One day, my mum brought home purple carrots.
As a 5-year-old, you can imagine both my horror and my delight. I mean, carrots were supposed to be orange, and tiny, and mostly smothered in some kind of dip so you couldn’t taste the actual carrot part.
But she had brought home purple carrots. And I was a 5-year-old girl. And I needed to try ANYTHING that was purple. I was convinced – by the end of my first purple carrot – that purple carrots were superior in all ways to orange ones. I was convinced they tasted different – sweeter, cleaner. I was 5 and I liked the color.
But then we ran out of purple carrots and we had to go back to orange ones. My mum couldn’t find any more purple ones (and she looked, because who doesn’t want their 5 year-old to willingly eat vegetables?).
But alas, no more purple carrots. Not until I went to college and found the local farmer’s market in the city. Where the vendor spent a good deal of time justifying that the purple carrots were 50 cents more than the orange ones. They were healthier he promised – sure, I thought. I looked it up when I got home. He was right.
Purple Carrots are Actually Better For You
(and they convince your 5 year-old to eat veggies, good job, purple carrots).
But why? Purple carrots actually have more phytonutrients than other carrots – more anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a strong antioxidant – better than the beta-carotene you find in orange carrots.
So Why Orange?
There’s some really nifty history about carrots – and I wish I could write about it, but it’s so long – but turns out carrots are originally white and purple – but mutant genes created the red and yellow varieties. Then the Dutch (what’s with them and roots? Tulips, carrots – come on, guys) bred a variety of orange carrots and marketed them so hard that orange became the name of the game.
So how do you make the most of orange carrots?
So you can’t find purple carrots – I know it’s tricky, I moved and I’ll be damned if I can find them now – so you have to make due without my magical purple carrots (I’m sorry).
All carrots are low in fat, high in fiber, and while most of the carbs come from sugar there’s not enough to spike your blood sugar. To make the most of them thought there are a few changes you can make.
Stop buying baby carrots – those tiny little nubbins of convenience. NO THEY ARE NOT DOUSED IN BLEACH. Stop believing everything you read on the ‘net, people. The white stuff that forms on baby carrots is from dehydration – that’s why there’s always a bit of water in the bag. And it happens to all peeled carrots if you leave ‘em long enough.
Try it. I dare you. Go on. I’ll wait.
So, the real problem with baby carrots is that they are normal carrots – misshapen usually – and are polished, scrubbed, and whittled down to a uniform size and shape. But they are the core of the carrot, and like with most veggies, the outer layers are actually the healthier parts.
Buy carrots with the green tops. Green tops are key. Why? You can’t make the green bits lie to you. After a few weeks, the green tops die, they get wilty and you can’t that fresh. If they don’t have tops they can be a few months old. So get green tops if you can. Remember to cut the tops off once you get home though – green tops suck the moisture out of your orange babies.
Continuing with the fresh theme – carrots are one of the few veggies that are not the same after they’ve been frozen. You can lose about 1/3 of the nutrients just by freezing them.
Cook these puppies. I know most food sites will tell you that “fresh is best” when it comes to veggies. This isn’t true for carrots. The cells of carrots are particularly sturdy and your body can’t always get around them. Heating them helps break down those walls and gives you even more nutrients! By cooking them you obtain an extra third of beta-carotene – more antioxidants!
Cooking style matters. You should know by now not to boil things, but I thought I should send out a gentle reminder that some of the nutrients of carrots are water-soluble. Meaning boiling them makes those nutrients leech into the water, so unless you want to drink hot carrot water – don’t boil them.
Invest in a double boiler or a steamer. This will soften those cell walls with minimal nutrient leeching. Or you can look up how to MacGyver (did I just date myself? I think I did) a double boiler on Youtube.
Another thing – cook your carrots whole and slice them after – I know it takes more time, but recent studies showed that cooking them whole saves nutrients – and it makes sense – less surface area to lose nutrients from!
Eat them with oil or fat! Carrots contain a veritable tonne of fat-soluble nutrients – so to get the most out of them, nom them with something with healthy fats – toss them in extra virgin olive oil (or grass-fed, organic butter!) and rosemary (or Himalayan sea salt) for a nice treat!
Robinson, Jo. Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. Little, Brown and Company. Hachette Book Group. 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017. May 2014.