Carrots are rich in beneficial properties for health. Antioxidants, friends of the skin and sight, offer numerous other benefits. Let’s find out the properties of carrots together.
The scientific name of the carrot is Daucus carota and it is a herbaceous plant native to the European temperate zones. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, so called because they form umbrella-shaped inflorescences. Fennel, parsley, celery, cumin and dill also belong to this family.
When we think of carrots, the most common variety of orange comes to mind, but in reality there are different colors, for example white, purple, red and yellow (we will go into the different types of carrots shortly). The first carrots grown in ancient Egypt and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan were purple carrots. Only later, in 1700 in Holland, were the orange carrots selected. Currently the purple carrot variety has been recovered and is considered very valuable for its nutritional characteristics, even better than those of the more common orange carrot.
Although carrots are found on the stalls of our markets throughout the year, spring is the most suitable season for sowing and summer the best one for harvesting (which usually takes place 2 or 3 months after sowing). Carrots harvested in the summer also have a brighter color due to the milder temperatures in which they are grown. Let’s now take a look at the characteristics of the main types of carrots.
Carrots: characteristics of the most common varieties
As we said above, in addition to the classic orange carrots there are different varieties of carrots, which while retaining many characteristics in common, each have a peculiarity. Let’s see some of the most popular.
- Red carrots: red carrots, not to be confused with beets, are a variety of carrots, of which they retain their shape, red in color and particularly rich in lycopene, an antioxidant substance belonging to the group of carotenoids, which is the same contained in tomatoes, to which they confer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also rich in lutein, another antioxidant substance useful for sight. They can be eaten raw in salads;
- White carrots: they are particularly rich in vitamins and minerals and are excellent eaten raw or cooked, for example in soups or in the oven;
- Yellow carrots: yellow carrots have a particularly delicate flavor and are those with the lowest sugar content among all the varieties of carrots, therefore they are also suitable for those with blood sugar problems and can be eaten both raw and cooked, for example al steam;
- Purple Carrots: As mentioned above, the first carrots to be grown were not orange but purple. This characteristic is given by the high content of anthocyanins, which give them the purple color. These are compounds belonging to the category of flavonoids, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Added to this is the low sugar content, which makes this variety of carrots excellent for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. They can be eaten both raw and cooked and are often used in the preparation of desserts;
- Black carrots: their intense color is also due in this case to the presence of anthocyanins, which is even higher than that of purple carrots, they are therefore beneficial for the cardiovascular system and help to reduce blood cholesterol levels. They are excellent both cooked and raw.
Let’s now see the main nutrients contained and deepen what are the properties of carrots.
Carrots: calories and nutritional values
Carrots, like all vegetables, are rich in water and fiber, have little protein and a negligible amount of fat. Its nutritional composition makes carrots a low calorie food: 100 gr provide only 41 kcal.
As for micronutrients, however, carrots contain good amounts of potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and some vitamins of the B complex. However, what most characterizes carrots is their high content of beta carotene, a vegetable pigment that it is no coincidence that it takes its name from this vegetable, from which it was isolated for the first time.
Beta carotene is an antioxidant compound that counteracts the production of free radicals, responsible for cellular aging. Furthermore, in the body it is converted into vitamin A, which is essential for many biological functions such as, for example, vision, cell differentiation during embryonic development, ovarian and testicular function, and bone development.
Nutritional values per 100g of raw carrots:
- Waterfall: 88.29 g
- kcal: 41
- Proteins: 0.93 g
- Fat: 0.24 g
- of which saturated: 0.037 g
- Carbohydrates: 9.58 g
- of which sugars: 4.74 g
- Fibers: 2.8 g
- Iron: 0.7 mg
- Soccer: 44 mg
- Potassium: 220 mg
- Vitamin B1: 0.04 mg
- Vitamin B2: 0.04 mg
- Vitamin A: 835 µg
- Betacarotene: 8285 µg
- Glycemic index: 30
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Carrots: the health benefits
The numerous nutrients present give carrots properties that are particularly useful for the well-being of sight, heart, skin and digestive system. Now let’s see in more detail what are the properties of carrots and the benefits they bring to our health.
✓ Benefits for the cardiovascular system
The numerous antioxidant compounds present in carrots (not only beta carotene but also carotenoids, hydroxycinnamic acids, anthocyanidins) protect the arteries from oxidative damage thanks to their synergistic effect. In fact, scientific studies have shown that these benefits of carrots derive from the simultaneous presence of the various antioxidants rather than from the single compound.
