Carrots: Poseurs of the vegetable world

Science Fact: Carrots are not particularly good for your eyes.  It isn’t like they’re BAD for your eyes, they just don’t do much for them.  Beta-carotene does help maintain night vision, but if this is a major concern, you’ll get more of it from blueberries, kale and spinach.  It’s physically almost impossible to eat enough carrots to ingest a biologically beneficial amount of beta-carotene.

So why are carrots supposedly this magical eyesight vegetable?  Well, we can thank the RAF for that.

During WWII, the British pilots were having awesome luck shooting down Nazi bombers. Pinpoint accuracy.  HUGE increase in targets neutralized by the British night pilots.  They started telling people that they were having such good luck all of a sudden because their pilots were eating carrots, which improved their night vision.

This was not the reason.  The real reason was a spiffy new invention called radar.  But they did not want the Germans to know about this big technological advance, which was allowing them to spot the bombers before they’d even crossed the channel, so they concocted the carrot story as a cover.

People bought it.  British citizens planted gardens full of carrots, and the government played along with pamphlets of carrot recipes that touted the health benefits of the noble carrot.  It’s no surprise that the populace embraced the night-vision carrot myth - they needed night vision too, to help them find their way during blackouts.

Carrots do jack shit for your vision.  Not that you shouldn’t eat them; they’re good for you in other ways, and a hell of a better option than Oreos if you’re feeling peckish.  I recommend them with balsamic vinaigrette or hummus for a tasty snack.  Mmm, crunchy!  And they do make a delicious cake.

But their still-pervasive rep as magical eyesight-enhancing super food is just another example of the fact that people were believing misinformation long before the Internet.

This has been a factoid dump brought to you by Mad Lori, Inc.

24 November 2012 ·

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