Carrots are full of Vitamin A and beta carotene which are good for your eye health. This is a fact. The superpowers of carrots though have become exaggerated over time. They help maintain healthy eyes but cannot resolve vision problems. If you are near-sighted, no amount of carrots will change that. Why then do we always hear that eating carrots improves vision?
Too Many Carrots
It all started in the early 1940s, during World War II. The Ministry of Food in Great Britain promoted the planting of carrots as a good alternative to sugar and other rationed foods during the war. This campaign was successful and in 1942 the Ministry found itself with an over-abundance of carrots. Too many carrots means time for a follow-up campaign. Enter the “Carrots Help You See in the Dark” campaign. The blackout was imposed on September 1, 1939 in Britain. After three years of trying to see in the dark I too would be willing to try anything to make it easier. The government says eating carrots will help? Sure, why not! I’m in.
The carrot campaign history gets a little confusing at this point. Further research led me to discover a Carrot Museum. (The instantaneous reaction of my inner travel geek? “A carrot museum? I need to go there!”) I found the Carrot Museum online. I was a little sad to discover that the museum exists only virtually. The good news about that though is my ability to visit immediately! No plane tickets required! 125 pages of carrot-y goodness!
The Carrot Museum has a lot of information but was difficult to follow in some parts of this WWII history. The story is that the RAF started a propaganda campaign to convince the Germans that the reason British pilots were suddenly so much more accurate in shooting down German planes is because they were all eating so many carrots, dramatically increasing their night vision. Were they eating magic carrots to gain super night vision? No. The British had improved their radar capabilities making it easier to find and shoot German planes. Did the Germans already know this? Pretty sure they did. Did the Ministry of Food let the super-carrot-eating-RAF-Pilots rumor work in their favor? Definitely.
So there you have it – a wartime cover story about eating carrots to improve vision – still working today!
One of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Should Know, recently did an episode about the RAF pilots/carrot story. Have a listen…
- There is an annual carrot festival in Holtville, CA.
- The average person will consume 10,866 carrots in a lifetime.
- Some say that Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots. Others say he just didn’t like them.
- Howard Hughes always measured every carrot he ate.
- The last meal on the Titanic included creamed carrots in the fifth course.
But I don’t like carrots!
My older daughter does not like carrots though she will choke them down if required. Perhaps you are wondering what else you could eat instead to get beta carotene into your diet.
- Red pepper
- Sweet potato
Beta carotene alone isn’t enough though. Really you should also eat foods with lutein and zeaxanthin such as…
- Egg yolks
- Brussel sprouts
Don’t forget the zinc…
- Whole grains
Or the healthy fats…
So the good news is that even if you don’t like carrots, you can still find good food choices for healthy eyes.
And finally I will leave you with my souvenir from the Carrot Museum… a Mr. Carrot creation.
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Websites visited while writing this post:
Carrot Museum – home page
Carrot Museum – WWII specific info
Smithsonian Magazine – article about carrots and WWII
Blackout on Wikipedia
Grammar Girl post – the one that sent me down the carrot rabbit-hole