There are many messages we’ve heard for so long that we just believe them to be truth. “Wear a jacket or you’ll catch a cold.” “Cracking joints causes arthritis.” These are two examples (and incidentally, are myths) that come to mind. But what about carrots and eye health? Are carrots good for your eyes, or is that another health message we’ve been led to believe? Carrots are delicious, versatile, and ideal for a variety of snacks and sides, but are we increasing our odds for 20/20 vision when we enjoy them? Let’s take a closer look (sorry, couldn’t resist).
What’s in carrots that leads us to believe they are good for our eyes in the first place?
The answer is vitamin A, or, more precisely a form of vitamin A. Carrots and other foods don’t technically contain vitamin A, but rather, are rich in beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that when we consume it with dietary fat, we increase our absorption.
The FDA doesn’t define Vitamin A as a nutrient of concern and therefore it’s not mandatory on the new nutrition facts label. However, if a manufacturer chooses to include Vitamin A on the food label for their product, they need to comply with the new standard of noting it in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). As I mentioned, our food sources contain a “pre-form” version of vitamin A, which our bodies metabolize into this important micronutrient, which makes the use of RAE a more precise description. The current recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A is 900mcg RAE.
Is there a connection between vitamin A and eyesight?
While the answer is yes, it’s not quite as simple as we think. It’s true that vitamin A impacts eyesight by aiding in the development of ocular cells. These allow the eye to communicate with our brain so that we can process and interpret what it we see. However, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it’s important to understand that while vitamin A helps people maintain good eyesight, it doesn’t improve vision or eliminate the need for glasses or contacts.
The key nuance here is that just because vitamin A is good for eye health doesn’t mean it improves vision. The other important factor is that it’s about vitamin A, and not carrots, per se. This means that other sources of vitamin A like dark leafy greens, colorful vegetables, dairy, and fatty fish can also play a role in supporting good eye health. Sorry, carrots!
The bottom line is that yes, carrots are good for your eye health.
But so are many other foods. The second takeaway is that while they may not improve vision, they are a great go-to food. When you’re looking for something to accompany your hummus, shred into salad, or round out your dish, grab carrots. Include carrots in your next meal, but don’t be surprised if you still need glasses to read the recipe.