Carrots might just be the most versatile vegetable. And whether they’re raw or roasted, savory or sweet, you’ll get the same nutritional benefits from carrots.
“Carrots are budget-friendly, have a long shelf life, can be consumed raw or cooked, by themselves or mixed in a dish and are one of the most popular vegetables in America,” Debbie Petitpain, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com.
That makes them a sustainable and accessible vegetable for many people. And that’s good news because these colorful veggies are full of healthy nutrients. Yes, they’ve got a ton of beta-carotene (which the body turns into vitamin A), but carrots are also a plentiful source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants — and that includes those adorable baby carrots.
Carrot nutrition facts
A cup of chopped raw carrots contains:
- 52 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 0.3 grams fat
- 12 grams carbohydrates
- 3.5 grams fiber
You’ll find similar nutrients in baby carrots and carrots of different colors. But different colored carrots contain additional compounds, which give them their color and some unique health benefits.
If you know anything about the nutritional benefits of carrots, it’s that they can help you get your daily amount of vitamin A, which is helpful for vision health, skin health and immune function, Petitpain says.
Vitamin A is made up of alpha- and beta-carotene, and carrots contain a huge amount of beta-carotene, registered dietitian Grace Derocha, tells TODAY.com. In just a half-cup serving of carrots, you’ll find nearly 9,700 IU of beta-carotene, “which is already way over 100% (of your recommended dietary allowance),” adds Derocha, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Another way to think about it: “One 7-inch long root has only 35 calories, no fat and supplies 270% of the daily beta-carotene and 10% of the vitamin C requirement,” Petitpain says.
Carrots come with other benefits, too, that may not be as well-advertised. They have a small amount of natural sugar — about 6 grams in a cup of chopped carrots — without the bitterness common in other vegetables. That can make them a sweeter, kid-friendly veggie option, Derocha says.
They also contain a good helping of fiber, nearly 4 grams in a cup, which helps us digest food more slowly, Derocha says. “Because of that fiber, it naturally can help (avoid) blood sugar spikes.” That fiber also helps us feel full and satiated, which means carrots can aid in weight management, Petitpain adds.
Carrots of any color will “have a whole shebang of antioxidants that are beneficial to fight free radicals in the body,” Derocha says. Free radicals are compounds that contribute to aging, cancers and other diseases.
For instance, carrots contain the antioxidant lutein, which helps protect against cell damage from free radicals and aids in vision health, Petitpain says.
Do different colors of carrots offer different nutrients?
In addition to all the other benefits packed into carrots, these veggies also contain a slew of phytonutrients. Those compounds give each carrot variety its signature color and may contribute to health benefits, the experts say.
For instance, Petitpain says:
- Yellow carrots contain xanthophylls, pigments that may aid in vision health.
- Red carrots contain lycopene, which is also found in tomatoes. This antioxidant pigment may help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer.
- Purple carrots contain anthocyanins. These antioxidants, also found in blueberries, can have anti-inflammatory effects.
What’s the deal with baby carrots?
Baby carrots can be made in two ways: First, they may be immature carrots that are harvested too soon, Derocha says. Second, baby carrots can be fully-grown carrots with imperfections that have been cut and peeled away.
This second method, developed in the 1980s by farmer Mike Yurosek, helps curb food waste by reusing blemished carrots that would otherwise be thrown away.
A few successful marketing campaigns helped baby carrots reach peak snack success. These days, “there’s plenty of people snacking on carrots instead of other things because it’s just easy and convenient,” Derocha says. Plus, adding “baby” to the name just makes them cuter, she says.
Because adult and baby carrots are essentially the same thing, they offer similar nutritional benefits, Petitpain explains. “You can also find pre-shredded carrots and carrot ‘chips’ in the grocery store, providing a variety of shapes and sizes for dips, salads, soups and mixed dishes.”
Can you eat carrot greens?
Yes, you can!
“Carrot greens are edible and rich in nutrients like vitamin K and potassium, as well as some minerals and antioxidants,” Petitpain says. But they can be bitter, she says, so she recommends adding them to a salad with a sweet vinaigrette or using them in a sauté with other veggies.
Derocha also suggests adding carrot greens to soups and stews, as well as homemade herby pesto.
Carrots are great for home gardeners!
Both experts mentioned that carrots are surprisingly easy to grow at home — and tend to be resilient in cold climates.
“You can harvest the root about 100 days after planting the seed,” Petitpain says.
Derocha, who lives in Michigan, notes that carrots don’t need any special attention during cold winter months. “Usually I have to re-rake my garden to get primed up, but you can just leave carrots to keep doing their thing,” she says.
Will carrots turn my skin yellow?
If you eat a lot — like, a lot — of carrots, it is possible for your skin to take on an orange hue. This effect, known as carotenemia, happens because the pigment beta-carotene “is stored in fat, including the amounts under your skin,” Petitpain says.
Thankfully, the effect is otherwise harmless, and it goes away when you stop eating so much beta-carotene, she says.
And if you’re concerned that you may be eating enough carrots to turn your skin orange, try to mix it up by incorporating other vegetables into your diet, Derocha says, or at least try other colors of carrots.
Try these great carrot recipes
Raw carrots are a perfect simple snack — especially when served with dips, like hummus, guacamole or salad dressing. The fat in those dips also increases the bioavailability of the beta-carotene present in carrots, Petitpain says. Carrots are also a natural ingredient in salads or grain bowls, and Petitpain is partial to a raisin and shredded carrot salad.
Of course, carrots also make excellent side dishes, especially when roasted with savory herbs or a sweet glaze, and are often found in stir-fry dishes and all kinds of cozy winter soups and stews.
Derocha likes to get creative with carrots, often adding them to smoothies. She’s also been known to concoct her own “carrot cake” overnight oats with shredded carrot, chopped apples and spices. Because carrots have some natural sweetness, Derocha will also sneak them into other dishes, like sweet potato casserole, to “add a variety of nutrition.”
Try these other dishes to get the delicious benefits of carrots: