Thursday, 21 August 2008

Making The Most of Carrots

Two of my children are not big veggie fans but luckily both of them are perfectly happy to eat carrots. Ok, so the little lass generally insists on covering her entire meal in thick Bisto gravy (I personally don't like the stuff but she buys it herself) but even with the tastes practically drowned out, the goodness is still there.

Carrots are one of the UK’s most popular vegetables and with good reason - they’re sweet, juicy and packed with nutrients. They can be eaten raw or cooked, used as an accompaniment to just about any dish, can be boiled, baked, roasted or steamed and used in soups, stews, casseroles and pies. Talk about versatile! And because they’re bright and cheerful looking, kids usually love ‘em. Even my darling daughter ate them without smothering them in gravy, but that was a while ago.

Carrots are also cheap enough to be regularly included in meals, are available all year round and just three tablespoons counts as one portion of your five a day. What more could anybody want from a humble vegetable?

It’s good that carrots are popular because as well as being cheap and tasty, they’re our best source of both vitamin A and pro-vitamin A and include a good few other useful nutrients too. BUT… did you know that how you eat them is important if you’re gonna make the most of those nutrients?

Until I met Richard, I thought it was just a matter of… well, eat ‘em! Not so. Apparently his ex wife had done some reasonably extensive research into food because she wanted to give her kids the best start in life - as you do - and had learned a thing or two about carrots. Being curious, I followed up with some research of my own and found that what I’d been told was indeed true.

Carrots are more nutritious when eaten cooked rather than raw.
Because of their tough cellular walls, our bodies are only able to covert around 25 percent the beta carotene in raw carrots. Beta carotene's the stuff that’s then turned into vitamin A. Obviously, some vitamin A is better than none at all so by all means carry on munching those raw carrot sticks and using them in salads but if you want to maximise their nutrient potential, cook ‘em. Whether you boil, roast or do something else with them, cooking helps dissolve the cellulose walls by breaking down their membranes. Just be careful not to overcook them because that has the reverse effect. Crisp yet tender is what we should be aiming for.

Carrots should be served with fat.
I don’t mean you should only eat them with fatty meats or fried stuff, but serving them with some fat helps the body absorb more of the carotene. Tossing them in some butter is a tasty way of serving them, especially if you mix a little dill in too, or if you're using them in a salad, drizzle it with an olive oil based dressing. Obviously, if you’re serving them with a fat-based sauce or have roasted them in fat or oil, the problem’s already solved for you.

Carrots shouldn't be stored with their tops on.
When carrots are laid out in the greengrocers, complete with their fresh, green tops, they always look somehow more tempting but unfortunately they're less likely to be nutricious than their topless counterparts. The green plant will continue its struggle to survive, drawing goodness from the root (the carrot) thus depleting it of important nutrients. If you do buy carrots with their tops on, cut them off before storing them. BUT, if they're so called 'dirty carrots', don't wash them before storing - the soil helps preserve them.

So there you go. How to make the most of carrots. And guess what? They really are good for the eyesight too. Apparently it’s that beta carotene's production of vitamin A that we can thank for that.

Quick Recipe: Glazed Carrots

Serves 2

300g carrots, cut into 5cm strips
150ml chicken stock
A good dollop of butter
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
Salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon mixed chopped fresh mint & parsley

1. Put the carrots in a pan with the stock, butter and sugar. Season with salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until they're almost tender.

2. Remove the lid and boil rapidly until the liquid in the pan has evaporated and formed a glaze on the carrots. Stir in the herbs and serve hot.

Sharon J


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Richard said...

It's a bit of a myth about carrots enabling better night vision. Experiments definitely were conducted against night-blindness using synthetic beta-carotene but that's really as far as it goes. However there was a huge surplus of carrots during WW2, something like 100,000 tons per year and great efforts were made to encourage their consumption as they weren't a really common component of many people's diets at that time but were very easily grown. The allies had also developed radar way ahead of the enemy and in an effort to conceal its development excessive propaganda was used to explain away the increasing success of night fighter pilots as being down to high carrot consumption rather than airborne interception technology. Convincing the nation that they could see better in the dark by eating the same secret super-diet that the heroes in the air were eating also helped maintain the blackout. Clever.

Sharon J said...

Not entirely a myth, Richard. While it's true that the government touted them as improving night vision during WWII, it's since been proven that the vitamin A lowers the risk of eye disease hence they are indeed good for your eyes.

The war story's definitely an interesting one though :)

Catz said...

My dad used to tell me that eating up my carrots would put hairs on my chest!!! Not a way to encourage a little girl to eat her veg! lol!

Love the sound of that recipe, will try it out soon!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating Sharon - I am another cover everything in gravy type, but at least I'm getting my goodness!!

R said...

"Carrots should be served with fat" and "Carrots are more nutritious when eaten cooked rather than raw" ... excellent news... now I have a valid reason to beg my mum to make me some more carrot puree (with cream & butter... yummm!) , as the only other way I like carrots is raw!

Must tell her about the green top thing too as we both prefer buying our carrots with their tops on - although having read this I think it does make sense really that the green bits kind of suck the life force from the root!


Sharon J said...

@ Catz. My dad used to say the same thing! I wonder where that came from?

@ apieceofwood. Why do people do this gravy thing? Is because they don't actually like the taste of food?

@ R. I have to say that I much prefer carrots raw but then I prefer salad to cooked veg anyway. Always have done.