Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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Carrots (Photo credit: chriscook04)

Everyone has heard that carrots are good for the eyes, but do they provide any other health benefits?  How about heart disease – read on.

Carrots are a good source of the antioxidant carotenoids, beta-carotene as well as alpha-carotene. Other excellent sources include peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, collard and beet greens, Swiss chard.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition followed 559 men with an average age of 72 who had participated in the Zutphen Elderly study and were free of known chronic disease.  After a 15-year follow-up period, 197 men in the group died of heart disease.   After adjusting for smoking and age, increased consumption of beta-carotene was associated with a 20% reduced risk of heart disease mortality.  A high intake of alpha-carotene was associated with a 19% reduced risk.

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body while alpha-carotene is not; this tells us that these effects are not associated with vitamin A.  Those men who simply ate more carrots had a 17% reduced risk of death from heart disease.

One word of  caution.  Please do not buy beta-carotene supplements (I don’t know if they even sell them separately anymore except as part of a multivitamin?).  One study a few decades a couple of studies resulted in an increased risk of lung cancers in smokers.  These were not part of multivitamins, but as separate beta-carotene supplements.

I usually do not do recipes, but the best way to prepare carrots (in my opinion) is roasting them. Simply cut raw carrots into about 2 inch pieces and toss them in a plastic bag with 1-2 T. olive oil, salt and pepper.  Pour them out onto a baking pan lined with foil (easy clean-up).  Roast in a  preheated 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until tender.  Remove from oven and sprinkle about 2 T. balsamic vinegar over the carrots and shake the pan to coat evenly.  Return to oven and bake about 5-10 minutes.  The vinegar is optional – they are still good without it.

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