Carrots may be good for your heart, too

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There’s an old joke that asserts carrots are good for your eyes.
The punchline: Have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?
Well, it turns out that carrots are pretty good for your heart, too, according to recent research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Kansas State University food safety specialist Karen Blakeslee touted the study in a recent issue of You Asked It!, a monthly newsletter from the university’s Rapid Response Center for food science.
Carrots contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Among its benefits, vitamin A promotes healthy skin and mucus membranes, boosts the immune system and supports eye health.
“We all have an enzyme called beta-carotene oxygenase1 (BCO1) that triggers this conversion,” Blakeslee said. “But we all have different amounts of BCO1 in our bodies.”
About 50 percent of the population has a less-active variant of BCO1, Blakeslee noted.
The Illinois study found that beta-carotene contributes to an active BCO1, which in turn helps to lower blood cholesterol. In studies using mice, those that produced more vitamin A had lower amounts of lipids (fat-like substances found in blood and body tissues) in the bloodstream.
“As a result, blood cholesterol is reduced, which in turn reduces issues with atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease by reducing plaque inside arteries,” Blakeslee said.
Atherosclerosis, a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances on the artery walls, restricts blood flow and is a major contributor to stroke, myocardial infarction and angina.
Blakeslee said the study’s results should be taken in the context that carrots contribute to a healthy heart.
“We all have varying amounts of BCO1 enzyme activity, so we still need to consume foods that already contain vitamin A, such as milk and cheese,” she said.
“This is more evidence that eating a balanced diet and a variety of foods will promote a healthy lifestyle. The newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) continue to recommend that half your plate consists of fruits and vegetables, and that we should make every bite count with such nutrient dense foods as carrots.”