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 tapering or 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 red color of red carrots is produced by varying amounts of a pigmented antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene occurs naturally in red carrots and other foods and is a source of benefits for health in addition to pigmentation. Lycopene is also found in tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, ketchup, pink and red watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, pink guava, goji berries, rose hips, sea buckthorn and gac fruit. By comparison, carotenoids such alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are responsible for the orange color of the more common orange carrots.
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, red carrots are definitely good for you. But the important 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 carrot varieties of different colors. 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. Find out what are the top 7 nutrition facts and health benefits of red carrots.
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 the benefits of lycopene).
Because of the variation in pigment of different varieties of carrot, and other factors such as 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, on average, 6 mg of lycopene per 100 g. However, the beta-carotene in red carrots may compete with the lycopene, reducing its absorption. But cooking red carrots and eating them together with a source of fat are essential to ensuring a high absorption rate and the desired benefits for health. Also see what makes black carrots black and what are the benefits of black carrots for health.
High vitamin A content from carotenoids
Red carrots still contain important amounts of beta-carotene (3.3 mg of beta-carotene per 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 by the body. This form of vitamin A is called pro-vitamin A and is different from preformed vitamin A from animal foods called retinol. Provided there is a sufficient intake, pro-vitamin A in red carrots provides benefits for eyesight, skin and immune system. The Kyoto red carrots are believed to have the highest beta-carotene content.
Benefits for vision
Red carrots promote better vision as a result of their good content of pro-vitamin A from carotenoid antioxidants with vitamin A activity. The carotenoid beta-carotene, which is the most abundant pro-vitamin A antioxidant in red carrots, is converted into vitamin A in the body and serves as an antioxidant in the retina. Pro-vitamin A antioxidants protect the retina against free radicals from light and associated damage, and help maintain good visual acuity and eye health. Lycopene further exerts a protective action on the retina via antioxidant effects. 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 to boost absorption.
Good for skin
Red carrots promote healthy skin and even help combat acne as a result of their good content of pigmented antioxidants with vitamin A activity. Pro-vitamin A antioxidants in red carrots hold benefits for dry skin in particular, if consumed together with a source of fat to ensure optimal absorption and assimilation of the nutrient.
Pro-vitamin A also helps renew skin cells and protects skin integrity, while also providing antioxidant benefits for skin. Vitamin B6, also found in good amounts in the red taproot, helps prevent skin inflammation such as in seborrheic dermatitis.
Eating red carrots can offer better protection against viral, bacterial and other infections by maintaining healthy mucous membranes at the level of the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, lungs and digestive tract, all potential entry points for viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. This protective action that essentially preserves the integrity of mucous membranes contributes to the immune system response.
Moreover, pro-vitamin A in red carrots further aids the immune system by actively contributing to the production, growth and differentiation of immune system cells such as T cells. Also, pro-vitamin A from red carrots stimulates the production of antibodies (immunoglobulin), further contributing to the immune system response.
Good source of dietary fiber
100 g of red carrots has around 2.8 g of dietary fiber, roughly the same amount as other varieties of carrot. Dietary fiber is plant material that is resistant 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, providing nutrition that helps them grow and flourish for better digestive health and a healthier gut environment.
Tonic action, contributes to energy metabolism
Good amounts of vitamin B6 in red carrots support nervous system health and cognitive functions, reducing mental confusion and supporting learning. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B9 in red carrots contribute to energy metabolism, digestion and brain and nervous system health.
Vitamins B6 and B9 in particular are involved in the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin, as well as improve the ability of hemoglobin to absorb oxygen, with benefits for anemia. Both the anti-anemia effects of B vitamins in red carrots and their content of carbs and sugar help boost energy levels quickly and restore vitality.
Vitamin K in red carrots supports blood coagulation and prevents easy bruising and bleeding such as nosebleeds. Vitamin C, available only in the uncooked carrots, has immune-boosting properties and anti-inflammatory benefits. The variety of carrot also contains small amounts of vitamin E with antioxidant effects.
The varied mineral profile of the vegetable 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 per 100 g) 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 and full of benefits for health.
Are red carrots healthier raw or cooked?
Surprisingly, all carrots are best eaten cooked, although there are benefits to eating carrots both raw and 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 fat like butter, some fresh olive oil or eating red carrots and other carrot colors with eggs, meat or fish increases intestinal absorption of both lycopene that gives red carrots their color, and pro-vitamin A beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. Furthermore, this causes increased absorption into the bloodstream and more benefits for health. 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.