The following is a guest post by Tara Heath. Also check out her cool info-graphic on this topic.
Many of us were told as children to eat more carrots in order to improve our vision. While these healthy root vegetables contain naturally occurring beta carotenes that produce vitamin A, which is important for good for eye health, there is considerable debate on whether our vision actually improves from increased consumption. There has also been considerable controversy stating that by eating more of them will prevent night blindness and curb other vision problems.
The carrot conundrum began with propaganda campaigns spread by the Royal British Air Force during WWII. According to the UK Ministry of Food, this now defunct agency was rolling out messages that credited the consumption of carrots as the key ingredient for the pilot’s successful shooting down of German aircraft at night. Decades later, rumors were swirling around about the use of new radar technology that the Brits were hiding from their enemies by concealing this fact underneath the promotion of increased carrot consumption.
But the question remains, does eating carrots really improve eyesight, help to prevent blindness and enhance vision in the dark? There is actually a little bit of truth behind all of these statements, but no absolute guarantee that consuming carrots are the complete answer to better vision.
As stated previously, our bodies use the beta carotenes in carrots to produce vitamin A, which is essential for good eye health. Vitamin A allows our eyes to convert light into the signal that transmits images to our brains that allows people to see in conditions of low light.
The cornea, the clear front surface of the eye that covers the iris and pupil, can disappear if the body does not get enough vitamin A. It’s estimated that somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 children around the world lose their vision due to a vitamin A deficiency. In some third world countries like Nepal and India, where vitamin A deficiencies are a result of malnutrition, beta carotene and vitamin A supplements have been shown to improve vision.
Some research suggests that beta carotene supplements alone do not convert to vitamin A very efficiently. Some estimates show that between 12 to 20 molecules of beta carotene are necessary to create just one molecule of vitamin A. This would suggest that one might be better off taking vitamin A rather than attempting to eat enough carrots to supply our systems with this important chemical compound.
Instead of chomping carrots at a Bugs Bunny level, there are plenty of other foods that are packed with beta carotenes and some offer other nutritional benefits that can protect our valuable vision. For example, lutein and zeaxanthin found in spinach, kale and collard greens, have been shown to reduce the risk of older adults contracting age-related macular degeneration.
Other foods rich in beta carotenes include pumpkins, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, winter squash, cabbage, along with spinach, kale and collard greens. As with any healthy diet, we shouldn’t be concentrating on any one healthy food like carrots. We should all be eating a balance of healthy foods that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cutting down on carbs, sugars and unhealthy animal fats.