If you don't have a bag of carrots sitting in your refrigerator, you should -- they're anything but ordinary when it comes to nutrition. Carrots contain an uncommon amount of beta-carotene. And they can masquerade as a fat substitute by serving as a thickener in soups, sauces, casseroles, and quick breads. Because of its terrific replacement qualities, you don't have to add any cream, or fat for that matter, to cream of carrot soup. In fact, the numerous health benefits call for amending that well-known saying to: A carrot a day keeps the doctor away.
Is it possible that consistent moderate weight loss could reliably result from a diet as simple as eating more carrots? Yes!
One of carrots' fat-fighting features is their respectable fiber content, half of which is the soluble fiber calcium pectate. Soluble fiber may help lower blood-cholesterol levels by binding with and eliminating bile acids, triggering cholesterol to be drawn out of the bloodstream to make more bile acids.
Carrots have few rivals when it comes to beta-carotene. A mere half-cup serving of cooked carrots packs a walloping four times the RDA of vitamin A in the form of protective beta-carotene.
One raw carrot supposedly contains as much, though it's not clear if all of it's usable by your body. Beta-carotene may ward off cancers of the stomach, cervix, uterus, and the oral cavity, and it helps prevent heart disease due to its antioxidant abilities. The National Cancer Institute is studying the whole family of umbelliferous foods, of which carrots are a member, for protective effects. Recent research results from Harvard University suggest that people who eat more than five carrots a week are much less likely to suffer a stroke than those who eat only one carrot a month.
Finally, like Mom said, carrots do help your eyes. The retina of the eye needs vitamin A to function; a deficiency of vitamin A causes night blindness. Though extra vitamin A won't help you see better, its antioxidant properties may help prevent cataracts and keep your eyes healthy.
Selection and Storage
Look for firm carrots with bright orange color and smooth skin. Avoid carrots if they are limp or black near the tops; they're not fresh. Choose medium-sized ones that taper at the ends. Thicker ones may be tough. In general, early carrots are more tender but less sweet than larger, mature carrots. Clip greens as soon as you are home to avoid moisture loss. Store greens and carrots separately in perforated plastic bags in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Carrots keep for a few weeks; greens last only a few days.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Thoroughly wash and scrub carrots to remove soil contaminants. Being root vegetables, carrots tend to end up with more pesticide residues than nonroot vegetables. You can get rid of much of it by peeling the outer layer and by cutting off and discarding one-quarter inch off the fat end.
Carrots are a great raw snack, of course. But their true sweet flavor shines through when cooked. Very little nutritional value is lost in cooking, unless you overcook them until mushy. In fact, the nutrients in lightly cooked carrots are more usable by your body than those in raw carrots, because cooking breaks down their tough cell walls, which releases beta-carotene.
Steaming is your best bet for cooking carrots. Take advantage of the fact that most children love carrots, raw or cooked. But avoid serving coin-shaped slices to young children; they can choke on them. Cut them into quarters or julienne strips.
For that fat-free carrot soup mentioned above, use carrots and leeks for thickening. Add onions, fat-free chicken stock, white pepper, and you're in business. In fact, the soluble fiber in carrots can add thickness to lots of foods, taking the place of high-calorie butter and cream. The stronger the flavor of the soup or sauce, the more it will hide the carrot flavor. You can even use carrots when baking as long as you puree them -- or add grated carrots to homemade quick breads.
©Publications International, Ltd.