Will Eating the Snowman’s Nose Improve My Vision?

Dec 18, 2018

Fact or fiction?

Generations of children have been told, “You must eat your carrots if you want good vision,” but is this really an accurate statement or just a parental ploy for vegetable consumption?

According to the Virtual World Carrot Museum (yes, an online virtual museum), the United Kingdom helped popularize the health benefits of carrots during World War II.1 In order to lessen the demand of other food supplies during the war, the UK utilized propaganda that advertised “carrots will help you see in the dark.” Surprisingly, the public believed the claim and the rest is history. (There are actually many stories about how the UK stated their pilot’s “secret diet” was the key to their success. Shhh…turns out they actually had on-board radar, but that’s for another history lesson.)

In order to understand the benefits of carrots, we need to discuss the science behind it all.

Orange you glad you ate that carrot…

Carrots contain a carotenoid pigment, called beta-carotene, which is a necessary precursor for our bodies to make vitamin A. This pigment is what gives carrots their distinct orange color. Vitamin A is an essential part of vision, as it is responsible for producing the proteins that our rods and cones use in the visual pathway. Cones process light or colors in the daytime, while the rods take over in dim lighting conditions. Light stimulates the rods and cones, which send an electrical impulse to the brain that allows us to interpret what we are viewing. Vitamin A also helps protect the cornea, or front surface of the eyes. Retinol, a product of vitamin A, is in our tears to maintain normal growth and replacement of the top layer of corneal cells. Proper corneal maintenance is necessary for a clear cornea; Nobody likes looking through a cloudy window!

But I don’t like carrots!

The good news is that most people in the United States obtain enough vitamin A through other sources of food that don’t necessarily need to involve carrots. For this reason, vitamin A deficiency is not common in the United States. However, in developing countries, vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness.2 While rare in the United States, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children become blind due to vitamin A deficiency worldwide.3 Night blindness, corneal ulcers, and xerophthalmia (a severe form of dry eye that affects the entire eye) are ocular complications associated with vitamin A deficiency.

The Key Is A Balanced Diet

Other excellent sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, dark green leafy vegetables (like kale and spinach), and cantaloupe. If you’re feeling adventurous, beef liver is also rich in vitamin A. Although vitamin A is important, our eyes still need other nutrients such as:

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and nuts
  2. Antioxidants in dark leafy greens and blueberries
  3. Vitamin C in citrus fruits and berries

Whenever possible, it is best to eat nutritious foods instead of depending on supplements. Our bodies are able to process vitamins and minerals much better in the form of a delicious salad versus a handful of pills.

So can I ditch my specs for a bag of carrots?

Nope, sorry! Not even the largest economy-sized bag of carrots will reverse or improve your vision. Vitamin A is good for the general health of your eyes, but carrots are not a miracle food. It is best to eat all things in moderation, maintain a balanced diet, and drink plenty of water. It looks like we’ll still be seeing you in a couple months to check those glasses after all.

When Santa Claus comes to town and you’re leaving a carrot out for Rudolph, be sure to eat one yourself!

 

Resources
1 http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/index.html

2 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs144/en
3 https://www.allaboutvision.com/nutrition/vitamin_a.htm

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