Eat Your Carrots: A Carrot A Day Keeps The Grim Reaper Away

A new study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has determined that there is an association between high levels of the antioxidant alpha-carotene and longer life spans.  The researchers analyzed alpha-carotene levels in blood samples from more than 15,000 adults.  The New York Times reports that according to Dr. Chaoyang Li, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the study, the results were “pretty dramatic.”  Study participants, with higher levels of alpha-carotene in their blood at the start of the 14-year study, had significantly lower risks of disease and death over the period they were followed by researchers.  According to the report in the New York Times, “those with the highest concentrations of the antioxidant [alpha-carotene] were almost 40 percent less likely to have died than those with the lowest; those with midrange levels were 27 percent less likely to die than those with the lowest levels.”

Pumpkins and carrots top the list of foods with the highest levels of the antioxidant alpha-carotene, according to a top twenty list at nutritiondata.self.com [a very useful website which provides comprehensive nutrition analysis based upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference].  With this CDC study in mind, carrots zoomed to the top of my shopping list.  Inspired by Rowan Jacobsen’s American Terroir, I decided to compare the tastiness of carrots from three small family farms which offer carrots for sale at the Troy Farmers Market (in Rensselaer County, NY).  One of the hopeful signs in the United States and Canada is the growing number of farmers markets: There are nearly 800 farmers markets shown on American Farmland Trust’s google map.  I also found two additional sources of local carrots at my hometown’s food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, NY [www.hwfc.com].  Most food co-ops are a great place to find local produce, and there are 300 food co-ops in the United States and Canada listed in a directory maintained by Cooperative Grocer .

The scene was set for a carrot tasting.  With the friendly assistance of one carrot aficionado and another willing friend, who actually confessed that she wasn’t a big fan of eating raw carrots, we all boosted our levels of alpha-carotene with a surprisingly fun-filled tasting of local carrots grown near the Capital Region of upstate New York, which tested our palates in a surprising way.  Although not as pleasurable as one of the coffee “cuppings” described by Rowan Jacobsen in American Terroir, we all learned to appreciate the concept of terroir, the taste of place.

Before we started our pursuit to boost alpha-carotene levels in our blood stream, we attempted to develop a standard for tasting carrots.  We decided on four general categories for judging the carrots:  (1) sweetness, (2) crispiness, (3) color and shape, and  (4) aroma.  We were especially pleased that all five of the carrots we tasted were designated as “organic.”  The decision was unanimous: the carrots from the Farm at Millers Crossing in Hudson (Columbia County, NY) were the winning carrots with their sweet flavor, and pleasant crispiness (a moist texture without any graininess).  These carrots also had a consistent color and size, which made for a nice carrot appearance.  The tender, yet crisp, carrots from Slack Hollow Farm in Argyle (Washington County, NY) were a close runner-up with their juiciness and sweet carrot flavor.  Nonetheless, there was absolutely no doubt that, at the least, the two carrot lovers among the three tasters would happily stock up on four of the five carrots we tasted and enjoy the crunchy way to higher alpha-carotene levels. The other tasty and wonderful carrots were grown by Little Seed Farm in Chatham (Columbia County, NY), and Dennison Farm in Schagticoke (Rensselaer County, NY).  The exception were the carrots from Lakeside Organic Farm in Hadley (Hampshire County, MA).  These carrots, suitable for cooking, would be fine in a tomato-based stew given their very deep orange color and large size, but for eating as raw carrots, they were bitter, unlike the other carrots we tasted.   Enjoy some local carrots!  (FWB, 12/27/10)

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