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Carrots are a healthy addition to your diet

In form, carrots may have come a long way from a tough bitter root to today’s sweet, juicy vegetable, but their use as part of a healthy diet today isn’t so far from their original use as medicine thousands of years ago.

According to the World Carrot Museum, a virtual museum dedicated to the root (see http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk), carrots were first cultivated some 5,000 years ago in what is now Afghanistan. While orange is the predominant color seen in the produce section, early carrots were more likely to be purple, white, or nearly black.

Carrots gained some medical fame through Mithradates the Great, who headed a kingdom on the shores of the Black Sea from 120 to 63 BC. The king took a daily dose of a concoction that was said to be an antidote to any poison. Among its dozens of ingredients were carrot seeds. When Rome finally defeated his army and he was in danger of capture, Mithradates tried to kill himself by poison. That proved unsuccessful, and he had to ask his bodyguard to use a sword.

“Today, naturally sweet, delicious and crunchy, carrots are healthy additions you can make to your diet,” said Carla Haley, Miller County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “An excellent source of vitamin A, one carrot provides more than 200 percent of your daily requirement.”

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as maintain eye health.

Carrots also provide potassium, vitamin K and fiber. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure; vitamin K helps build and maintain strong bones; and fiber helps control cholesterol and keeps you regular. Carrots also are loaded with beta-carotene, a compound that is naturally converted to vitamin A in the liver when consumed. The deeper orange the carrot, the more beta-carotene.

Haley advises choosing carrots with a deep orange color that are firm and without splits. Select carrots that still have greens attached, as these tend to keep better and taste fresher. The leaves should be fresh and bright green. Select young, slim carrots for the most sweetness.

“Note that ‘baby carrots’ may be more convenient, but they are not as sweet as the slimmer young carrots,” Haley said. Avoid carrots with blemishes or cracks, wilting greens, flabby, rubbery or soft texture or “sunburned” green area at the top.

Before storing, remove the greens, so they won’t deplete the carrot of moisture and nutrients. She suggests rolling the carrots in a sheet of bubble wrap—the kind with small bubbles—and placing them in the vegetable drawer in the fridge.

“The bubble wrap with enable the perfect amount of moisture to stay close to the carrots, but the texture of the bubble wrap will prevent that moisture from gathering right on the surface of the carrots,” Haley said. “Carrots may also be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they will keep for up to two weeks.”

“Do not store carrots near apples, bananas or melons; the gasses in these fruits tend to increase the bitter compounds present in carrots,” she said.

To learn more about nutrition, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your county Extension office.

Date: 4/29/2013

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