Carrots: Nutrient-Rich Roots

If Bugs Bunny ever dies, it probably won’t be from heart disease or cancer. That’s because carrots, a rich source of both betacarotene and fiber, have been found to help prevent cancer and reduce the risk of a heart attack.

Researchers show that those who ate six or more servings of root vegetables a week-raw or cooked-were significantly less likely to have a heart attack than those who didn’t.

What do they mean by “significantly less”? Scientists are always reluctant to give precise numbers, but a study conducted at Pharmacological Research in Italy may give us a clue. Over a five-year period, researchers there compared the diets of 287 women between the ages of 22 and 69 who had had heart attacks with a similar group of women who had not. They found that a major difference between the two groups was that those who ate more carrots had one-third the risk of heart attack as compared with those who ate less carrots.

A Crunchy Life Preserver

Heart disease is the number-one killer of North Americans, but cancer isn’t far behind. A number of studies indicate that eating carrots can help protect against lung and other cancers.

In a study of 3669 men and women in Belgium, for example, researchers found that eating almost any vegetable reduces the risk of colon cancer, but that eating fiver-rich carrots in particular reduced the risk by as much as 24 percent.

What’s more, a joint study by the University of Athens in Greece and the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate raw carrots every day were five to eight times less likely to develop breast cancer that women who did not eat carrots.

Given the fact that breast cancer rates are on the rise in the North America, it’s fortunate that the consumption of fresh carrots is growing as well. Americans are now eating 33 percent more than they did two decades ago.

Are You Eating Too Much Carrots?

Take a look at the palms of your hands, says Paul Lachance, Ph.D., chairman of the food science department at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

If they’re beginning to turn a yellowish-orange, then there’s a good chance that you’re eating more carrots than your body can use. That’s because the same chemicals in yellow-orange vegetables that protect your body against heart disease and cancer-beta-carotene and other carotenoids-can actually turn your skin a rather odd shade of yellow-orange when you eat too many.

Most people need around five or six milligrams of beta-carotene a day to gain the beneficial effects of carotenoids, explains Dr. Lachance. That’s the equivalent of a single carrot. More than that-say several carrots a day-and you may begin to turn yellow-orange within a couple of months.

First the palms of your hands change color, then the soles of your feet and the rest of your body. And eating a lot of dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes or sweet potatoes-all of which are packed with carotenoid cousins-can create the same effect. Even a vegetable cocktail-whether it’s canned or freshly made-can turn you into a walking carrot if it’s downed three or more times a day for several months.

Too many carotenoids won’t hurt you, adds Dr. Lachance, except, perhaps, socially.

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