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. Night Bird had the most anthocyanins whilst F1 Octavo contained the most carotenoids. So try these varieties for a nutritious hit.
Carrot F1 Night Bird
One of the darkest coloured carrots in existence, with deep purple flesh which appears almost black, with a small white core. A great grower, producing long carrots which grow to a length of 15-22cm (6-10″), 3-5cm (1-2″) wide.
Carrot F1 Octavo
A very smooth-skinned, bright orange carrot, with a stump end and extremely uniform in shape, with excellent tolerance to splitting or breaking in the ground.