Carrots 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
The carrot (Daucus carota) is a root vegetable that is often claimed to be the perfect health food.
It is crunchy, tasty and highly nutritious. Carrots are a particularly good source of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants (1).
Carrots have a number of health benefits. They are a weight loss friendly food and have been linked to lower cholesterol levels and improved eye health.
The carotene antioxidants in them have also been linked to reduced risk of cancer.
They are found in many colors, including yellow, white, orange, red and purple.
The traditional orange colored carrots get their bright color from beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A in the body.
Carrots contain very little fat and protein (3).
One medium, raw carrot (61 grams) contains 25 calories, with only 4 grams of digestible carbs.
Carrots are mainly composed of water and carbohydrates.
The carbs consist of starch and sugars, such as sucrose and glucose (1).
They are also a relatively good source of fiber, with one medium sized carrot (61 grams) providing 2 grams.
Carrots often rank low on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar after a meal.
Pectin is the main form of soluble fiber in carrots (8).
Soluble fibers can lower blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion of sugar and starch.
The main insoluble fibers in carrots are in the form of cellulose, but also hemicellulose and lignin (1).
Insoluble fibers reduce the risk of constipation and promote regular and healthy bowel movements (14).
Bottom line: Carrots are about 10% carbs, consisting of starch, fiber and simple sugars. They rank low on the glycemic index scale.
Carrots are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A (from beta-carotene), biotin, vitamin K (phylloquinone), potassium and vitamin B6.
- Vitamin A: Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A promotes good vision, and is important for growth, development, and immune function (15).
- Biotin: One of the B-vitamins, formerly known as vitamin H. It plays an important role in fat and protein metabolism (16)
- Vitamin K1: Also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K is important for blood coagulation and can promote bone health (17, 18).
- Potassium: An essential mineral, important for blood pressure control.
- Vitamin B6: A group of related vitamins that are involved with the conversion of food into energy.
Bottom line: Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. They are also a good source of several B-vitamins, vitamin K and potassium.
Carrots contain many plant compounds, but the carotenoids are by far the best known.
These are substances with powerful antioxidant activity, and have been linked to improved immune function and reduced risk of many diseases.
This includes cardiovascular disease, various degenerative diseases, and certain types of cancer (1).
Beta-carotene, the main carotene in carrots, can be converted to vitamin A in the body.
However, there is some individual variability in how effective this conversion process is. Eating fat with the carrots can also help you absorb more of the beta-carotene (19).
These are the main plant compounds found in carrots:
- Beta-carotene: Orange carrots are very high in beta-carotene. The absorption is better (up to 6.5-fold) if the carrots are cooked (20, 21, 22).
- Alpha-carotene: An antioxidant that is also partly converted to vitamin A.
- Lutein: One of the most common antioxidants in carrots, predominantly found in yellow and orange carrots and is important for eye health (23).
- Lycopene: A bright red antioxidant found in many red fruits and vegetables, including red and purple carrots. It may decrease the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (24).
- Polyacetylenes: Recent research has identified bioactive compounds in carrots that may help protect against leukemia and cancer cells (1, 25, 26).
- Anthocyanins: Powerful antioxidants found in dark-colored carrots.
Bottom line: Carrots are a great source of many plant compounds, especially carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lutein.
Much of the research on carrots has focused on carotenoids.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
Diets rich in carotenes may have a protective effect against several types of cancer.
Women with high circulating levels of carotenoids may also be at reduced risk of breast cancer (30).
Lower Blood Cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for heart disease.
For this reason, carrots may be a useful addition to an effective weight loss diet.
Individuals that are low in vitamin A are more likely to experience night blindness, a condition that may improve by eating carrots or other foods rich in vitamin A or carotenoids (34).
Bottom line: Carrot consumption has been linked with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease, and improved eye health. They may be a valuable component of an effective weight loss diet.
Organic farming uses natural methods for growing the crop.
Several studies have compared the nutrient content in organic and non-organic carrots.
Bottom line: There is no evidence that organic carrots are healthier or more nutritious than conventionally grown carrots.
Baby carrots are a term for small and/or immature carrots, which have become very popular as a snack food in recent years.
There are actually two kinds of carrots that are called baby carrots, which can be a little misleading.
One one hand, there are whole carrots that are naturally small, or carrots that are harvested before they grow large.
On the other hand, there are baby-cut carrots. These are pieces from larger carrots that have been machine cut into the preferred size, then peeled, polished and sometimes washed in small amounts of chlorine before packing.
There is very little difference in nutrients between regular and baby carrots, and they should have the same health effects.
Bottom line: Baby carrots are small and immature carrots, harvested before they grow large. Baby-cut carrots are pieces from larger carrots that have been machine cut, peeled, polished and washed before packing.
Carrots are generally considered safe to eat, but may have adverse effects in some people.
Eating too much carotene can cause the skin to become a little yellow or orange, which is harmless.
According to one study, carrots can cause pollen-related allergic reactions in up to 25% of food-allergic individuals (44).
Carrot allergy is an example of cross-reactivity where proteins in certain fruit or vegetables cause an allergic reaction because of their similarity to the allergy-causing proteins found in certain pollens.
If you are sensitive to birch pollen or mugwort pollen, then you might react to carrots.
Carrots grown in contaminated soil or with contaminated water contain larger amounts of heavy metals, which can affect their safety and quality (43).
Bottom line: Carrots may cause allergic reactions in some people who are allergic to pollens. Carrots grown in contaminated soils may contain higher amounts of heavy metals, affecting their safety and quality.
Carrots are the perfect snack, crunchy, full of nutrients, low in calories, and taste sweet.
They have been linked with benefits for heart and eye health, improved digestion, as well as reduced risk of cancer.
There are several types of carrots in different colors, sizes and shapes, all of which are great additions to a healthy diet.