What's up Doc? Did you say carrots only really help half of us to see in the dark?


Carrots contain beta-carotene

Young children have long been told that eating carrots will help them see in the dark. 

But the vegetables may not be doing us as much good as we have been led to believe. 

Almost half of Britons lack the gene that would allow them to get the full nutritional benefit from carrots and other orange and yellow vegetables, research shows. 

This means they could be low in vitamin A, which plays a vital role in fighting off colds, flu and tummy bugs, as well as helping us see in dim light. 

Newcastle University researchers checked the DNA of 62 women for a gene that allows the beta-carotene found in carrots to be converted into vitamin A in the body.

Although most of us think of carrots as being rich in vitamin A, they actually contain beta-carotene, one of the building blocks of the vitamin. 

Twenty-nine of the women had a flawed version of the gene that cut the amount of beta-carotene converted into vitamin A by up to 70 per cent, raising their risk of deficiency. 

Younger women are likely to be particularly at risk, the FASEB journal reports, because many foods that are rich in pre-formed vitamin A, such as full-fat dairy products and liver, are seen as unhealthy or have fallen out of fashion. 

Studies linking high doses of vitamin A to birth defects have also led to beta- carotene being promoted as a safer option.

But researcher Dr Georg Lietz said: 'Vitamin A is incredibly important, particularly at this time of year when we are all trying to fight off winter colds and flu.

'What our research shows is that many women are simply not getting enough of this vital nutrient because their bodies are not able to convert beta-carotene.' 

Although the study focused on women, many men also carry the flawed gene, and so will struggle to process beta-carotene. 

But the finding doesn't mean we should stop eating carrots. 

To keep levels of vitamin A topped up, Dr Leitz recommends we eat more carrots and other foods high in beta-carotene, such as apricots, nectarines, and broccoli, not less.

He also advises eating food with pre-formed vitamin A.

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