I recently read an article by a well-known doctor in which he provides his list of the most, and least, desirable vegetables to eat. In general, the article was quite good and very informative, as this doctor’s articles generally are. However, he suggested that one’s intake of carrots should be restricted in favor of other, more preferable, vegetables.
I strongly disagree with that view and have decided to turn that difference of opinion into an important discussion of the true nature of the carrot as food and medicine as well as the pitfalls of reductionism.
The Glycemic Index
In the article I referred to above, the doctor listed the carrot under the vegetable category “use sparingly.” I was taken aback by this recommendation because, in my many years of traditional naturopathic practice, I always found carrots to be invaluable as both food and medicine. It seems his caveat about the carrot is based upon its glycemic index.
The glycemic index is a measure of how much a particular carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels. The higher the glycemic index score, the greater the degree of blood sugar elevation.
Carbohydrate-containing foods with a high glycemic index score are more rapidly digested and thus release glucose quickly into the blood circulation. On the other hand, more slowly digested carbohydrate-containing, low glycemic index foods release glucose more gradually into the blood circulation.
Theoretically, the more rapidly glucose is released into the blood, the greater the insulin response. Chronically elevated blood sugar or insulin levels and chronic excessive blood sugar spikes following meals can encourage disease via a number of routes, including the increased free radical damage to blood vessel walls associated with atherosclerosis.
Hence, the idea that restriction of all high glycemic index foods in one’s diet promotes better health via optimization of blood glucose and blood fat regulation.
In general, most fruits and vegetables tend to have low glycemic index scores. This includes carrots. Carrots were originally, and incorrectly, reported as having a high glycemic index score*. So if the author’s “use sparingly” recommendation was based solely upon its glycemic index score then that perspective warrants reconsideration.
Many modern diets, such as the South Beach diet, incorporate the glycemic index into their calculations. However, the glycemic index in isolation is not a dependable measure of the relative healthfulness of a given food.
For example, while brown rice and millet, undeniably health-promoting foods for most people as well as staples in many countries which have a low incidence of diabetes, have higher glycemic index scores than ice cream, which is certainly not a health-building food.
Also, whole potatoes have a relatively high glycemic index value, yet Peru and other Andean regions, where potatoes have been a staple since the reign of the Incas, do not have high levels of obesity or diabetes among their indigenous populations.
It is reasonable to assume that the other nutritional components of a whole food, as well as the accompanying consumption of other lower glycemic index-carbohydrate foods, such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, moderates the body’s reaction to an otherwise health-building food such as unpeeled potatoes.
Yes, the potato is a member of the Nightshade plant family (which also includes tomatoes, eggplant and peppers), and foods from this family aggravate arthritis symptoms in individuals who are sensitive to them. However, many foods (e.g., corn or nuts) cause problems for certain sensitized individuals, but are generally well-tolerated by most people.
* Brand-Miller et al. (2005). The Low GI Diet Revolution: The Definitive Science-based Weight Loss Plan. Marlowe & Company. New York.
The key to understanding the true pathway to health is to avoid the reductionism which so often characterizes the biomedical perspective regarding health and disease.
Reductionism, in this context, can be defined as an attempt or tendency to explain a complex set of facts or phenomena by another, less complex set or less complex parameter.
In this instance, instead of using the carrot’s complex nutritional and medicinal bounty as well as its long, well-described history of successful therapeutic use to assess its relative value as a food and healing substance, a conclusion was drawn based solely upon the narrow perspective of its supposed glycemic index score.
This is not to say that the glycemic index score of a food is not a useful parameter. However, considering it to be the sole determinant factor of a food’s nutritional value, absent consideration of that food’s entire nutritional profile as well as the foods with which it is generally eaten at meals, is a good demonstration of the distorted viewpoints inspired by observation of the realm of therapeutic nutrition through the lens of reductionism.
Furthermore, it should be noted that for centuries, raw potato juice has been used in folk medicine to successfully relieve the symptoms of rheumatic and arthritic conditions.
The tomato (another Nightshade family food) is a rich source of lycopene, a powerful carotenoid (carotenoids are a group of antioxidant plant pigments) that can counter cell damage caused to cells by oxidative stress (a circumstance which gives rise to free radicals). Lycopene’s antioxidant actions are thought to be highly effective in helping to prevent cancer, particularly prostate cancer.
Thus, avoiding potatoes or tomatoes, etc. because of the risk of exacerbating arthritis, in those individuals for whom neither joint inflammation nor Nightshade family sensitivity are factors, is another example of misguided reductionism.
The Carrot: A Nutritious, Healing Food
Biophotons and the Light Organization
For thousands of years, the carrot has been prized as both a food and medicine. It was extensively so described by the ancient Greeks. Carrot’s Latin species name, Daucus, derives from the Greek word daio, meaning “I make hot,” signifying the wild carrot’s pungent and stimulating property, a quality shared by a variety of Umbelliferae species. The name carrot is of Celtic origin and means “red of color.”
As will be discussed in detail below, the cultivated carrot is one of the most nutritionally rich of all vegetable foods. Practitioners of natural medicine have long favored it as a powerful healing agent.
In anthroposophical medicine (a system of European origin that combines medical science, natural healing modalities and spiritual philosophy), the carrot root, due to its affinity for the organization within the body associated with the emission, internalization and utilization of light, as well as its high silica content, is considered to be the ideal plant food for a growing child.
