If you're anything like me, you've got a bag of carrots sitting in the crisper drawer right now, bought with the best of intentions but long-forgotten. It's time to dig out these vibrant and nutritious root vegetables, because they're one of the most powerful tools in your fridge to help you maintain optimal health. Less expensive and easier to come by than many so-called "superfoods," carrots offer a wide range of health benefits, last for weeks in the fridge, and are easy to include in meals and snacks for all ages.
While carrots are safe for pretty much everyone to eat, be warned that if you eat a ton, it's true that you might see some visible effects. "The high intake of beta carotene in carrots can turn the skin an orange-yellow color (a condition called "carotenemia")," says Charlotte Martin, M.S., RDN, author of The Plant Forward Solution. This is not dangerous to your health, however, and your skin will return to its normal color once you reduce the amount of beta carotene you're consuming.
Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN, founder of Real Nutrition, recommends buying organic carrots whenever possible, as carrots have the ability to absorb high amounts of pesticides from soil. If you're buying non-organic, wash your carrots well.
The Biggest Health Benefits of Carrots
Carrots promote eye health.
The root veggies are full of a host of vitamins and minerals that play important roles in optimal functioning of many of our organs. Perhaps most famously, carrots are rich in beta carotene (the compound that gives carrots their signature, vivid orange hue), which gets converted to Vitamin A in our bodies. "Vitamin A is probably most well-known for its important role in supporting eye health and good vision, and adequate intake of it is essential in reducing the risk of macular degeneration," Martin says. A half-cup serving of raw, chopped carrots provides more than half of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A for adults.
Carrots help skin stay healthy.
In addition to its role in our vision, Vitamin A is also essential in protecting healthy skin. Martin cites a recent study that found that people who consumed more vitamin A and carotenoids had reduced risk of skin cancer. "Regular intake of carrots, which are one of the best sources of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid beta-carotene, can help ensure adequate vitamin A supply in the body," she says.
Carrots are great for your gut.
Carrots have 2 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, and that's a mix of soluble fiber (in the form of pectin) and insoluble fiber. Shapiro explains that soluble fiber can slow down how quickly our stomachs empty, which increases feelings of fullness after meals. Insoluble fiber is what's responsible for helping us prevent constipation by adding bulk to our stool. Taken together, carrots are powerful tools for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
Carrots are heart-healthy.
Shapiro explains that in addition to eye health, carrots are also high in potassium, which is important for cardiovascular health. "Carrots are rich in disease-fighting phytonutrients with antioxidant properties, like carotenoids and polyphenols," says Martin. Taken in combination with their fiber content, which is beneficial for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, carrots have the potential to provide protection against heart disease and its risk factors, such as high cholesterol.
Carrots are glucose-friendly.
Carrots have a minimal impact on blood glucose, says Shapiro, making them a good snack for both diabetics and anyone hoping to avoid blood sugar spikes. Steady blood sugar levels help you avoid that constant crash-and-snack cycle, which can impact weight, energy levels, and mood.
The Best Ways to Eat Carrots
Adults should be eating two to three cups of veggies per day, and including carrots in that mix is the best way to start reaping all of the benefits above. Both Shapiro and Martin recommend eating carrots dipped in hummus, guacamole, or cottage cheese for a healthy snack. Roasting carrots in the oven with olive oil and salt (or with a little honey or maple syrup for a special side dish) is another great option."Cooking carrots increases the amount of beta-carotene your body is able to absorb," Martin says. Struggling with picky eaters? Shapiro recommends mincing carrots and adding them to baked goods for a barely perceptible nutritional boost. You could also pickle or shave your carrots and add them to a salad, or throw them into a stew and let the slow-cooking process bring out their natural flavors. For even more inspiration, check out a few of our favorite carrot-centered recipes below.
Carrots so often feel like an afterthought at dinner, but this recipe proves that there is a possibility of something new. Serve them for an easy dinner party side or just to mix things up on a weeknight.
Spiced Carrot Salad
Shredded carrots get tossed with a warm oil infused with garlic, cumin, and a bit of spice from crushed red pepper.
Roasted Carrots With Whipped Ricotta, Farro, and Crispy Cabbage
Hearty grains and multi-colored veggies are piled generously onto a swoosh of whipped ricotta—what's not to love?
Carrot Soup With Candied Almonds
You'll turn two pounds of carrots into a simple, silky soup topped with a goat cheese-smeared toast and a rosemary-spiced candied almond mixture. It's a celebration-worthy vegetarian recipe that'll please all palates.
Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies
This recipe packs the comforting flavors of carrot cake in a healthy cookie to start your day. Wholesome, fiber-rich ingredients mitigate the release of added sugar into your blood stream, including rolled oats, almond flour, walnuts, and a shower of shredded carrots.
Shaved Rainbow Carrot Salad With Pomegranates and Pistachios
The sweetness from the raw carrots pairs well with the slightly tart pomegranate molasses and the subtle heat from the crushed red pepper. The beauty of rainbow carrots is captured perfectly in a shaved salad, and little sparkly red pomegranate seeds adorn it like jewels.