Parents will tell their kids anything to bring about a desired result. Take eating vegetables, for example. Parents will tell their kids that spinach will make you big and strong or that broccoli makes you smarter. Mom and dad may call it “motivation,” while the children may view it more as “manipulation.” Maybe the ends justify the means, but when the kids grow up they probably question, “Why am I not as strong as Popeye when I ate a whole lot more spinach than he did?”
The presentation of carrots on a dinner plate is often prefaced by the adage, “Eat all your carrots and you will always have good eyesight!” Is there any truth to this statement, or is it a bunch of baloney? Actually, since the Middle Ages, carrots have been heralded as miracle vegetables and were thought to cure anything from snakebites to STDs. These orange root vegetables were not associated with strong eyesight until centuries later during World War II. The British Royal Air Force wove a fabricated tale about skilled fighter pilot John “Cats’ Eyes” Cunningham, saying that he attributed his excellent night vision to a steady diet of carrots. Soon, it was mandated that everyone should eat carrots so they could see better during the mandatory blackouts, but this was mere propaganda. The Royal Air Force was actually utilizing radar to locate German bombers before they reached the English Channel (Source: How Stuff Works).
Before we dub the carrot a phony when it comes to improving eyesight, let’s examine its merits. Although it cannot restore vision loss or make any structural changes to the eye, the carrot is beneficial for overall vision health.
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a carotenoid pigment which is an essential precursor for vitamin A. Deficiencies in vitamin A are the leading causes of blindness in the developing world. Lack of vitamin A can also lead to:
- Macular degeneration
- Xerophthalmia (a disease which is characterized by dry eyes, swollen eyelids and corneal ulcers)
Carrots contain lutein, an important antioxidant. Lutein-rich foods are known to increase the density of pigment in the macula, the yellow-shaped oval area in the center of the retina. As pigment density increases, the retina is protected more and the risk for macular degeneration decreases.
In summary, the carrot provides many benefits for healthy vision, but eating carrots every day will not restore vision to 20/20. Optical deformities like astigmatism, conditions like strabismus and diseases like glaucoma cannot be corrected by eating Bugs Bunny’s food of choice. Corrective lenses and eye procedures would still be necessary even if every American ate a steady diet of carrots. Because carrots are rich in vitamin A and lutein, they are always a good choice for a nutrient-packed snack. So keep packing those carrot sticks in the school lunches, mom. But don’t expect X-ray vision from little Tommy. He will still need to wear his glasses every day!