✓ Rich in vitamins and minerals
In addition to beta carotene and antioxidants, carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin B6, biotin, vitamin C, but also of mineral salts such as potassium, copper and manganese.
Low in calories (41 kcal per 100 g), carrots can also be consumed by those who follow a low- calorie diet, since, thanks also to the high fiber content (2.8 g in 100 g), they determine a sense of of satiety that often takes us away from the consumption of further foods.
✓ Benefits for the digestive system
It is precisely the fiber content, together with the presence of antioxidant compounds, which causes carrots to have a protective role on the mucous membrane of the digestive tract and prevent the onset of colon cancer.
✓ Allies of sight
Vitamin A helps protect the cornea and studies have shown that it may play a role in preventing macular degeneration, an important condition affecting the retina.
✓ Skin friendly
Let’s not forget the benefits that carrots have on tanning; thanks to their alpha and beta carotene content, they not only promote tanning, but also have a photoprotective effect on the skin.
How many carrots to eat
One serving of carrots equals about 200 grams or, more practically, 3 or 4 medium-sized carrots. The guidelines for a healthy diet recommend consuming 2 or 3 servings of vegetables a day, therefore, it is possible to consume one or two servings of carrots a day, possibly alternating with other seasonal vegetables. Given their low glycemic index and the presence of fiber, carrots can also be consumed on a diet or in case of diabetes (in the latter case, prefer consumption raw).
Carrots: how to use them and how to choose them
After having seen the properties of carrots, let’s see how to use them and some tips for choosing the best ones. First of all, when we buy carrots we should make sure that they are very hard and with a smooth surface, but above all of a bright color. The ideal would be to choose them complete with leaves but in their absence just check that the attachment of the leaves is not dry.
If well preserved they are able to maintain their freshness for up to two weeks, the important thing is to keep them in the refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag for food or, better, in absorbent paper. In this way they do not lose their natural moisture.
The best way to eat carrots and fully enjoy both their organoleptic characteristics and their beneficial effects is to consume them raw, on their own as a crunchy snack, or in tasty mixed salads. Many of the phytonutrients present in the carrot, in fact, are damaged by heat even if the beta carotene, in particular, is resistant to high temperatures, on the contrary, cooking increases its bioavailability. For this reason it can be useful, in the context of a healthy diet, to alternate the consumption of raw carrots with that of cooked carrots, in order to ensure all the benefits offered by the nutrients present in the vegetable.
The best way to cook them is by steaming them, since in these conditions beta carotene is more easily assimilated by the body. Of course, since they grow in the ground, it would be preferable to buy carrots from organic farming, that is, grown with natural and non-synthetic fertilizers.
Raw or cooked carrots: differences and which ones to choose
As we said earlier, some properties of carrots are enhanced, or on the contrary attenuated, depending on whether they are eaten raw or cooked. We now want to deepen this aspect and better understand what changes in eating raw or cooked carrots.
Raw carrots keep all the bioactive compounds intact, such as anthocyanins and vitamins A and B, which denature with the heat of cooking. On the contrary, however, beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, with cooking is made more available for absorption because it is “freed” from the cell walls of the carrot.
From the point of view of the glycemic index, however, it would be preferable to consume raw carrots because cooking frees the sugars contained in them making them more available and consequently increasing the glycemic index. The same thing also applies to fibers because cooking changes them, for example making cooked carrots more suitable in case of diarrhea as they are astringent.
Raw carrots, on the other hand, contain more fibers that stimulate the intestine favoring evacuation. For this reason, cooked carrots are also more digestible and therefore more suitable for feeding children during weaning, debilitated elderly people or at any time when less involvement of the gastrointestinal system is required. We also remember that raw carrots retain all their precious minerals, which are lost in the cooking water in the case, for example, of boiling.
It would be best to alternate between eating raw carrots and cooked carrots, naturally choosing simple cooking methods, such as steaming.
Contraindications of carrots
The consumption of carrots has no contraindications, so much so that it is one of the first foods that is included in the diet of children during weaning. However, when consumed in excessive quantities, it can cause a condition known as carotenosis. This is an excessive accumulation of beta carotene in the skin which causes a yellowish complexion. However, it is a reversible condition that disappears simply by limiting its use. The maximum recommended amount of carrots is around 500g per day.