Carrots, Beta-Carotene Found to Reduce Heart Attack Risk, Boost Heart Health

carrots in garden
Food as Medicine

carrots in gardenWhen we’re little, we’re taught carrots are good for our eyesight. And while that’s true, these sweet root vegetables have benefits far beyond our eyes. As a matter of fact, eating carrots could play a role in reducing your risk of suffering a heart attack.

Compounds in Carrots Found to Reduce Risk of Heart Attack

The most talked-about nutritional component in carrots is beta-carotene, which, according to WHFoods, was actually named after carrots. Beta-carotene is just one of several phytonutrients in carrots, including lutein and alpha-carotene, and it’s in these phytonutrients that we find heart-protecting properties.
Several epidemiological studies have linked beta-carotene levels with reduced heart attack and heart disease risk. It’s believed the beta-carotene works to stop the oxidation of LDL (low density lipoprotein , or “bad” cholesterol).

One such study, from the University of Eastern Finland, found that men with low blood levels of beta carotene and lycopene were at an increased risk of heart attack. The researchers tested 1031 men for blood levels of lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, retinol, and alpha-tocopherol, then followed up over several years. In 11.5 years, 194 of the men suffered heart attacks. But those with low levels of beta-carotene were especially at risk.

Interestingly, a review of numerous studies found conflicting information on the benefits of beta-carotene supplements versus vegetable consumption.

“In summary, the clinical trial evidence shows that supplemental β-carotene does not prevent coronary heart disease, though the benefits of other carotenoids has not been ruled out. The epidemiologic evidence is generally supportive of the notion that a diet rich in high carotenoid foods is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Whether this risk reduction is due to the action of one or several carotenoids, other plant-based substances or is secondary to unappreciated confounding factors is at this point unclear.” – Journal of Nutrition

Obtaining the Benefits

To experience the greatest benefits from carrots, simply eat them raw or lightly steam them; steaming cooks the carrots without depleting the nutrient concentration.

Also, don’t only settle for the pretty orange carrots. You can find an increasing number of heirloom carrots at farmer’s markets and health food stores. Interestingly, baby carrots are actually made from all of the “ugly” carrots that people don’t want to buy. A fun fact.

And if you like avocados, there is more good news. A study looking at the absorption of carotenoids like beta carotene found that our bodies absorb more of these powerful nutrients when avocados are also in the mix. So, add some carrots and avocados to a salad or wrap to get the most of their heart-healthy benefits.