“We’re all going to have X-ray vision now,” my husband remarked as our daughter and I prepared carrots for dinner.
I smiled when he said that. I’m not sure if he knows that Cornell University did a study in which researchers gave fun names to vegetables on serving lines in a school cafeteria.
In their study with 147 children ages 8 to 11, the researchers found that giving vegetables names, such as “X-ray vision carrots,” resulted in kids eating more carrots. In fact, 66 percent of the “X-ray vision” carrots were eaten, compared with 35 percent of “food of the day” carrots.
As I scrubbed and pared carrots fresh from the garden, my daughter ran them through a salad shooter to make thin carrot coins.
Along with harvesting our favorite fall vegetables, I have found that having fun kitchen devices in the house entices my children to help prepare vegetables, but I only have tested my theory with my own children. Researchers have shown that children who help prepare vegetables are more likely to eat them.
Our thin carrot disks were deposited into a steamer for a very tasty side dish with a little added butter and parsley flakes.
Several of our carrot coins did not make it into the steamer. I admit that I was snacking on the carrots as they came out of the salad shooter, and so was my daughter. If you never have had fresh carrots from the garden, try some locally grown carrots. They have a fresh, distinctive flavor.
What is special about carrots that leads to their “starring role” as a vision protector? Carrots are high in the pigment beta-carotene. Our bodies use beta-carotene to make vitamin A.
Although you will not gain X-ray vision, be aware that vitamin A is part of a component of rhodopsin, a protein in our eyes that absorbs light. A vitamin A deficiency can result in night blindness. Vitamin A also is needed for the functioning of our cornea and eye membranes.
Orange sweet potatoes, beef liver, spinach, carrots and pumpkin are among the very best sources of vitamin A. Although too much vitamin A from vitamin pills can be a health risk, we do not worry about eating too many carrots and other beta-carotene-rich foods. Eat and enjoy all you like because many people shortchange themselves on dark orange and green vegetables.
Besides carrots, most dark orange and gold vegetables and many dark green vegetables also provide vitamin A as well as other vision-promoting chemicals.
You may want to add some spinach, kale and romaine lettuce to your menu because these greens are excellent sources of other vision-promoting pigments, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Long term, pigments from dark leafy greens may reduce your risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
Carrots can be eaten fresh or cooked. In fact, cooking carrots results in very little loss of nutritional value. With cooking, carrots become more digestible and a little sweeter tasting. Try steaming, grilling, stir-frying or roasting them.
For longer-term storage, carrots can be frozen or canned. Experts suggest cutting the tops from fresh root vegetables such as carrots at least 1/2 inch from the crown. Carrots can last several weeks in your crisper drawer in perforated plastic bags. Visit http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “Food Preservation” for free directions about how to preserve almost any kind of food.
How about some X-ray vision carrots for dinner? Try this recipe courtesy of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.
Braised Carrots With Fresh Herbs
1 pound small carrots or carrot logs
1 c. canned beef broth
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (or use 1 Tbsp. dried)
Wash, scrub and peel carrots. Cut carrots into logs 2 to 3 inches in length. If using small tapering carrots, cut the tapering end off, then cut the upper portion in half or quarters so that all of the pieces are about the same size in diameter. If using store-bought carrots, buy carrots with bright green tops, which is an indication of freshness. In a medium saucepan, bring beef broth to a boil, add carrots, honey, butter and parsley. Cover and simmer for four to five minutes. Remove carrots to a warm plate and reduce liquid to a light glaze by continuing to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Return carrots to pan and toss in the thickened liquid.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 60 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 9 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of protein, 2 g of fiber and 350 milligrams of sodium (15 percent of the daily recommendation).
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)