Be a Healthier You

Carrots help you see in the dark – FACT OR FICTION?

Posted on: June 21, 2013

So, we’ve all come across ‘food myths’ at least once in our lives. Old wives’ tales our grannies, aunts, mums or dads told us as we were growing up that go back generations. Little sayings we are sure are unlikely to be true, but that we just can’t seem to let go of.

Well, I’m here to burst your bubble… Or am I?

Over the coming months I will be taking apart some of the most highly-touted food myths I have been subjected to throughout my life. Myths that I confronted head-on in my studies as a budding Public Health Nutritionist, and a couple of others that didn’t quite fit the curriculum!

Surely everyone is familiar with the old ‘carrots help you see in the dark’ speech from your parents as you were pushing veggies around your plate at five years old. What about ‘if you eat your spinach you’ll have muscles like Popeye’? Mum, who do you think you are kidding? But wait, I have seen him down a can of the green stuff and then BAM he looks like a balding Hulk Hogan! And as for ‘bread crusts make your hair curly’ – who said I even want curly hair? (okay maybe I do, I just don’t want to eat the crusts, okay?). You get the picture.

So, without further ado onto today’s myth…

Carrots on display at local greengrocer

Carrots on display at local greengrocer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Myth: Carrots help you see in the dark.

Fact or Fiction: Almost FACT.

There is some scientific basis to this statement, read on..

History of the myth: The myth is believed to have originated in WWII when RAF pilots were fed large quantities of carrots. There was an excess harvest of carrots in Britain at that time, and in a bid to promote carrots to the British public the government attributed the RAF’s flying skills to the high beta-carotene content of carrots.

The science: The β-carotene (beta-carotene) compound found in carrots is turned into Vitamin A within the body. Vitamin A has three main functions for health: 1) immunity; 2) vision; and 3) healthy skin linings.

So, let’s address point 2 a little more. The retina of the eye works with a protein called opsin to produce rhodopsin, a light-absorbing molecule required for dim/low-light vision, and colour vision. Vitamin A contains retinal, an essential component of rhodopsin forming-process. Thus, we can see that carrots do indeed contribute to vision in dimly lit areas though it would be a stretch to claim that they provide humans with night-vision!

 

Try my super healthy coleslaw recipe to get more vitamin A into your diet!

Or try juicing some with oranges and apples for a delicious breakfast drink!

A little more on Vitamin A…

This wonderful vitamin can also be found in liver, sweet potato, cod liver oil, and Cheddar cheese, as well as many fruits and vegetables.

It is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that if you eat more than your body needs it can be stored away for later. So don’t panic, there’s no need to go out and buy a kilo of carrots every day!!

Caution: Whilst rare, excessive intakes of Vitamin A have been recorded in individuals who regularly consume liver or liver pâté (more than once a week) and do not achieve Vitamin D requirements. Excess Vitamin A can lead to weak and easily fractured bones in later life. To top up your Vitamin D stores try to expose your face and arms to the sun for 20 minutes per day in the summer months (be sure to use sunscreen). Children, the elderly, and individuals with darker skin are the groups least likely to meet Vitamin D requirements and should include eggs, fish, and fortified cereals and spreads/ margarines in their diet where possible.  

See your doctor if you have any concerns about your Vitamin A intake.

Have any food follies you would like me to investigate? Comment below and you may be featured!!!

NEXT TIME: Spinach makes you big and strong – FACT or FICTION?

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