By Our Medical Correspondent

“Are carrots really good for your eyes?” asks the straight man in the old joke. Answer: “Did you ever see a rabbit wearing glasses?” Carrots are definitely good for your eyes, since they are the world’s richest source of beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, a crucial nutrient for the health of the retina. Besides that, beta carotene, an antioxidant, is now also believed to be a protector against cancer and carrots may also help lower blood cholesterol.

Carrots are a smart way to get your beta carotene and vitamin A, Fully formed vitamin A occurs only in animal products such as liver, butter, milk, cheese, and egg yolk, where it comes packed with a fair amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Some people respond to this news by turning to vitamin supplements, but these may be dangerous. Mega doses of preformed vitamin A are toxic. Even doses as low as seven times the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance can produce adverse reactions in some people — fatigue, insomnia, and weight loss. But beta carotene is essentially nontoxic. Even in huge doses, all it can do is giving your skin a yellowish tinge. The body regulates the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A, so there is never too much of it. For that reason, several large vitamin manufacturers are planning to replace Vitamin A with beta carotene in their supplements.

But you’re still better off with carrots than pills. Just one three ounce carrot has enough beta carotene to supply your body with five times the Vitamin A it needs daily. A carrot also contains one to two grams of dietary fiber and it’s the kind of fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Carrots are among the sweetest tasting vegetables, yet that three ounce specimen has only 35 calories.

A word of caution about the rabbit sandglasses issue: vitamin A won’t cure nearsightedness or farsightedness and can improve vision only if vision problems result from a vitamin A deficiency, which is a rare condition in this country.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 19, 1988