The Connection Between Carrots and Vitamin A

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 11, 2013 · 0 comments

We all know that we should eat more vegetables, but we don’t. Carrots are a vegetable that most people like and not a hard sell to the family. They are inexpensive, available year-round, and an excellent source of vitamin A.

Vitamin A is crucial to maintaining healthy cells, particularly mucus, skin and bone cells. It also boosts your immune function and helps your body fight infections. In men, vitamin A aids in the production of sperm, and in women it helps to maintain fertility. Vitamin A also maintains the health of the cornea, the clear outer window of the eye. Provitamin A, carotenoids, may play a role in the prevention of cancer. Carrots are an excellent source of carotenoids.

What’s a provitamin?

Vitamin A is unique in that it comes from two sources, plant and animal foods, and in two forms, as carotenoids and retinoids. Carotenoids, or provitamin A, are found in dark-green and deep-yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potato, cantaloupe, peaches, apricots, and mangos. Your body will convert carotenoids to vitamin A as needed. There are hundreds of different carotenoids in nature but the one that your body changes most efficiently to active vitamin A is beta-carotene. The carotenoids that are not converted to active vitamin A act as antioxidants, protecting you against harmful free radicals.

The other half of the vitamin A you need comes from animal foods — liver, cod liver oil, milk, butter, margarine and eggs — in the form of retinoids. The body easily absorbs and uses this form of vitamin A without any conversion.

Which are richer in carotenoids, raw or cooked carrots?

You might be surprised by this answer: it’s cooked. A few minutes of cooking breaks down chemical bonds that are naturally found in food, releasing carotenoids and making them easier to absorb.

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