Considering that the "humble" orange carrot is probably one of the most commonly consumed and recognized vegetables out there – I think the rainbow varietals really stand out! Not that I don’t appreciate the "regular" orange carrot - I loved Nutritionist Jaime Slavin’s piece on the power of these root veggies. Let us give thanks to the multi-colored carrot and for all the good it does to our insides.
So rainbow carrots; if you read my piece on string beans, you will be familiar with the perks of eating a diverse colour palette. The big difference that accounts for the colours in these carrots are specific phytochemicals called carotenoids and their content: red ones contain more lycopene, purple more anthocyanins, yellow more lutein, and orange more beta-carotene. Having said that, all colours are rich sources of antioxidants, and nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium and a whole slew of B’s. What you are getting with these carrots is some serious antioxidant synergy (it sounds corny - I know!) and therefore health benefits that impact the whole body.
Lycopene has been studied in prostate cancer prevention and cardiovascular disease. Lutein has very specific benefits for the eyes; this carotenoid is naturally concentrated in the macula (a small part of the retina that is responsible for our central vision perception). Consuming foods rich in lutein, like carrots (kale and spinach are other great sources), may help to prevent degenerative ocular conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration. B-carotene is an important antioxidant throughout the body, but more recently has been studied with respect to colon cancer prevention, and purple anthocyanins have notable effects on maintaining the health of blood vessels and our brain. So each colour and carotenoid has their own health "specialty" you could say, but together something really cool happens (I apologize because this is where my inner-geek shines bright!). Researchers have also discovered that certain antioxidants, help to stabilize others and basically increase their effects in the body. This is true of B-carotene, which protects and helps to keep other more fragile compounds such as lutein and anthocyanins in their bioavailable forms. In short – the more colours, carotenoids and antioxidants – the better!
A few last tidbits about carrots (rainbow and other varietals included); they are a member of the Apiaceae plant family, which contains several important culinary foods including parsley, dill, celery, fennel, caraway and cumin. Although carrots are a pretty hardy root vegetable, ideal storage conditions will help to preserve their carotenoid content and antioxidant power: keep them wrapped in a damp paper towel, in the coolest part of the fridge – usually the crisper.
Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto's Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter @drbronwynnd.