This year we are connecting food to health with a monthly Food 101 blog post (from the nutrition facts to how to prepare, store and cook a particular ingredient) Check back each month for a different featured food.
Let’s ring the New Year with an exceptionally versatile vegetable, one who has graced our kitchens for centuries, the carrot.
The carrot wasn’t always dressed in its familiar orange duds, its 10th century predecessors preferred yellow and purple costumes, and could be found in Iran and Northern Arabia. The traditional orange colored carrot we see today didn’t appear until the Netherlands developed it in 18th century
Rooted in the Unbelliferae family, the carrot along with anise, dill and celery belong to this line because of their umbrella-like flower cluster, the umbel. Carrots are one of those reliable vegetables that can always be found in grocery stores. Although they are available year round, local carrot crops are at peak availability from July to January.
½ cup serving, raw – 25 calories
• 7% carbohydrate
• 3% fiber
• 1% protein
• 0.2% fat
• 88% water
Carrots are one on the best plant sources of Vitamin A; a ½ cup serving provides 337 RAE (retinol activity equivalents). Recommendations for this vitamin are 700 RAE ug/day for females and 900 RAE ug/day for males; so eating just over 2 servings of carrots can make up a day’s worth!
Vitamin A belongs to the fat soluble vitamins, along with D, E, and K. Since plant sources are nearly fat free it can make the absorption and conversion of B- carotene less efficient than the retinol (animal source) form – another reason why it is important to include good fats in our diet.
There are two ways in which our bodies get Vitamin A:
1) Retinol, a form of Vitamin A, can be found in animal sources such as: eggs, liver, fish oils, and fortified milk
2) Carotenoids, are phytochemicals found in plant sources such as: orange, yellow, red and green leafy veggies. Unlike retinol, carotenoids have to be converted to Vitamin A; luckily our bodies have the ability to do this!
Vitamin A benefits:
• Support healthy eyes, and aids with seeing the dark.
• Contributes to protein synthesis and cell differentiation, for normal growth and development.
• Promotes a healthy defense system (skin, stomach, intestines, and respiratory tracts)
• Supports a healthy reproduction system
Carrots are loaded with beta carotene, a type of carotenoid; a health promoting chemical grown naturally in many types of plants. Beta carotene is a protective antioxidant that has been shown to protect against some cancer, heart disease as well other chronic conditions.
Carrots contain 2.2 grams of fibre per ½ cup serving. Why fibre? Fibre helps is keep a healthy gut, but also helps lower your blood cholesterol, stabilize your blood glucose levels, makes you feel full longer, and may even prevent some cancers.
If that isn’t enough… carrots also contain B Vitamins – Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamin! These vitamins help our bodies convert foods we eat into energy.
How to: Pick & Store
Pick carrots that are firm, clean, well-shaped (no cracks) with a bright orange –gold color. Carrots with their greens still attached are likely your best bet for freshest.
How to store: Carrots are a hardy root vegetable making them excellent for storage. As long as moisture loss is prevented, they can last anywhere from 21 – 56 days (nutrients included). Do this by storing in the coolest part of your fridge in sealed plastic bag. If you’ve purchases the carrots with the “umbel” still attached, remember to cut them off before storing.
Boiling, steaming, sautéing, grilling…. There are just so many methods of preparing veggies, but which is best? For carrots, short cooking time and minimal water will retain nutrients and also taste great. Here are the tops picks:
* Before you get out your carrot peelers – Peels contain fibre, so If you’ve followed the above “how to pick”, there is no need to peel, instead use a vegetable brush and gently scrub under cool water. Voila, carrots with all its benefits retained!
Recipes from around the web
and one from us:
sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive this month’s featured recipe: Italian Meatloaf Cups