Mythbusters: Can Carrots Make Your Eyes Stronger and Improve Night Vision?

carrots and eyesightWho doesn’t love MythBusters, the science entertainment show that ran for 14 seasons? There was no limit to the myths that Adam and Jamie, the original MythBusters, would put to the test in their workshop. Unfortunately, the show never tackled the old adage of carrots and improved vision, so we’ll have to look to past and current research to bust or uphold this myth.

To separate fact from fiction, let’s consult the World Carrot Museum—yes, it really does exist. Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body manufactures into vitamin A. Vitamin A has an important role in vision because it helps the receptors in the eye work more efficiently. This nutrient enables opsin proteins to form in “cone cells” to process light in daytime conditions, and rhodopsin proteins to form in “rod cells” to process light in dim conditions. When light hits rhodopsin or cone opsins, it creates an electric impulse that travels to the brain for interpretation, helping us see.

Carrots were not associated with good vision or improved night vision until World War II. There was a surplus of carrots during the war, so the UK Ministry of Food generated widespread enthusiasm for carrots as a substitute for rationed goods. A cartoon character called Doctor Carrot appeared in recipe books and ad campaigns that read, “The Children’s Best Friend.” Carrots grew even more popular with the saying, “Carrots Help You See in the Dark.” This propaganda served two purposes: it made British citizens believe that carrots could help them see more clearly during blackouts, and it masked the true reason for the Royal Air Force’s successes in night battles—the increasing power of radar to locate German bombers (Source: World Carrot Museum).

So can carrots help you see better? The answer is yes and no. If you are deficient in vitamin A, you may experience night blindness, a condition which makes it difficult to adjust your vision to low levels of light. In this instance, eating carrots could  help reduce night blindness. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States, but it is a common problem in the developing world. Increasing consumption of carrots could certainly help the body convert beta-carotene into much-needed vitamin A and improve eye health. However, a steady diet of carrots will not enhance night vision or strengthen your eyesight if you have sufficient levels of vitamin A (Source: NPR).

If you are looking for a superfood to improve your visual acuity or prevent you from being nearsighted, you’re out of luck. No such food exists. The need for glasses is determined more by genetics and the structure of the eye than the nutritional state of the eye’s cells. This myth is officially busted  (Source: Visionsource).

Recipes:

Roasted Spring Carrots
Chilled Carrot and Ginger Soup