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Do carrots really improve your vision?

09/01/2020

Many of us grew up being told: “Eat your carrots, they are good for your eyesight”. The idea that eating carrots could improve your vision, originates from a myth, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

This goes as far back as World War II propaganda. The British government, in an attempt to thwart off its enemies, claimed that their pilots had a greater chance of striking targets due to good eyesight as a result of eating more carrots.

While Britain did this to prevent its enemies from finding out about its new onboard system, there is some truth to the theory of carrots being good for your eyes and the answer lies in the beta carotene they possess.

What is Beta Carotene?

It’s an organic plant pigment, which is the orange-reed colour you see in most fruits and vegetables.[2] When ingesting food items that contain beta carotene, the beta carotene is metabolised and converted into Vitamin A (retinol). Vitamin A is an essential vitamin which means our bodies are unable to produce this vitamin and we need to obtain it from our diet. Beta carotene also has other functions in the body besides being a provitamin, it is also an antioxidant.[3] Antioxidants play a protective role in the body helping to prevent damage against free radicals. Both beta carotene and vitamin A have an important function in keeping organs such as the skin and eyes healthy.[3]

So, can eating more carrots really improve eyesight?

Research has shown that beta carotene has a vital role to play in improving your eyesight. One of the first signs of a deficiency is night blindness. Vitamin A helps to transmit the light signal to the brain, thereby assisting you to see better in low light conditions.[3] This was seen with a study conducted in 2005, which concluded that a diet including regular consumption of carrots as well as other Vitamin A rich foods, assisted in improving night blindness experienced by pregnant women.[4]

It has also been proven that vitamin A deficiency is associated with an increased risk of blindness in both children and adults. [5]Every year thousands of children suffer from blindness due to a deficiency in vitamin A. Consequently, Vitamin A is given as a supplement in many countries with high rates of malnutrition.

As mentioned earlier, when beta carotene is ingested it is metabolised into vitamin A, thus if you have a reduced dietary intake of beta carotene it may result in a vitamin A deficiency.

Which foods are good sources of Beta Carotene?

To ensure you have an optimal dietary intake of beta carotene to prevent a deficiency here is a list of foods that are rich in this nutrient: carrots, apricots, mangoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and leafy green vegetables such spinach and cabbage.[4] There are various ways in which you can include these food sources as part of your daily diet. Some ideas include snacking on raw carrots and peppers or a medley of roasted vegetables including peppers, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin. Stir-fry is a quick and easy way to include these vegetables in a dish. An even simpler way would be to grab any of the Rugani 100% carrot juice variants. These juices are packed with beta-carotene (6.8mg per 100ml). Enjoy it as a refreshing drink or incorporate it into a dish while cooking.

Some Tips and Tricks to ensure optimal absorption

Beta carotene is better absorbed from cooked food items. The heat helps to soften the plant tissues, which helps to make the digestion process easier.[6] Cooking should be kept as short as possible to ensure all the nutrients stay intact. The addition of fats to foods high in beta carotene has also been shown to increase the bio-availability, increasing the body’s ability to absorb the nutrient.[6]

So now we’ve learned that the saying ‘eat more carrots to improve your eyesight’ has some truth to “eat” after all!

 

References:

  1. Does eating more carrots really improve eyesight? Accessed, August 2020
    https://www.history.com/news/do-carrots-really-improve-your-eyesight
  2. BETA-CAROTENE: DOES IT ACTUALLY AFFECT OR IMPROVE VISION? Accessed, August 2020
    https://www.nvisioncenters.com/diet-and-eye-health/beta-carotene/
  3. Beta Carotene-Health Encyclopedia. Accessed August 2020
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=VitaminA
  4. Fact or Fiction: Can eating more carrots improve your eyesight? Accessed, August 2020
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-carrots-improve-your-vision/
  5. Kenneth Chrulski, Olivia Collins, Kerrigan Hall, Gabriela Hayward-Lara, Megan Lear, Marla Seicean, Paarth Sharma and Brittney Wasielewski .The Effects of Carrot Consumption on Eye Sight in Various Lighting Conditions. Civic Education
  6. The effect of food preparation on the bioavailability of carotenoids from carrots using intrinsic labelling, Accessed, August 2020
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21923982/

 

Author Info:

Reabetjoe Mokoko is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Chef who is passionate about making healthy eating practical and affordable through recipe development, cooking, creating versatile dishes and providing brand education. Amongst her many roles of being a wife, a mother to three inquisitive children, dietitian and brand educator, she also owns a health focussed catering company called Plates and Scales. She works with food brands to help educate consumers on versatile ways they can use products through recipe development and also provides education on the nutritional benefits of such products.

She holds a BSc undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Human Physiology obtained in 2011 and a BSc Honours in Human Physiology obtained in 2012 from University of the Witwatersrand. In 2017 she completed her a BDietetics degree from the University of Pretoria which so her qualifying as a Registered Dietitian.

She is known as Rea-TheCookingDietitian on social media. See her Facebook & Instagram pages for more.