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The 10p vegetable that could save your life

The 10p vegetable that could save your life

Cancer busting

Dr Brandt and her team published research in 2023 which found eating 300g of carrots per week reduced the risk of getting cancer by an average of 15 per cent. 

However, this is not due to the carotenoids but rather an entirely different compound within carrots called polyacetylene. These chemicals help regulate inflammation and thus prevent cell damage, offering a protective effect against cancer. 

“People tend to think carotenoids help prevent cancer but it actually seems to be polyacetylenes,” explains Dr Brandt. “If you find a person with a lot of carotenoids in their skin and blood it’s a sign they’ve been eating carrots, but that doesn’t mean the carotenoids are doing anything in themselves. [But] we know that polyacetylenes work because we’ve done studies on them outside of carrots, and they have the same anti-cancer effect.” 

Full of fibre

Carrots contain some of the highest levels of fibre of any vegetable, which makes them important for digestive health. Fibre also takes a long time to break down, making you feel fuller for longer. 

“Fibre plays a really important role in supporting the gut microbiome,” explains nutritionist and author of How To Stay Healthy Jenna Hope. “The gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria in the gut, good and bad. By incorporating more fibre into our diet, we feed the good bacteria, which means less space for the bad bacteria. Those good bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids which are associated with all kinds of health benefits, from improving mental well-being to boosting our immune system, to improving our sleep. 

“If you have a lot of good bacteria, you may find it easier to eat more healthily – when we have high levels of the bad gut bacteria we are more likely to crave high-sugar and high-fat foods.” 

Fibre will also slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, so if you have a dessert after your big plate of carrots, you’ll get a less intense “sugar rush” and afterwards won’t find yourself craving more unhealthy treats later. 

Skin health

Because carotenoids accumulate in the skin, “there is some indication they have a benefit for people with sensitive skin who are prone to sunburn,” says Dr Brandt. “It’s almost like a built-in sun lotion: the carotenoids absorb the rays from the sun before they can burn you.” 

While research into the subject is still ongoing, there are some scientists who think eating carrots might help reduce the risk of skin cancer. “I know one researcher who is looking into a gene which makes it more difficult to convert carotene into vitamin A,” Dr Brandt explains. “The gene is more commonly found in people in northern Europe and this researcher’s hypothesis is that this is to keep the carotene in the skin for longer, which prevents skin cancer, helping that gene get passed on in people with fair skin.”

Are there alternative benefits with different coloured carrots? 

“In medieval times, carrots were not orange, they were more commonly white or yellow,” says Dr Brandt. “Orange carrots became popular, so now that’s what we think of when we think of carrots, but you’ll get the same benefits from other colours.” 

While all carrots – purple, red, white, and yellow – taste roughly the same and have the same levels of fibre, they contain slightly different types of carotenoids. 

“Yellow ones have lutein which is good for eye health, purple carrots have anthocyanin which may have a benefit for heart health according to some ongoing studies, while white carrots don’t have pigment so you don’t need to worry about turning orange,” says Dr Brandt. “But honestly, our impression is that most carrots, regardless of colour, have broadly the same health applications.”

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