Carrots are a vegetable that the majority of people seem to like. Children often prefer them raw, which is great because eating raw carrots scrapes off plaque and food particles from the teeth and stimulates the gums.
Carrots are a staple vegetable, available year-round in the grocery store and grown locally in the summer and fall, when they are the freshest and most flavorful.
Belonging to the Umbelliferae family, carrots are related to parsnips, fennel, parsley, anise, cumin, dill and caraway. Carrots range in size from two inches to as long as three feet, with the longest carrot recorded to be more than 19 feet long and weighing more than 19 pounds. The greens of carrots can be eaten, but they have a bitter flavor.
Most of us are familiar with orange carrots that are crunchy and sweet with a minty aromatic taste. Carrots come in many other colors including white, yellow, red or purple. Red carrots are sweeter and stronger in flavor than orange carrots. White carrots have a mild flavor and are sweeter and juicier than other varieties. Purple carrots, which are usually orange on the inside, have a sweet and peppery flavor. Yellow carrots are sweeter than the other varieties and contain high levels of lutein, which helps prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Before the 15th or 16th century, only purple, yellow and red carrots were available.
A recent research study from the Netherlands focused on the intake of carrots and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Intake of fruits and vegetables in the study was categorized by color and focused on four groups: green, orange-yellow, white, and red-purple. Of the four categories, the orange-yellow foods (the deeper the shades the better) were found to be the most protective against cardiovascular disease. Carrots were the most prominent member of the dark orange-yellow category. Participants in the study with the least carrot intake had the least cardiovascular risk reduction, but did receive some benefit. Participants who ate at least 25 grams of carrots — about a quarter cup — had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants who consumed 50 or 75 grams had an even greater reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research involving carrots usually focuses on the carotenoids and their important antioxidant benefits. Along with pumpkin and spinach, carrots rank high on the list of beta carotene-containing vegetables that we usually consume. More recent research is focusing on the phytonutrients in carrots called polyacetylenes, which have been shown to help inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells.
Occasionally a patient will ask me, “Aren’t carrots high in sugar?” I’m not sure where this message comes from, but one cup of sliced raw carrots provides 50 calories and 113 percent of your daily value of vitamin A as well as 16 other vitamins and minerals. That one cup of carrots counts as two servings of vegetables for the day — just three more to go.
There are many ways to prepare carrots, and they are delicious raw or cooked. They tend to be one of the least expensive fresh vegetables available and can be stored for a long period of time in the refrigerator without getting too soft.
Roasted Carrot Salad
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 (4 ounces) package crumbled blue cheese
2 cups arugula
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Combine carrots, almonds and garlic in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake carrots until soft and edges turn brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, return carrots to mixing bowl and toss with honey and vinegar until coated. Add cranberries and blue cheese; toss again until evenly mixed. Combine with arugula and serve immediately. Mix in arugula as needed per serving, as it will become wilted if allowed to sit in carrot mixture too long.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.