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Carrots are a root vegetable. They are good for you. They're also very tasty when done right.
We're going to look at a really easy, cheap recipe for carrots.
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Carrots and Eyesight
Just Tell Me The Recipe Already
The carrot is most commonly orange-colored. This coloration is actually from nutrients that are in the carrot. These are the "carotenoids", specifically "alpha carotene" and "beta carotene". Actually the carotenoids encompass quite a few compounds, including the xanthophylls, which I'll talk about in the next section.
Most food stores have the orange carrots. Get the full-size ones. "Baby carrots" are kind of a waste of money if you're going to cook them. Ever notice that cooked carrots are always a little bit sweeter than the raw ones? The cooking process will break down some of the starches into sugars.
If you can find the purple, red, and yellow carrots, get some of those too. These colors represent other phytonutrients with different benefits or bio-activities. It just so happens that these different ones tend to work better when they are together. Whenever you see a reddish-purple vegetable (or autumn leaf), chances are that color originates from anthocyanins. These are a valuable class of antioxidants. One thing to know about antioxidants is that there's a spectrum of water-solubility; some are more water-soluble, while others are more fat-soluble. The anthocyanins are more water-soluble, generally, than the caroteinoids. You need both.
This again is why it's better to have more than one, working together.
Out of the different phytonutrients, beta-carotene is the only one that actually converts into a vitamin. That doesn't mean the other ones aren't important; it just means we don't classify them as "vitamins".
The human body converts beta-carotene to retinol, the directly-usable form of Vitamin A. This is a great way to get your Vitamin A, (that's years of "conventional wisdom" talking... I should really qualify this; see below.) Beta-carotene is not likely to cause Vitamin A toxicity. That's because your body converts only as much carotene as it requires.
(Interesting note: in people who consume large amounts of ethanol, beta carotene doesn't get converted as well. That's because the reaction uses the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. Too much alcohol keeps the enzyme busy, so it can't process the carotene).
Whichever kind of carrots you get (orange, purple, red, yellow), try to buy organic.
Almost all fruits and vegetables can have pesticide residues. Generally the pesticides concentrate in the peel of carrots, but not entirely. Either get the organic, or grow them yourself. Actually, this could be a good way to get the multi-colored ones that are hard to find ready-grown at the store.
Carrots and EyesightI may expand on this section later, but I just wanted to add a couple of quick notes here.
Many people will tell you that carrots are good for your eyes. And they're right. Thing is, though, carrots by themselves are not as good as carrots with certain other things.
Orange carrots contain the beta carotene which gives you Vitamin A. That's great, because you need Vitamin A for night vision. Note that you can't even utilize Vitamin A without zinc. Carrots contain some zinc, unless they're baby carrots. However, a cup of peas typically contains about five times as much zinc as a cup of carrots. There's a reason why peas and carrots should be eaten together.
Then again, if you're eating a balanced diet generally, you're not going to miss out by eating a serving of carrots without peas. At any given time, you probably have enough circulating Zn2+ that you'll be able to utilize the vitamin A.
Earlier I said I would probably expand on this section, because I want to clarify something about the Vitamin A.
Although carrots can provide some Vitamin A, I have to re-think my years of being steeped in scientific "conventional wisdom". Thus, I'll have to say now that carrots should not be your primary source. Beta-carotene is not an especially good source of Vitamin A. Many science people picked up the same thinking as everyone else: that "beta-carotene" equals "Vitamin A". No wonder, because some textbooks convey that exact impression (all of mine did), and unless your research focused on Vitamin A, you could easily go for years thinking carotene was a replacement for Vitamin A in the diet.
Beta-carotene "sort of" equals Vitamin A, in that it can be converted. But actually, the conversion efficiency in humans is nowhere near 100%, or even 50%.
Over the years, the conversion efficiency has been revised downward. First it was one-fourth, I think, which wasn't bad. Then with more experiments, someone said, "Hey, it's only one-sixth". So basically if you wanted a certain amount of Vitamin A, you would have to eat six times the amount of beta carotene. (That's presumably a molecular ratio, not a weight ratio. But I'd have to double check.)
I just checked another book-- Lippincott's, which I actually find to be rather poor for vitamin science-- and it says the conversion ratio is only one-twelfth. That means you would have to eat twelve times the amount of beta carotene to get the regular amount of Vitamin A. Of course, "some" Vitamin A is better than "no" Vitamin A.
And here's another thing: not everyone has the same conversion efficiency, either. (I seem to recall papers that say a few people can't convert beta-carotene at all.)
As I said, if you want to be able to utilize what Vitamin A you can get from carrots, you should at least make sure to get enough zinc with them. And also, make sure you're getting enough Vitamin D.
