Carrots of Many Colors Provide Basic Nutrition and Bioavailable Phytochemicals Acting as a Functional Food



ABSTRACT:  Hippocrates, a philosopher who lived from 460 to 359 BC is often quoted as saying, “Let your food be thy medicine and your medicine be thy food.” Having lived just shy of a century at a time when life expectancies were much less, he must have understood the importance of a healthy diet. A diet high in fruit and vegetables has been linked to optimal health in a variety of studies. One vegetable that has gained popularity is the carrot due in part to the introduction of “cut & peel” convenience packages. Although most people in the United States know carrots as an orange vegetable that can be eaten raw or in a variety of cooked dishes, original carrots were yellow and purple. These carrot varieties are currently undergoing phenotypic recurrent selection to improve the profile of compounds considered to be beneficial. This process is called biofortification, which has increased provitamin A content by >40% since 1970. The most novel carrot produced to date is an orange–purple–red variety that not only contains provitamin A activity as α- and β-carotene, but also contains anthocyanins and the nonprovitamin A carotenoid lycopene, of which both are potent antioxidants. A functional food is one that provides benefit beyond basic nutrition. Biofortified carrots of many colors not only provide vitamin A, but may contribute to optimal health. Because supplements have not been shown to be overly beneficial, except for correcting deficiencies, whole food-based approaches to enhance health by utilizing functional foods such as biofortified carrots should be considered.