The humble carrot is a vegetable most of us take for granted. Carrots have an ancient history originating in Afghanistan. The Greeks and the Romans ate carrots and in fact, the Greeks called the carrot ‘Philtron’ and used it as an aphrodisiac. Don’t all rush to the supermarket!
In Asia, the carrot was an established root crop and was then introduced to Europe in the 13th century. It was the Middle Ages before the carrot became better known and doctors of the time prescribed carrots for numerous ills including snakebite! In those days, the carrot was available in far more radiant colours including red, purple, black, yellow and white. They were cultivated together and over time, it resulted in the orange vegetable we know today.
The Elizabethans on receiving the carrots from mainland Europe did some rather strange things with them. Some ate the roots but others used the feathery foliage for decoration in hats (Ascot) and on their clothes. I am sure like every fashion statement this may come and revisit us at some point. The colonists took the carrot to America but they were not cultivated there until the last couple of centuries.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CARROTS
Carrots eaten as a fresh, raw and unprocessed food is full of nutrients including Vitamin A (retinol), beta-carotene (turned into Vitamin A in the body), other carotenoids, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals calcium and potassium. Of all of the nutrients, Beta-Carotene and latterly Alpha Carotene are seen as the most important properties of the carrot. As far as the eyes are concerned it is the Vitamin A and the Beta-carotene which are the most important nutrients. Vitamin A, helps your eyes adjust to light changes when you come in from outside and helps keep your eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist.
Vitamin A also prevents night blindness. If the vitamin A deficiency causing night blindness is not corrected, it can then lead to a condition called xerophthalmia, causing extremely dry eyes, possibly corneal ulcers and swollen eyelids. If left untreated, xerophthalmia can lead to blindness. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in developing countries. Vitamin A may possibly prevent cataracts from forming and may help prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world.
Beta-carotene is one of about 500 compounds called carotenoids, which are present in most fruit and vegetables. The body changes beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which promotes a healthy immune system and healthy cell growth. The body can only change so much beta-carotene into Vitamin A and any excess boosts the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant in its own right. Antioxidants prevent free radical damage to cells, tissues and most importantly to the fat in our bloodstream that can lead to blocked arteries and heart disease.
Alpha carotene has often been overlooked in carrots but some interesting studies in Japan indicate that Alpha carotene might be even more powerful than Beta-carotene in the fight against cancer. As far as our general health is concerned, carrots play an important role in neutralising acid in the body.
ACIDITY AND ALKALINITY IN THE BODY
The word acid comes from the Latin word acere, which means sour. The term has been applied to chemical compounds containing the element hydrogen and having the ability to supply positively charged hydrogen ions to a chemical reaction.
Most acids are sour as opposed to most alkalis, which are bitter. Acid is also corrosive to metals and will change litmus (a dye from lichens) red and neutralise alkalis.
All acids have similar properties to each other because they all release hydrogen into solutions. Acidity is measure using the pH (potential of hydrogen) scales. The scale runs from 0 to 14. All acids have a pH measurement between 0 to below 7 on the scale.
Acids are present in all living organisms including the human body. Acids in plants react differently than acids in protein rich foods such as animal products. All foods are burned in the body leaving an ash as a result, if the food contains a predominance of sulphur, phosphorus, chlorine then an acid ash is produced.
The body has developed different strategies to ensure that the balance between acid and alkali is optimum for each of its different organs and systemic functions.
For example citrus fruit, in particular one that has a sour taste like the lemon, contains high levels of citric acid and is classified as an acid food. However, the ash that is produced is alkaline. The negative charges on the citrate ions are balanced by positively charged metal ions, such as calcium and potassium. The citrate is oxidised away during this process to carbon dioxide and water and excreted leaving the calcium and potassium behind. As alkalis they in turn are balanced by other acidic properties such as bicarbonate or chloride to ensure that the correct pH balance is maintained. This is an alkaline reaction resulting from ingesting an acid food.
Most animal proteins contain sulphur amino acids and phosphoprotein. When these are metabolised by the body they become sulphuric and phosphoric acids. Therefore these foods are said to be acid forming. The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity forming property of the food.
Optimum health and energy begins as with every function in our bodies with balance. The pH balance of our bodies is not only crucial, it is the essence of our survival and the body has evolved very efficient methods of maintaining this critical balance of acidity and alkalinity in our blood and the major organs of the body. All cells, organs and fluids have their own preferred pH values in order to operate at peak performance.
Outside influences as well as internal balancing strategies play a part in effecting the pH balance of the body. Stress, diet, nutrition, levels of exercise and environmental pollution are a major part of our lives today and most of our chronic illnesses are associated with our bodies becoming more acidic than alkaline.
A minor deviation from the optimum balance can have a devastating effect on the operating systems of the body and can lead to coma and death so the body has a number of buffer systems to maintain that balance. When the blood is too alkaline the heart contracts and ceases to beat and when too acidic it relaxes and ceases to beat.
Eating carrots and other vegetables and fruits that burn to an alkaline ash in the body help balance both the acidic ash foods we consume and some external stress triggers. This means that your proportion of vegetables and some fruits should be higher in relation to grains and some proteins in your diet. Eating more fish than red meat will help reduce the acidic load as will reducing the sugar content in your daily diet.
The vegetable is versatile and apart from eating regularly with a main meal during the week you can amplify its nutritional punch by combining it with sweet potatoes or squash in soups and oranges in a fresh pressed juice. They are lovely with a little butter and also mashed or roasted with other root vegetables.
Next time…Aubergines.. eat your purples.
©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007
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