“Eat up, carrots are good for your eyes and will spare you from requiring glasses”. Children often shy away from vegetables so there are a number of things parents will say to coax a child to eat roughage at mealtime. Is there actually truth to this belief?
As with many wives tales, there is a frustratingly common answer – yes and no. Carrots cannot improve visual acuity – if you have less than 20/20 vision, eating carrots will not help you see more clearly. On the other hand, vitamins within carrots largely facilitate eye health. The organic compound beta-Carotene, which gives carrots their orange colour, is converted by the body into vitamin A, a central vitamin for overall eye health.
The idea that carrots improve vision, specifically night vision, originated during World War II. An accomplished fighter pilot by the name of John “Cats’ Eyes” Cunningham, from the British Royal Air Force, gave thanks to this vegetable for giving him enhanced night vision. British citizens began to cultivate and consume and increased amount of carrots to assist their own night vision during enforced blackouts during this time. While this was a fabulous front page story, it was actually propaganda utilized to cover the truth that the British Royal Air Force was using radar to pinpoint Luftwaffe bombers at night.
Propaganda aside, there is indisputable evidence that carrots are good for overall eye health. Beta-Carotene, which gives many orange fruits and vegetables their colour, is converted by the body into vitamin A. Excessively low levels of vitamin A can cause blindness – the leading cause of blindness in the developing world is actually from a deficiency of vitamin A.
While there are a number of eye conditions which can be prevented by Vitamin A, this vitamin can prevent the formation of well known diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration – the world’s leading cause of blindness.
Many other foods contain significant amounts of beta-Carotene and they aren’t all orange-coloured. The level of this compound is carrots is bested by both sweet potato and kale followed by a variety of other foods such as spinach, squash, collards and pumpkin. Dairy products such as cheese and milk also contain beta-Carotene.
Make sure you don’t go too carrot crazy – beta-Carotene is a pigment and can cause your skin to orange if you ingest an extreme amount. Although this unlikely to be harmful, make sure you consult a health care professional to ensure you are consuming a balanced diet.
Additionally, carrots contain lutein, an antioxidant which has been found to increase pigment density in the macula, the part of the retina of the eye that deals with central detailed vision. Increased pigment density within the macula has been shown to lower risk of macular degeneration. See our Vitamins page for further reading.
If your vision issues are not linked to vitamin A, your vision will not change regardless the amount of carrots you eat. Happy munching!
by Dr. Wesdon McCann