As for eye health, the main thing is that carrots don't have all that much lutein or zeaxanthin. It's not zero, but it's only about 10% (at best) of what you can get from some other vegetable sources.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are xanthophylls, a class of compounds necessary for eye health. These compounds also happen to color autumn leaves. (Too bad that tree leaves are not generally palatable.)
The xanthophylls are a sub-class of carotenoids, just as the carotenes are a sub-class of carotenoids. The core structure is similar: there's a long chain of alternating double bonds, with methyl groups at specific locations. These compounds have special antioxidant properties.
Not everything with alternating double bonds is going to be good for you, but in the right configuration, it can be very beneficial. There's something special about these 40-carbon molecules with their isoprenoid structures. It allows these molecules to scavenge free radicals and reactive oxygen species. (I talk more about such things in my pizza book, in the discussion on lycopene.)
Now, back to lutein and zeaxanthin.
If you're into vegan smoothies, you know that many contain kale. This is one of the best vegetables for lutein and zeaxanthin.
Another possibility is to serve the carrots with some soft-boiled eggs. The yolks contain both lutein and zeaxanthin. I should add that eggs are probably a better, more bioavailable source of Vitamin A than carrots, but of course they're not vegan. Eggs were vilified by mainstream science for many years; that's another bit of scientific dogma that was hard to let go of.
Ah, maybe it wasn't that difficult to let go of.... eggs taste good.
Peeling CarrotsI wouldn't eat raw carrots with the peels still on them. First, pesticides (see above). Second, carrots are grown in soil... and soil usually has manure in it. I'm not going to get into why that's bad, because we're talking about food and I don't want to gross you out. Just wash the carrots in some water, peel them, and rinse them.
If you're going to cook the carrots, it doesn't matter as much; you could leave the peels on, if you really want to. The thing is, they tend to come off the sliced carrots when you cook them, so I say just peel the carrots.
One of these will work great for carrots. Simple, no frills.
Once you peel the carrots, cut them into chunks or thick slices. The bigger the pieces of carrot, the longer the carrots take to cook. If you slice them paper-thin, they could turn to mush. Try to make the carrot slices about 1/2 inch thick.
Cooking The CarrotsWe're going to steam them. You don't need a fancy, dedicated steamer. Just get one of these and one of these. If you want one with a clear glass lid and a steam vent, get one of these.
This basic combo will enable you to cook all kinds of vegetables, as well as perfect soft-boiled eggs. (For large families, and also for cooking pasta, get this set. I had one for years, and it was great.)
Add some water to the pot. The water should come up to the bottom of the steamer basket. Then, put the lid on the pot and steam the carrot pieces for 12 to 14 minutes. (Stove burner on "Hi" or "Medium-Hi".)
Too long, and the water will boil away. If that happens, the liquid on the bottom will burn.
Wait a minute: how can the liquid burn? Isn't it just water?
Nope. As the water turns to steam, the steam travels up through the carrots. There, it picks up some different molecules from the carrots. Probably that includes some starch that gets broken down by the steam heat. The liquid, now orange-yellow, trickles back down into the bottom of the pot.
If you heat this to dryness, it will char, smoke, and ruin the food.
Turn off the burner and move the saucepan to a cold burner. Let it cool enough to open the lid without getting steam burns.
Next, we're going to make the actual "recipe".
Just Tell Me The Recipe Already
By now, you know how to select, peel, and cook the carrots. (Quick summary: peel, slice, and steam for 12 to 14 minutes).
Once you've done that, here's how I like to serve them.
Simply top them with some slices of fresh butter (if you can eat that), and sprinkle with some Madras curry powder.
I would tell you to get this brand, but they changed the recipe, apparently. (I'm still using a container from before then.) So you might try this instead. (I'm also curious to try this one and this one.)
Actually, the curry powder I most heartily recommend is this one, partly because of the packaging, and partly because organic minimizes the pesticide residue. (When spices are dried, that concentrates pesticide residues.)
That's it. Simple recipe. Curry has a highly complex flavor and aroma profile, so the choice of a curry can be a matter of personal taste. But the basic idea is the same: steamed carrots, butter or ghee, and some curry.
If you don't like curry for some reason, try garlic powder, ground black pepper, and maybe some salt. Or, get some of this (one of the best all-around seasonings.)
This has been a look at carrots, one of the most popular vegetables in the Western world.
Carrots are nutritious and delicious. If you like them cooked, then steaming is one of the best ways to preserve nutrients.
Maybe carrots are not an ideal primary source of Vitamin A, but the carotenoids are likely to be highly beneficial in other ways, too. If your personal biochemistry is able to convert carotene to Vitamin A, then you'll get the most out of carrots by eating them with peas. Also make sure you're getting enough Vitamin D.
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