Through the decades, be them one or five, it has stuck with many of us that carrots are good for our eyes. The legends vary, some claiming night vision, others simply improved eyesight, but all in all, it’s easy to see (wicked pun!), when it comes to divine vision, carrots are the key. But, why?
In a more innocent world, a world in which plant-based eaters weren’t asked to account every vitamin and mineral, defend every leaf of kale or grain of rice, we could all just accept this carrot-eye collusion. But, after citing where our iron comes from, our protein, vitamin D, calcium, B12 … well, doesn’t it make sense to just want to know exactly what make carrots so magical?
The simple answer, the one that most of us already know, is that it has something to do with beta-carotene. But, doesn’t that just raise more questions? Like, what is beta-carotene? Why doesn’t anything else seem to have it? (I mean, no one has ever said to me, Eat your green beans! They’re good for your eyes.) Inquiring minds want to know.
So, what is beta-carotene?
The short and skinny of it is that beta-carotene is an orange color pigment found in foods. The more extensive version is that beta-carotene was named with the Latin letter beta and word carotene, which unsurprisingly means carrot, because carrots were the first recognized source of it.
Boring fact: Beta-carotene’s chemical formula is C40H56. That should clear a few things up.
What does beta-carotene do?
Beta-carotene is not, in itself, a vital nutrient for humans; however, the human body converts it into vitamin A, which we do need. But, wait, there’s more good news. The benefit of beta-carotene being our source of vitamin A is that our bodies won’t produce excess amount of the vitamin, which can be toxic when consumed to overzealously.
Interesting fact: There are two forms of vitamin A we get from our food. Pre-formed vitamin A, retinol, which is animal-based, and carotenoids, which are plant-based. Beta-carotene is one of the most readily available carotenoids and is found abundantly in carrots.
What does all this have to do with eyesight?
Vitamin A is what the body uses to protect the eyes’ corneas, the clear part that covers the iris and pupil and lets light in, thus making sight possible. It keeps the eyes from drying out. Without it, the corneas will cloud up and cause blindness.
Where else can I get some of this Vitamin A?
So, of course, we all know carrots are a great source of beta-carotene, but by no means are they the only source. Essentially, we are looking for orange foods here. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, peppers and apricots are all solid sources. In the not so orange array, dark leafy greens (what don’t they have?), several types of lettuce, peas and broccoli are also all notable sources. (Don’t ask how. That’s an entirely different article.) If you eat a whole foods diet, you’re almost never likely to be short of Vitamin A and you can’t even take in too much when eating whole food sources versus a supplement (which can actually be toxic).
Beta-Carotene Rich Recipes:
Here are some recipes to make sure all those carotenoids are well stocked:
Beta Carotene Sipper (contains carrots and pumpkins)
Moroccan Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas
Butternut Squash, Portobello, and Spinach Casserole with Vegan Sausage
Raw Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
Easy Roasted Root Veggies
Carrot Cake Oatmeal with Spiced Cashew Cream
Sweet Pea Hummus
Don’t neglect your eyes when you can eat your way to good vision. Cheers!
Image Source: Beta Carotene Sipper