I’m a big fan of carrots. And of rainbow eating. So you can imagine how excited I get when I find rainbow carrots! I’m like a kid in a sweet shop, much to the embarrassment of whoever I’m with. Sometimes hard to find in mainstream supermarkets (although I have noticed them appearing more, along with a premium price), they seem to be easier to find at farmers markets and farm shops. Or even better, try and grow your own – they’ll taste so good!
Carrots are a regular feature in my recipes – they appear in nearly 30 on this blog alone either as the main ingredient or in a supportive role. Cooked or raw, they bring texture, flavour and a huge range of nutrients to any dish.
So what are the main benefits of carrots? Does their colour make a difference? And do they really help you see in the dark?
Carrots have a number of different nutritional benefits. Although sweet, the sugars in carrots are all bound up in the complex fibre. They also have a high water content, so these natural sugars have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. But this sweetness makes they handy for cakes, and I do so love when cake becomes a health food (as long as it’s not loaded with a heap of extra refined sugars and fats!).
Raw carrots have a good amount of potassium (this reduces when cooked) which can help support the balance of potassium and sodium the body needs for blood pressure control. As well as a few other minerals and vitamins, carrots contain good amounts of two B vitamins – biotin and B6. These both support metabolic functions in the body. Biotin in particular is involved with fat and protein metabolism. It’s being researched as a treatment for a number of health conditions including multiple sclerosis – in extremely high doses. You’d need to eat a vast amounts of carrots to get the kind of effect they’re looking for!
The other main nutrients in carrots are found in their colour. Magical phytonutrients are bound up in the colour, and in carrots there’s a whole range of them, especially if they’re colourful rainbow ones.
The main one is carotene – mainly betacarotene. This is the plant pre-cursor to vitamin A. We evolved eating such a huge range of fresh colourful produce that our bodies have an efficient mechanism to convert betacarotene to vitamin A, essential for good skin and the immune system. And eyes – and this is where the connection with carrots and eyes come in. Vitamin A is needed for the pigment found in the eye that helps you see in low light; you can develop night blindness if you are deficient. But if your levels are adequate, then if won’t make any difference to night vision so it won’t help you actually see in the dark. That was just government propaganda in the Second World War – fake news is not a new phenomena!
Colourful carrots contain a whole range of phytonutrients as well as betacarotene. There’s lutein that is specifically good for eye health and can help reduce macular degeneration. Lycopene, normally associated with tomatoes, which can help support against and treat cancer and prostate problems. And a group called anthocyanin that contain a whole range of anti-oxidants that deal with damaging free radicals.
At the end of the day though, carrots just taste lovely. Or at least they can do if they are freshly harvested and grown locally. Their delicious sweet earthy flavour gets lost with time and standardisation. So often the ones in the supermarket just taste of nothing. I always try to buy organic or locally grown and I can’t wait to have my own veg patch up and running so I can grow and pick my own.
Carrots work well with all sorts of flavours. I particularly like them lightly roasted with thyme – it’s a match that’s just meant to be. Combined with some fresh nutrient-packed spinach and you have a veritable smorgasbord of phytonutrients and natural flavours that satisfy both the tastebuds and tummy. Do give this a try – and if you can’t find rainbow carrots, just go with the tastiest oranges ones you can find. And let me know how you get on.
Roasted rainbow carrot and thyme salad
- 8-10 medium mixed colour carrots
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme or lemon thyme split into 2 portions
- 150 grams baby spinach leaves roughly chopped
- 1//2 lemon juice only
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons balasamic vinegar to finish
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper or a silicon mat
- Scrub the carrots to remove any dirt and fronds - peel only if necessary. Cut the carrots into slivers and rinse under a tap. Scatter over the baking sheet whilst they're still wet. Add a little olive oil if you so desire.
- Scatter half the thyme leaves over the top and place the tray in the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are soft. Do not over-roast.
- Whilst the carrots are roasting, scatter the roughly chopped spinach over a serving dish and drizzle the lemon juice over the top.
- Once the carrots are cooked, remove the tray from the oven. Drop them over the top of the spinach whilst hot - this will wilt the spinach slightly. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the top.
- Serve warm or leave to cool and serve later.