Food myths: Can carrots help you see better?

Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is absorbed by the body and turned into vitamin A.
Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is absorbed by the body and turned into vitamin A.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Is eating carrots good for your vision?

Kids through the generations have been told by their parents to eat carrots so that their eyesight will improve, and they can see better at night.

This exaggeration was British World War II propaganda which has persisted till now.

To hide the fact that they had developed radar technology, and could detect planes approaching in the dark, the British Ministry of Information spread the myth that carrots were the secret to their fighter pilots developing "night vision" and being able to shoot down German aircraft at night.

So this is one food myth that has a grain of truth, but is generally overblown.

Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is absorbed by the body and turned into vitamin A, an essential vitamin that is good for our skin and immune system.

It is also great for your eyes, by preventing cataracts and helping them adjust to a dark room when you walk in from a bright place.

In fact, the antioxidant beta-carotene is named after carrots, as it was first isolated from the root vegetables.

But it doesn't help to correct near-sightedness, or help people see in the dark, as some have claimed.

 

When a person has vitamin A deficiency, supplements can improve night vision, but this only works when the poor vision was due to a lack of the vitamin in the first place.

Most people in developed countries obtain sufficient vitamin A from their diets to avoid this problem.

Carrots are also not a better source of beta-carotene than other vegetables.

Spinach, sweet potato and squash are alternatives that you can turn to, and eating sufficient vegetables should ensure your eyes get the vitamin A it needs.

And when you eat a tonne of carrots or other vegetables, the body will only convert the amount of vitamin A it needs from the beta-carotene - not more.

But this is a good thing, as consuming too much vitamin A can be toxic, and even damage the liver.