By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke
We hear a lot about super foods. Blueberries are supposed to help stave off dementia. We are told cabbage is good for gut health and the microbiome.
What about the humble carrot?
When I was growing up, we were told to eat our carrots because it was good for your eyesight and even helped you see in the dark. It was the first super food I heard of.
I did some research via the Scientific American and discovered the belief can be traced back to a U.K. Ministry of Food, World War 2 propaganda campaign claiming the RAF pilots’ superb night vision was carrot-enriched. Civilians were encouraged to eat carrots too, so they could cope better during blackouts.
Years later, there were reports the RAF had rolled out the pro-carrot message as a cover-up for the recently adopted radar technology they were secretly using to win the night time battles.
Yes, under certain conditions, eating carrots will help improve eyesight. They are rich in beta-carotene, a naturally occurring pigment that nourishes the eye.
The body uses beta-carotene to make Vitamin A, and Vitamin A is really important. It helps the eye convert light into a signal that can be transmitted to the brain, allowing you to see under conditions of low light.
In addition, the cornea (the clear front of the eye) can literally disappear if the body does not get enough of this vitamin.
If people are severely undernourished and suffer from extreme Vitamin A deficiencies, supplements of the vitamin or beta-carotene have been shown to improve night vision.
Binging on carrots, however, will not improve most people’s eyesight.
Once you have enough beta-carotene in your body, it will no longer convert to Vitamin A.
The body naturally regulates against excess amounts to prevent accumulation of toxic levels of the substance.
When it comes to eating nutrient-rich foods to improve eyesight, the experts suggest chomping on green, leafy vegetables.
Spinach and kale are full of nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.
These can help protect your eyes by filtering high energy visible light that can damage the retina.
These green leafy foods may also help protect against age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of blindness in the elderly.