Last year Suttons and Exeter university trialled a range of different carrots to find the variety with the highest levels of carotenoids, which give carrots their orange colour. We found that the pale cream and yellow carrots were the sweetest (a good way to get children to eat them) but some bright orange ones contained the highest levels of carotenoids and the darkest purple ones contained, the highest levels of anthocyanins.
When we eat carrots, we deposit some of these carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, in the macular of the eye. Here they help to filter out certain wavelengths and protect the delicate light receptor cells from damage. There’s good evidence that they can help to protect against cataracts and macular degeneration. Beta-carotene, another carotenoid, is converted in our bodies to vitamin A, which is used in the light detecting cells of the retina, which can improve our vision in dim light.
What are carotenoids?
Rather unimaginatively named after the vegetables in which they were first identified in abundance, plants produce a range of carotenoids and one of their functions is to protect chlorophyll from excessive sun damage and protect the plant from UV rays. The carotenoid lutein is regularly prescribed on the NHS in the treatment of macular degeneration.
Although carotenoids are responsible for the orange colour of that gives carrots their health benefits, purple carrots are also packed full of the stuff. The high levels of anthocyanins, the same compound that give blueberries their health boosting properties, give these varieties their purple hue but these carrots contain twice the health benefits.
The most nutritious carrots
In our trials there were 2 carrots that came out on top. Purple carrots had most anthocyanins whilst orange roots contained the most carotenoids. So try these varieties for a nutritious hit.
Carrot F1 Purple Sun
With deep purple flesh, this ‘mega’ healthy carrot not only has vitamin A like normal carrots, but it is also packed full of anthocyanins.
Carrot Amsterdam Forcing 3
A very smooth-skinned, bright orange carrot, these finger like roots are small, sweet, succulent and amongst the first to crop. RHS Award of Garden Merit winner.