Parents often tell their kids from an early age to eat all of their vegetables if they want to grow up strong and healthy. Sometimes, adults urge children to eat specific vegetables for specific benefits.
One such connection that is typically made – eat your carrots to get better eyesight.
We asked our readers for food-related legends they’ve heard over the years, and many responded with the classic claim about carrots improving vision. Nutrient-rich vegetables have all kinds of health benefits, so could this one actually be true?
Will eating carrots improve your vision?
No, eating carrots will not improve your vision, as long as you don’t have a vitamin A deficiency. Although they do have nutrients that promote eye health, the belief that carrots can actually improve your vision stems from British WWII propaganda.
WHAT WE FOUND
Carrots contain vitamins that can help maintain good eye health, but your diet most likely already includes plenty of those vitamins with or without carrots. Adding more vitamins from carrots won’t help you see better.
The reason people began to believe carrots would improve your vision is because of British WWII propaganda.
During WWII, the United Kingdom was successfully using radar to track and shoot down German bomber planes, the U.S. Department of Defense says. To keep the Germans from finding out about the radar system, the U.K. tried to use some misdirection. Their citizens, the British government claimed, were just really good at seeing airplanes.
“So in order to hide it, they claimed that basically what’s happening here is that carrots are improving the vision of their pilots,” said Bwalya Lungu, Ph.D., a food science and food folklore professor at the University of California Davis. “That's what's improving their vision; it’s because they're eating so many carrots.”
Examples of this can be found in a British war recipe leaflet from 1943 that says carrots help people “see better in blackout” and a propaganda poster that reads, “Eat carrots and leafy green or yellow vegetables… rich in vitamin ‘A,’ essential for night sight.”
But in reality, carrots don’t do enough for your eyes to actually improve your vision like the propaganda suggested.
“Carrots won’t improve your visual acuity if you have less than perfect vision,” says Illinois-based Gailey Eye Clinic. “A diet of carrots won’t give a blind person 20/20 vision.”
According to Winchester Hospital in Massachusetts, carrots contain a pigment called beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A — a vitamin important for healthy eyes. Gailey Eye Clinic says vitamin A can prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, and an extreme lack of vitamin A can cause blindness.
But you don’t need much vitamin A to maintain good eye health.
Standard, well-balanced diets in countries like the U.S. include plenty vitamin A. Eating more carrots will not make enough of a difference to affect eyesight, Winchester Hospital says. Your eye health and vision will only benefit from foods high in vitamin A if your body has a vitamin A deficiency, which is more likely in poorer countries in which people may sometimes have less varied diets.
Lungu said some studies suggest it is possible for vitamin A, and therefore carrots, to slightly improve the eyesight of people with extreme vitamin A deficiencies so that their vision goes from “bad” to “a little less bad.”
Lungu says a study of Nepalese women with vitamin A deficiencies and high rates of night blindness found that participants who were given additional vitamin A had lower rates of night blindness than those who did not have their vitamin A intake boosted.
But this kind of improvement was only possible because the Nepalese women’s night blindness was directly related to their vitamin A deficiencies. Upping your vitamin A intake isn’t going to do much for any vision problems caused by factors outside of your vitamin A intake, such as astigmatism.
“If your vision problems aren’t related to vitamin A, your vision won’t change no matter how many carrots you eat,” summarizes Gailey Eye Clinic.