excessive salt in food, and in the other causes mentioned above in depleting body potassium, eating carrots is beneficial.

When blood Potassium is too High (Hyperkalemia )

It is important to stress on a situation that too much potassium in the blood is a concern to use the word alarm. Even, fairly small consistent rise in serum or plasma potassium of 0.5 milliequivalents or so over the norm, which is 4.8, is cause for some concern. If you are a non-diabetic and has no loss of kidney function (diabetic kidneys), there is no problem in taking in any amount of potassium from food containing excessive potassium content. Potassium must rise to 1.0 meq/liter or so before one would start to worry about. If your potassium level is above normal range, especially diabetics, should get expert opinion from a nephrologist and an endocrinologist without delay.

Meanwhile, drink extra water, and especially required if you are dehydrated. Low sodium intake in your food is a good step to take to lower your potassium level in serum. Daily vigorous exercises will get rid of some potassium in the sweat. Another temporary palliative measure is to take bicarbonate of soda (baking powder), which leads to potassium loss. It is good sense to forego processed food, alcohol, and tobacco in order to stay as healthy as possible even when garbage is not the direct cause of the disease you are trying to avoid.

Different coloured carrots

In Sri Lanka we grow only the orange carrots. There are purple carrots, and colours like yellow, red or black. Most people are not aware that such carrots exist. Carrots were originally purple or red, with a thin root. The species did not turn orange until the year 1500, when Dutch growers used a mutant yellow carrot seed from North Africa to develop a carrot in the colour of the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal family.

Eating Carrot green tops .

You can eat in addition to the body of the carrot, the green carrot leaves, they are highly nutritive, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. The tops of the carrots are loaded with potassium, which can make them bitter, so the use of them in food is limited. Normally, these tops can be mixed with a salad, containing lettuce, garden grown veggies (the carrots themselves, zucchini, tomato, peppers, fresh herbs)

Carrot greens are antiseptic, so they have been added to mouthwashes and, mixed with honey, to disinfect sores. They are also diuretic (increase urine flow), and can help treat kidney diseases and oedema (leg swelling with water).

Chopped carrot tops can be sautéed lightly in olive oil with garlic and onions. Then garden grown veggies can be added, and sauté some more, then fold the entire garden mish-mash inside a whole wheat tortilla, brown it, and call it a quesdilla. It is a great vegan treat, and the carrot tops give a nice crunchy texture.

Micro-waving carrots

Take a suitable dish, which has a removable cover. Take about a pound of carrots (half kilo) and put them in the dish. These can be whole carrots or sliced it makes no difference. Boil some water in a kettle and pour the boiling water over the carrots to cover them, then immediately pour off the water leaving the carrots still wet. Put the lid on then Microwave at full power for about 8 minutes. Try it today.

Preparing carrots for juicing

Wash carrots thoroughly in cold water, using a stiff vegetable brush. Scrape lightly, but do not peel, as valuable vitamins and minerals lies close to the surface. The juice should be taken immediately it is made. After pouring the quantity to be used immediately, keep the remaining juice tightly covered with a screw-on lid, refrigerate to prevent loss of vitamin and mineral content through oxidation.

Carrot juice blends with practically all other juices. It is a delicious nourishing beverage for all members of the family. Because of its rich vitamin and mineral content, and other valuable nutrients, the daily diet should be fortified with the protective and health benefits of carrot juice.

When eating raw carrots you are only able to absorb about 1% of the beta-carotene. When a carrot is juiced, eliminating the fibre, virtually 100% of the beta-carotene is assimilated.

The body needs lot of water to maintain a balance and for good health. Brain cells may be made up of as much as 80% water. Most cells of the body contain over 65% of water. Fruits and vegetable juices are bursting with clean water, and hence a good substitute for fresh water.

Lastly, let me quote what a Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides said. “He catalogued over 600 medicinal plant species and said that the Greeks used carrots and leaves against cancerous tumours”.

Now you realise the importance of eating carrots including the leaf tops, and daily consumption is recommended.

Ref: World Carrot Museum, www.carrotmuseum.com

When blood potassium is too high, chapter X111, by Charles Weber, updated Nov.2006, email isoptera @mchsi.com

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