The carrot has been a part of the human diet for a long time, but archaeological evidence suggests that it may have started out in more of a medicinal role. After first being cultivated for food in central Asia around 1000 CE, carrots eventually made their way to China and Europe a few centuries later. But even as the carrot has become a well-known veggie ingredient in salads, cooked dishes, baked goods, and even as an ingredient in pet foods, it remains at its core a root vegetable that is loaded with nutrients that offer a variety of health benefits.
What to Know About Carrots
The crunchy, orange root vegetables we know and love are all domesticated versions of the wild carrot plant (Daucus carota). Unlike many other vegetables, root vegetables like carrots, beets, and parsnip are cultivated specifically and primarily for the fleshy root that grows below the surface. With carrots, though, the green stems and leaves are also sometimes eaten and used as an ingredient in many types of cuisine. It is even made into powder form that can be used to add nutrients and prolong the shelf life of commercial food products. Over the centuries, carrots have been selectively bred so that the taproot is bigger, tastier, and with a less woody texture than the original wild carrot.
Carrot Nutrition Facts
Raw carrots, cooked carrots, and dehydrated carrots all contain many nutrients that our bodies require on a regular basis. A medium-sized carrot (approximately 60 grams), for example, is 25 calories with 5.8 grams of carbohydrates, about 1 gram of protein, and a trace amount of fat. With so few sugars and around 2 grams of dietary fiber, carrots are also very low on the glycemic index. Carrots also provide a variety of valuable vitamins and minerals:
- vitamin A (77%)
- vitamin C (7%)
- vitamin K (13%)
- vitamin B6 (11%)
- thiamine (6%)
- niacin (7%)
- calcium (3%)
- iron (2%)
- potassium (7%)
- manganese (7%)
- magnesium (3%)
- phosphorus (5%)
Carrots are an especially good source for vitamin A, an essential nutrient that is important for maintaining the immune system, ensuring healthy vision, and a number of other functions. Vitamin A isn’t one single chemical, however; rather, it is a group of compounds that all can be used interchangeably for the same functions. In carrots, most of the vitamin A comes from chemicals called carotenoids that are responsible for the orange color. Two of the most plentiful carotenoids are alpha-carotene and beta-carotene; once in the body, they are converted to vitamin A so they can be used by the body’s cells.
Health Benefits of Carrots
There’s no doubt that eating carrots is a good way to make sure you’re getting a portion of the vitamins and minerals you need each day to maintain your health and wellbeing. Yet carrots also contain compounds called antioxidants that are known to protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. These vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are associated with a number of different health benefits:
- Cardiovascular health: Carrots are beneficial for cardiovascular health in part because of their potassium content. Potassium is able to bind to sodium and reduce its concentration in blood vessels throughout the body. This can lead to lower blood pressure as well as a healthier circulatory system in general. Also, dietary fiber is thought to reduce high LDL cholesterol levels that are linked to cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions.
- Eye health: Eating carrots has long been connected to good vision, and the reason for that is the high levels of vitamin A. It’s important to note, however, that while vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining vision, eating a lot of carrots won’t improve poor vision; rather, a vitamin A deficiency can lead to problems, so it’s important to get enough from dietary sources. There is also some research that suggests that the small amounts of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin may help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
- Bone health: The calcium, vitamin K, and phosphorus in carrots are all known to contribute to overall healthier bones as well as the prevention of diseases like osteoporosis.
- Gut health: Dietary fiber is a crucial element of any healthy diet, in large part because of its impact on digestion and the makeup of the gut microbiome. Fiber helps provide bulk to the stool as well as improving the regularity of bowel movements and preventing symptoms like diarrhea and constipation. Getting enough fiber from sources like carrots also promotes diversity and healthier function of the beneficial bacteria that make up our gut microbiome.
- Reduced risk of cancer: Free radicals are small particles that break free of molecules during the countless chemical reactions in the body. These particles are believed to cause damage to other cells and potentially prompt the kind of mutations that lead to cancer. Antioxidants like the carotenoids found in carrots can absorb those free radicals and prevent the damage; some research has shown that women with high levels of carotenoids in their body were less likely to get breast cancer.
- Boosted immune system: Carrots are a relatively good source of vitamin C, a compound that is known to be important in immune function and in maintaining the barriers that protect against pathogens. Additionally, the antioxidant properties that protect against free radicals may also contribute in preventing other forms of disease.
- Supports weight loss: The nature of carrots as dense root vegetables makes them a filling vegetable that can be a helpful part of a weight loss plan. Also, the dietary fiber and low glycemic index of carrots help maintain low blood sugar levels.
Dehydrated Carrots and Other Ingredients from Silva
Like many vegetables, carrots still have the same basic nutritional benefits whether they’re raw, cooked, or dehydrated. Dehydrated vegetables are commonly used in a diverse set of commercial applications like soups, stews, salad dressings, sauces, and ready meals. At Silva, we only offer high quality products that retain their nutritional value so they can be delicious and tasty additions to any recipe. If you’d like to learn more about any of our products, or if you need help figuring out ingredients for a new recipe, please contact us today.