What Are Carrots?
Carrots are root vegetables that were first grown in Afghanistan around 900 AD. Orange may be their best-known color, but they also come in other hues, including purple, yellow, red, and white. Early carrots were purple or yellow. Orange carrots were developed in Central Europe around the 15th or 16th century.
This popular and versatile veggie may taste slightly different depending on the color, size, and where it's grown. The sugar in carrots gives them a slightly sweet flavor, but they also can taste earthy or bitter.
Carrots come in several varieties. You can tell them apart by the shape and length of the root, which is the part most people eat. The most common varieties include:
- Imperator carrots: They are long, with a tapered tip and small shoulders (the part near the green tops).
- Nantes carrots: These are of medium length and have a blunt tip. They are popular with home gardeners.
- Danvers carrots: They are large and of medium length.
- Chantenay carrots: These are short with large shoulders.
When you hear the term “baby carrot,” you may picture the peeled, perfectly cut carrots popular in party platters and lunch boxes. What you might not know is that there’s another, less processed type of baby carrot.
True baby carrots are simply carrots that are harvested before growing to full maturity. They’re about 3 to 4 inches long and look like tiny versions of their fully-grown counterparts. The baby carrots that most people know, on the other hand, are made by cutting up and shaving down broken pieces of mature carrots.
When it comes to nutrition, both types of baby carrots are pretty similar to mature carrots. They’re chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more, making them an excellent addition to your diet.
One serving of carrots, which equals half a cup, contains:
Carrots have a wealth of antioxidants and offer many health benefits. Here are the highlights:
They’re good for your eyes. This is probably the best-known carrot superpower. They're rich in beta-carotene, a compound your body changes into vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes healthy. Beta-carotene helps protect your eyes from the sun and lowers your chances of cataracts and other eye problems.
They may lower your risk of cancer. Carrots contain antioxidants, which have been proven to fight off harmful free radicals in your body. Free radicals damage cells, possibly contributing to cancer. The two main types of antioxidants in carrots are carotenoids and anthocyanins. Carotenoids give carrots their orange and yellow colors, while anthocyanins are responsible for red and purple coloring.
Red carrots also have lycopene, which helps prevent heart disease.
They boost your immune system. The vitamin C in carrots helps your body build antibodies that defend your immune system. Vitamin C also helps your body take in and use iron and prevent infections.
They can help with constipation. If you’re having trouble going to the bathroom, try munching on some raw carrots. With their high fiber content, they can help ease constipation and keep you regular.
They can help control diabetes. People with diabetes are advised to load up on non-starchy vegetables, including carrots. The fiber in carrots can help keep blood sugar levels under control. Loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene, carrots can lower your diabetes risk , evidence suggests.
They can strengthen your bones. Carrots have calcium and vitamin K, both of which are important for bone health.
They might help you lose weight. Carrots have very few calories per serving. Also, the fiber in carrots can help you feel full so you won’t eat as much, reducing calorie intake overall and supporting weight loss.
They can help lower cholesterol. Studies have also linked eating carrots to lower cholesterol.
They are good for your teeth and gums. Think of them as nature’s toothbrush. They scrub your teeth as you chew, removing harmful plaque buildup from the enamel. They also remove surface stains, leaving you with a brighter smile.
Risks of Carrots
If you eat too much beta-carotene, it can make your skin turn an orange-yellow color. This condition is called carotenemia. It’s relatively harmless and usually can be treated. But in extreme cases, it can keep vitamin A from doing its job and affect your vision, bones, skin, metabolism, or immune system.
Too much beta-carotene also may cause problems for people who can’t change it to vitamin A, such as people who have hypothyroidism.
For some people, eating carrots can make their mouths itch. That’s called oral allergy syndrome. Your body reacts to the proteins in certain fruits and vegetables as if they were pollens you’re allergic to. It doesn't tend to happen if the carrots are cooked.
How to Prepare and Store Carrots
To prepare them, wash them thoroughly in water and scrub off any dirt. You can peel them with a vegetable peeler or knife if you'd like, but you don't have to.
From there, you might slice them into sticks and eat them with hummus or a yogurt-based dip. If you don't like crunchy carrots, you can steam, boil, or roast them and serve them as a side dish. They also work well in savory dishes such as beef stew, chicken pot pie, or stir-fry.
Fresh, whole carrots can be kept fresh for several weeks in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. If the leafy green tops are still attached, trim those first. Then store them in a plastic bag with holes in it.