The well-intentioned advice “Eat more carrots – they’re good for your eyes” is actually quite well-founded. Let’s take a look at what’s behind this folk wisdom.
No other vegetable is as popular as the carrot, known as a “Rüebli” in Swiss German. The Swiss consume almost eight kilograms per capita each year, making the carrot the country’s number one vegetable, ahead of tomatoes, peppers and all the rest. The carrot belongs to the umbelliferae family of plants and has been eaten as a vegetable since the Middle Ages. Worldwide, some 100 different varieties of carrot are cultivated, from white, yellow and violet variants to the classic orange ones we know so well.
They say carrots are “good for the eyes”. But why exactly? Carrots are particularly rich in beta-carotene, a phytochemical that is responsible for the vegetable’s colour, among other things. The human body is able to convert beta-carotene and other carotenoids into vitamin A, whereby beta-carotene has the highest conversion rate, i.e. is easiest for the body to process. Vitamin A plays the central role in converting light into nerve impulses in the eye, which the brain then processes. This is because the pigment molecules of the retina contain vitamin A (retinol). Night vision in particular is highly dependent on vitamin A – so even a slight deficiency may be noticeable.
But promoting good eyesight is not all that eating carrots can do. The storage of carotenoids in the body offers – like melanin – a certain degree of protection from the sun. Regular consumption of foods containing carotenoids causes the skin to turn a light orange-brown colour, supporting the body’s own pigment formation. But of course these substances can never replace the regular application of sunscreen. Another benefit of vitamin A is that it increases resistance to infections by keeping the skin and mucous membranes healthy, which then form an effective barrier against bacteria, viruses and parasites. Last but not least, beta-carotene and vitamin A facilitate the production of antibodies by increasing the number of white blood cells and their effectiveness against infections.
So there are more than enough reasons to regularly reach for good old carrots or carrot juice!