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Dark-Orange Carrots Deliver More
Beta-Carotene By Amy Spillman December 5, 2002
Trendsetting stylists from the '70s may have had it right all along,
according to an Agricultural Research
Service scientist and his collaborators at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison: Dark orange
is better than subtler, more neutral tones.
At least, it is if you're referring to carrot color.
For 25 years, research geneticist Philipp Simon has been breeding
improved lines of carrots at ARS'
Research Unit in Madison. Recently, he teamed with nutritionists Sherry
Tanumihardjo and Micah Horvitz of UW's Department of Nutritional Sciences to
find out more about the human implications of his work. Together, they studied
how much beta-carotene people absorbed from typical orange carrots and those
with a darker orange color.
Beta-carotene is an orange pigment found in carrots and other fruits
and vegetables. It belongs to a group of compounds called carotenoids and has
antioxidant properties that may reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease
and certain types of cancer. It is also an important source of vitamin A, which
is necessary for normal vision, bone growth and tooth development.
In the early 1970s, the beta-carotene level in most carrots consumed
in the United States was about 90 parts per million. By the early 1990s,
beta-carotene levels in some varieties had reached 160 ppm, due in large part
to the seed industry's incorporation of material provided by Simon into their
In the recent ARS-UW study, male and female volunteers ate
high-carotene carrots and carrots with average levels of the nutrient, with a
10-day carrot-free period in between. The researchers evaluated the volunteers'
blood to determine how much pigment they absorbed. As predicted, the volunteers
took up more beta-carotene from the high-carotene carrots. Further data
analysis will help the researchers determine if higher carotene levels
translate into increased vitamin A levels.
Vitamin A deficiency is a significant problem worldwide, especially in
developing countries. The researchers believe making high-carotene carrots more
readily available will help increase beta-carotene consumption and improve the
vitamin A status of individuals who are deficient.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.