Can Carrots Really Help You See in the Dark?
04 September 2017
So, is there any truth in the old wive's tale that encouraged generations of children to eat up their vegetables in order to have super-vision? Well, carrots do contain reasonable levels of lutein and beta carotene which itself is converted to Vitamin A by the body. Lack of Vitamin A can lead to night blindness and in extreme deficiency to blindness. Sadly it has been estimated by the World Health Organisation that between 250,000 and 500,000 children become blind each year just because of that lack of nutrient.
In the UK we are fortunate that we are unlikely to be so poorly fed that we are at risk, and indeed too high a supplementation with beta carotene has shown to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. So definitely a nutrient to be taken on board in its most natural form; a lovely bright orange, crunchy, fresh or lightly cooked carrot. After all, you don't see a rabbits losing their way at night, do you?
What other components in foods are important for healthy eyes and vision? Well, the most vital are those important antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been in the news of late because of their use in helping ward off age related macular degeneration. But how? Well, all light, but especially that at the blue end of the spectrum, causes the production of nasty free radicals as an unwanted side effect of transforming light energy coming into the retina to the electrical impulses which can pass down the optic nerve and be perceived by the brain as vision. Good old lutein and zeaxanthin rush to clean up those free radicals to save damage to the layers of the retina and especially to the macula. This is the part of the retina which has the most tightly packed receptors and which give us our most finely detailed vision; think reading, recognising faces. They also act as a filter to help screen out a proportion of blue light and are at their highest concentration right in the macula area. Great design!
Lutein and zeanxanthin are found in darkly coloured vegetables, especially spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens (always quoted, but what are they?!) and the lutein found in egg yolks is particularly well absorbed. So, perhaps do as I do and keep a few friendly chickens in your back garden! An easy way to do so can be found at www.eglu.co.uk.