Do Carrots Actually Help Your Eyesight?

(Last Updated On: August 8, 2021)

You might have been told this when you were a wee child who couldn’t be forced to eat anything remotely healthy. Or you just picked this up and packaged it away in the back of your mind without really questioning it. Which, honestly, is kind of what happens with most of the weird facts we know. So let’s talk about carrots, and whether or not carrots actually help your eyesight.

Also, yes you can turn yourself orange-ish for a bit if you eat a lot of carrots. It’s called carotenemia.

Carrots and Eyeballs

The idea that carrots are “good for your eyes” is pointlessly ambiguous at best. Are they good because they prevent glaucoma, near/farsightedness, or double vision? The answer to all those questions, by the way, is probably not good enough to counteract all the blaring screen light piercing into our heads at 12AM while we mindlessly browse the web reading weird internet facts to distract ourselves from the fact that we are all inconsequential specks in a massive universe. 

Anyway, the specific benefit carrots are said to confer to your eyesight is night vision. You were never going to have those cool goggles with four lenses sticking out the front built into your head, but the idea was that carrots were supposed to help.

Some Truth to the Legend

So carrots have this nifty thing in them called β-carotene. It’s what makes them orange. So what does β-carotene have to do with your eyes? Well it stimulates production of vitamin A, which is actually good for your night vision. Kind of. Vitamin A is needed for rhodopsin production; also known as light sensitive parts of your eye suited for low-light environments. Deficiency in vitamin A can result in night blindness (which can be restored by just having more vitamin A in your system). Severe deficiency in vitamin A can damage your cornea–which is bad news. 

It’s better to see carrots as good for maintaining decent eye health, but not as a way to make it markedly better if your eye health is already okay. While it’s known that vitamin A is helpful to your night vision, it doesn’t seem like we have figured out how many carrots you’d have to eat to optimize your night vision. Other studies have shown that carrots are not significantly more effective at their job than other vitamin A-rich foods. 

Even yellow carrots can help with eye health, they’re rich in lutein, which helps slow age-related degeneration of the eye. Leafy greens with zeaxanthin are also good for your eyes like lutein–often more so than just β-carotene.

But the reason we associate carrots with our eyes so strongly is actually because of WWII.

Carrot Propaganda

England had gone almost completely dark at night from the years of 1939 to 1945; because German bombers figured out really quickly that bright cities at night make for super easy targets. To camouflage themselves, lights went out. You might be asking why bombers didn’t just map the space during the day and come back under the shield of night, and that’s just because pilots still needed lights as reference points. If nobody had any lights on, then no points could be used for reference. Even the British pilots who flew overhead to see how effective the blackout strategy was were confused.

Towards the end of 1940, the British Ministry of Agriculture put out a statement trying to get people to eat more carrots. While they pitched this as a means to help Brits see at night (over 1,000 were killed in road accidents during the first month of the blackout), there was also the added benefit of carrots being really cheap at the time. When you’re handing wartime food rationing, this is important. 

There’s another layer too. During WWII, the British had also developed radar technology then unknown to German fighters. The Royal Air Force made use of onboard airborne interception radar (nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”), which allowed them to repel German bombers in low visibility. To conceal the advent of an interception radar usable at night, the British instead credited carrots in an effort to throw off the development of equivalent countermeasures. 

So while carrots have always been considered good for your eye health, the idea that they improved your vision was most definitely supercharged by propaganda. 

Hopefully you know the difference between carrots and sticks. Make sure you do here.



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.