The red carrot (Daucus carota sativus) is a variety of domesticated carrot. It is characterized by a distinctive red-orange color and a high content of the antioxidant lycopene. Red carrots are an important source of pro-vitamin A antioxidants such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene and hold benefits for eyesight, skin health and immune system. The vegetable is a generous source of vitamins B6 and K and provides moderate amounts of the antioxidant manganese and electrolyte potassium. Its good fiber content makes it an ideal food for relieving constipation and managing hemorrhoids symptoms. Thanks to a good mineral profile, red carrots can be eaten for diarrhea as they have tonic properties and help combat dehydration.
What do red carrots look like? Red carrots have a typical shape: long, narrow and cone-like with a thick, woody and hard-textured, smooth flesh. The edible taproot grows underground, while the feathery green-dill like leaves grow above-ground. Depending on the cultivar, slight differences in pigmentation may occur. For the most part, the variety has a deep orange-red skin and inner flesh. However, pigment may range from a pale red-pink to a deep scarlet. There is a variety of red carrots with a pale red, almost pink color that brightens up after cooking. Another variety, the Kyoto red carrot, is a beautiful scarlet color, a mix between a bright, deep red with a slight orange hue. If grown in winter, its color deepens. Nutri-red carrots are coral, a red-pink orange but their color deepens after cooking.
Why are red carrots red in color? The bright color of the variety is caused by varying amounts of an antioxidant pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is also found in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, pink guava, goji, rose hip, sea buckthorn and gac fruit (see Properties and Benefits of Gac Fruit). Carotenois, namely alpha-carotene, beta-carotene contribute to the orange hues.
What do red carrots taste like? If harvested before they reach maturity, red and other carrot varieties will be firm, but tender and pleasant tasting with a mild sweet flavor. If left to mature, they become woody in texture, crunchy but develop a more pregnant sweet flavor as a result of the taproot accumulating more sugars to withstand the cold. Cooked red carrots are soft and mildly sweet. The Kyoto red variety is the sweetest of all red carrots and a preferred choice for making carrot juice.
Are red carrots good for you? Yes, they are. But the real question you should be asking is: what are red carrots good for? Because they are essentially carrots, they provide almost the same benefits as all other varieties of different color. The only major difference in nutrition is their pigment, indication of the presence of specific antioxidants with specific functions and roles within the human body. Here are the top 7 nutrition facts and health benefits of the variety:
1) High lycopene content. Red carrots are one of the best sources of an antioxidant called lycopene. Compared to other carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene does not have vitamin A activity, but remains a potent antioxidant with two times the antioxidant activity of beta-carotene and up to ten times the antioxidant activity of alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E). Lycopene prevents lipid oxidation with effects on overall cell health. Studies show it may exert a preventive role against prostate cancer, stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers as well as bladder and cervical cancer. The protective action is directly proportional with the amount of lycopene consumed and absorbed.
Lycopene further prevents lipid oxidation, an effect which extends to cardiovascular health. Basically, a generous intake of red carrots, tomato sauce and other lycopene rich foods could potentially prevent lipid peroxidation and protect against plaque formation from high blood cholesterol levels and narrowing of arteries (see article on Properties and Benefits of Lycopene).
Because of the variation in pigment of different varieties and other factors (soil quality, processing, cooking methods employed, presence of competing antioxidants), lycopene content is difficult to assess. According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, red carrots contain 6 mg of lycopene per 100 g. However, the beta-carotene in red carrots may compete with lycopene, reducing in absorption. Also, cooking red carrots and eating them together with a source of fat are essential to ensuring a high absorption and desired health benefits.
2) High vitamin A content from carotenoids. Red carrots still contain important amounts of beta-carotene (3.3 mg of beta-carotene/100 g) and small amounts of alpha-carotene, both antioxidants with vitamin A activity. When you eat red carrots with a source of fat, these antioxidants are absorbed and converted into vitamin A. Provided there is a sufficient intake, the nutrient brings benefits for eyesight, skin and immune system. The Kyoto red carrots are believed to have the highest beta-carotene content.
3) Benefits for vision. Red carrots promote better vision as a result of a good pro-vitamin A content. The carotenoid beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A and serves as an antioxidant in the retina, protecting against free radicals from light and maintaining vision acuity. Lycopene further exerts a protective action on the retina. If caused by vitamin A deficiency, dry eyes and low production of tears can also be reversed by eating red carrots with a source of fat.
4) Good for skin. Red carrots promote healthy skin and combat acne as a result of their vitamin A activity. They hold benefits for dry skin in particular, if consumed together with a source of fat to ensure absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Vitamin B6, also found in good amounts in the taproot, helps prevent skin inflammation such as in seborrheic dermatitis.
5) Boosts immunity. Eating red carrots can offer better protection against viral, bacterial and other infections by maintaining healthy mucous membranes at the levels of the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, lungs and digestive tract, all potential entry points for viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. This protective action on mucous membranes contributes to a stronger immune system response. Also see article on Properties and Benefits of Black Carrots.
6) Good source of fiber. 100 g of red carrots has around 2.8 g of dietary fiber, roughly the same amount as other varieties. Dietary fiber is plant material that is resilient to digestive enzymes and passes unchanged through the gastrointestinal tract. Benefits include improved transit time, softer stools that are easier to pass, constipation relief and benefits for hemorrhoids. Dietary fiber also supports populations of good gut bacteria.
7) Tonic action, contributes to energy metabolism. Good amounts of vitamin B6 support nervous system health and cognitive functions, reducing mental confusion. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B9, contribute to energy metabolism, digestion and brain and nervous system health. Vitamin K supports blood coagulation and prevents easy bruising and nosebleeds. Vitamin C, available only in uncooked carrots, has immune-boosting properties. The variety also contains small amounts of vitamin E with antioxidant effects.
The varied mineral profile supplies small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc for a tonic effect. Potassium along with the high water content of the taproot (88.3 g of water) counteract dehydration, making red carrots and red carrot juice good for rehydration following diarrhea. Lastly, the iron, vitamin B9, vitamin C and pro-vitamin compounds make red carrots a good food to eat in pregnancy.
Where can you find red carrots? You can get red carrots in health food stores or even in some supermarkets in what is called a rainbow pack containing one or two carrots of different colors, usually orange, purple, yellow and red. Ideally, you should get red carrot seeds and plant them in your home garden which is sure to guarantee a savory and natural product, free of pesticides.
Are red carrots healthier raw or cooked? Surprisingly, all carrots are best eaten cooked. While cooking heat destroys all of their vitamin C content, it helps release and make lycopene and other carotenoids more bioavailable, meaning they are absorbed and assimilated at high rates. Adding some fats like butter, some fresh olive oil or eating them with eggs, meat or fish increases intestinal absorption followed by absorption into the bloodstream and further adds to the benefits. So in order to enjoy the most of the benefits of red and other carrot varieties, remember they are healthiest cooked and eaten with a source of fat.