You probably identify carrots with eye health, but this popular vegetable can also play an important role in a cancer-protective diet. Carrots are our latest addition to AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer.
While no single food can reduce cancer risk, this colorful root vegetable packs a lot of flavor and nutrition. They're also in peak season. When it comes to cancer prevention, here's six ways carrots can play a role.
1. Low-calorie and nutritous - For only 25 calories, one carrot boasts about 200 percent of the daily recommended amount for vitamin A, almost 2 grams of fiber and is a good source of vitamin K. Given that overweight and obesity is a cause of 11 cancers, adding low-calorie carrots and other veggies into your diet makes it easier to get to —and stay —a healthy weight.
2. Budget-friendly - At 23 cents for a cup of carrots, this vegetable ranks as one of the thriftiest. Grab a cup of baby carrots and it will cost you only slightly more, 40 cents. That makes for budget-friendly snacks and cooking as you work towards adding more plant foods into your cancer-protective plate.
3. Cancer-fighting phytochemicals - Carrots contain numerous phytochemicals well studied for their anti-cancer properties. That familiar orange hue comes from the high amount of beta-carotene, carotenoids that our bodies convert to vitamin A. Well-studied for its role in eye health, beta-carotene, as well as alpha-carotene, are important for immune function, maintaining healthy cells and activating proteins that inhibit cancer cells. But you can also find purple, red and yellow varieties, each containing their own unique set of health-promoting phytochmicals. Purple carrots contain anthocyanins, which are flavonoids; red carrots are a source of lycopene and yellow carrots contain lutein, both carotenoids.
4. Lower oral cancer risk - After a review of the scientific evidence worldwide, AICR research found that foods containing carotenoids lower the risk of mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers. AICR research also concluded that non-starchy vegetables, such as carrots, lower the risk of mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers. (Note: Smoking and tobacco is by far the most important way to reduce risk of oral cancers. Alcoholic drinks is also a recognized risk factor.)
5. Emerging research - Several population studies link higher dietary carotenoids, and especially higher blood levels of carotenoids, with lower risk of some types of breast cancer. Because higher blood levels of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, indicate higher vegetable and fruit consumption, many plant foods may play a role. Further research is underway. Note: AICR recommends not to rely on supplements for cancer protection. And beta-carotene in high-dose supplements, especially in smokers, seems to increase lung cancer risk and mortality.
6. Part of a healthy eating pattern - Research shows that a plant-based diet lowers risk for cancers, along with other chronic diseases. Carrots are only one of the many tasty plant foods out there that can help you get to and maintain a healthy weight, while adding flavor, nutrients, and health-promoting phytochemicals.
Want to grow your own purple carrots? You can do it in 10 steps.