If you are of a certain age, you were probably told as a child that carrots were good for your eyes. And like many kids, you took that knowledge at face value, just as you did the other things your parents said, like if you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way, or sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyesight.* The information was just enough to keep you from making cross-eyes (too often), sitting back from the set (mostly), and getting you to eat at least one type of vegetable at dinner.
What you may not know is whether or not that old carrot myth is actually true. What’s more, you may not know the history behind how this little root vegetable managed to reach such mythologic heights for its efficacy as an eyesight enhancer.
The Fiction About Carrots
Let’s start with the mythology first, because the legendary status of the carrot’s superpowers has its roots in, of all things, a propaganda campaign in World War II. A campaign, as it turns out, that was nine-parts deception and one-part truth. According to the story behind the propaganda, as presented in a recent Smithsonian magazine article, pilots in the British Royal Air Force were suddenly having tremendous success shooting down enemy German fighter planes bound for England in nighttime bombing raids before they could reach the English Channel. And the reason for their success was the invention of a “new, secret radar technology [called] the on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI)”, which allowed the RAF to “pinpoint enemy bombers” and shoot them down. However, in order to deceive the Germans and keep their AI technology a secret, a misinformation campaign emerged through British newspapers that the reason for the RAF pilots’ success was due to their ability to see at night because they “ate an excess of carrots.” Thus, a myth was born. Carrots improved eyesight, in this case to better see in darkness.
The Facts About Carrots
So, are carrots good for your eyes? Yes. But eating an excess of them will not actually enhance your night vision. According to the AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology), which has sponsored and/or promoted many eye health studies designed to dig out the facts from the fiction about this slender orange marvel, the reason why carrots are good for your eyes is because they contain the nutrient vitamin A, which helps protect your eyes. In fact, one cup of sliced, raw carrots will give you more than 110% of your daily value for vitamin A.
The AAO recommends that the key to maintaining good vision is simply eating right. Carrots are just one of the vegetables, along with wholesome green leafy vegetables, that provide you with the essential vitamin A. But the AAO also promotes other fantastic foods good that are good for your eyesight. And research cited on the AAO site has also found that people who maintain a well-rounded diet with foods rich in “vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are less likely to develop early and advanced AMD” (or Age-related Macular Degeneration).
Bottom line, carrots have benefited from great PR for a long time, but it is a healthy overall diet containing a variety of nutritious foods that helps your eyesight, which also helps with your overall health as well.
*Vision Facts & Myths (for the grownup in you that still wonders about these particular eye health myths, and a fun article for you and your kids or your grandkids to read)