Are baby carrots really young carrots?
"True" baby carrots are produced on some farms, but they're expensive and not widely available to consumers.
The baby carrots most people know and love were actually invented in 1986 by a California grower who wanted to sell some of his broken, misshaped carrots in the fresh-carrot market. Today, growers of "baby" carrots plant seeds close together, forcing the roots to grow long and thin to make it easier to process them into the finger-like bite-size baby carrot. After they're harvested, they're washed, sorted, and mechanically cut, trimmed, polished, shaped and packaged.
Consumers were quickly drawn to the convenience of packaged baby carrots. Today, they lead sales in the nation's $573 million carrot market, despite being about 30 percent more expensive, pound for pound, than whole carrots. Americans eat an average of about 12 pounds of carrots per person annually, with fresh carrots (including baby carrots) making up nearly 9 pounds, and canned and frozen carrots making up the rest.
A three-ounce serving of raw carrots (a little more than a half-cup) has just 30 calories and is chock-full of nutrition. Carrots are very high in beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. In fact, one serving gives you more than twice the Daily Value for vitamin A. While research indicates that the benefits of beta carotene from supplements is questionable, evidence is much stronger that a diet high in beta-carotene-rich foods such as carrots can be beneficial.
One study from the Netherlands, reported in late 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed nearly 4,200 participants for eight years. They were all at risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness. Researchers found that those who ate diets high in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc had a 35 percent reduced risk of developing the condition.
Other research has focused on a compound in carrots called falcarinol. The compound is a natural pesticide that protects carrots from fungal diseases. In 2005, researchers in Denmark and England reported that falcarinol reduced the risk of cancer developing in lab rats by one-third. While much remains to investigate, such research points out that fruits and vegetables may contain many helpful compounds, and we're just beginning to discover the benefits.
Three ounces of carrots also give you three grams of fiber -- nearly 10 percent of the Daily Value for fiber. Carrots are also a very good source of manganese and vitamin K, and a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, potassium and copper.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, registered dietitian, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, and associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, College of Education and Human Ecology.
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