Light can be thought of as a food for the nerves. The transformation of sunlight by the light organization stimulates those processes involved in the nourishment, formation and maintenance of the nervous system. This helps explain carrot juice’s reputation for nourishing, detoxifying and stimulating influence upon virtually every system in the body including the nervous system. Raw carrot juice can be used to help overcome nervous exhaustion.
In recent years, there has been a lot of research done concerning biophotons (very weak electromagnetic waves produced by living cells that are in the optical range of the light spectrum). All living plant and animal (including human) cells emit measurable (yet invisible to the naked eye) biophotons that are an expression of the functionality of those cells. Importantly, one of the differences between a cancer cell and a healthy cell of the same cell type is that the former does not emit biophotons.
Scientists believe that biophoton light is actually stored in the the DNA molecules of the nucleus of the cell and the light constantly released and absorbed by the DNA may be required for cellular regulation as well as efficient communication among the various organelles within the cell (e.g., between the nucleus and mitochondria) and between cells, tissues, and organs. Biophotons may also exert an essential regulating influence upon the processes of growth, differentiation and regeneration of tissues.
The Carrot and Trophorestoration
The carrot is a leading trophorestorative (an agent which helps restore optimal nutritional status of tissue). Trophorestoration is the mechanism that underlies its value in the amelioration of the various symptoms and conditions for which it is used.
The carrot has long been popularly perceived as a symbol of nutrition. Carrot juice is the “king” of the raw juices. Dr. Norman Walker, perhaps the greatest authority on the therapeutic use of raw vegetable juices, felt that carrots had a normalizing effect on the whole system. He encouraged nursing mothers to drink carrot juice to enrich their milk.
In The Anthroposphical Approach To Medicine, Wilhelm Pelikan, M.D. writes: “The carrot stimulates the head and sensory sphere. Furthermore, the body’s astral body [i.e., vital force or chi] can make use of the formative warmth and light processes of this plant in order to engage powerfully in anabolism [tissue building] to promote structured growth even in bone formation.”
Carrot juice has long been a standard source of nourishment in alternative approaches to cancer treatment. In his classic book, Raw Vegetable Juices, Walker writes: “Tissues emaciated by those insidious ravages of cell starvation classified as ulcers and cancers have been nourished back to a more healthy condition by the copious use of carrot juice as the principal item of nourishment.”
The carrot is a bountiful source of both vitamins and minerals. It is perhaps the best known as a source of carotene, a pigment which is both an important antioxidant and converted in the human body into vitamin A. Carotene also plays an important role in the plant’s assimilation of light forces.
A mid-20th century German physician named Dr. W. Kubler* found that carrot juice given with milk feedings significantly enhanced a baby’s uptake and utilization of vitamin A. On many occasions over the years, I have observed the remarkable benefit derived from the addition of raw carrot juice to raw goat’s milk as a means of enhancing a baby’s nourishment who, for one reason or another, could not be breast-fed.
In addition to carotene, carrots also contain significant amounts of B-vitamins, vitamin C, silica, calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, copper and chlorine.
*Charmine, Susan, E. (1977). The Complete Raw Juice Therapy. Baronet Publishing Company. New York
The Carrot As Medicine
As a medicine, carrots act as: stimulant, laxative, carminative (expels flatulence), vermifuge (expels parasites), antiseptic, diuretic and deobstruent (dissolves obstructions or blockages).
Carrots have commonly been used to treat: infections; spasms; flatulence; colic; parasites; liver derangement; gout; edema; urinary stones; painful urination; diminished urine flow; nephritis; adrenal insufficiency; amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period); infertility; itching; skin diseases; cancer pain; abscesses, skin ulcers and cancerous sores.
When used as a poultice, carrots lessen the pain, reduce the discharge and alter the morbid condition of the affected part. The central purple umbel (the blossom) of the wild carrot plant was at one time used in the treatment of epilepsy.
The preceding discussion clearly demonstrates that the carrot is an invaluable food and healing substance. When considering the relative value of a given food, one must investigate from a full spectrum perspective and then assess the potential risk vs. reward ratio.
In all my years of practice and research, I have found carrot’s potential reward to be enormous and its risk to be very low. Of course, the carrot is not suitable for every human being. However, the same can be said for any food.
Rich Carrot-Celery Soup Recipe
Over the years I have developed many recipes which prominently include carrots. In the early 1990s I published a cookbook which has since sold out. I am in the process of revising it for future publication.
The following Rich Carrot-Celery Soup recipe is my newest carrot-centered recipe. It is easy to prepare, highly nutritious and quite delicious.
- Chop 2 large carrots (or 4 to 6 smaller ones) and 2 stalks of celery; place in a glass or stainless steel cooking pot.
- Add sufficient water to bring water level halfway to the top level of the chopped vegetables.
- Place lid on pot and bring to a boil. Lower boil to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.
- Let cool a bit and pour entire contents of pot into a blender. Add: 1 rounded teaspoon of unpasteurized barley miso and 1 ½ teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil.
- Ladle soup into serving bowls. To each bowl, add 1 Tbsp. of minced red onion.
- Garnish with raw sunflower sprouts.