Yes, eating carrots can help ensure healthy eyes. Carrots are a goldmine of beta-carotene – the compound that not only gives them their vibrant orange color but is also a precursor of vitamin A, the vitamin essential for good eyesight. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that getting lots of vitamin A will prevent you from having to wear glasses.
Carrots are particularly rich in beta-carotene, but this nutrient can be found in other vegetables too, including sweet potatoes, winter squash, red peppers, spinach and lettuce. Our bodies turn beta-carotene into vitamin A based on our nutritional requirements. This vitamin can be produced from other types of carotenoids as well, but beta-carotene is by far the most abundant precursor in our food and the one we can convert the most easily. Our bodies can also absorb vitamin A directly from animal products like liver, dairy products, eggs and fish.
Vitamin A is also known as retinol because it was isolated for the first time in a retina in 1913. And it was honored with the first letter of the alphabet because it was the first vitamin to be discovered. It plays a crucial role in eyesight, forming a key part of the visual cycle. Our retinas – the light-sensitive part of our eyes – are made from two types of cells: cones and rods. These cells can turn light into nerve signals, but they need vitamin A to do so. When vitamin A molecules are exposed to light, they undergo a series of chemical reactions that generate an electrical impulse, which is then carried to the brain through the optical nerve. And our brain interprets these impulses as light.
A diet rich in beta-carotene can therefore help ensure good eyesight. It may also reduce the likelihood of developing age-related diseases like cataracts; two studies found a lower prevalence of cataracts among people with higher beta-carotene levels in their blood.
One final tip to help you properly absorb the beta-carotene you eat: garnish your vegetables with a healthy fat, like a drizzle of olive oil or a couple of walnuts. Your body will be able to absorb the carotenoids much more efficiently.
Nutritional information on carrots
Manger des carrots aide la vue, Extenso, le Centre de référence sur la nutrition de l’Université de Montréal
Les aliments de la vision, Doctissimo
Vitamin A et bêta-carotène, PasseportSanté
Plasma antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids and age-related cataract, Gale CR, Hall NF, Phillips DI et al. Ophthalmology, 2001;108:1992-1998
Chimie de la vision, Gérard Gomez, Académie de Montpellier
Vitamins guide: Vitamin A