Carrots do contain beta carotene which our bodies convert to vitamin A and vitamin A is essential for low-light vision, but if you aren’t suffering from a vitamin A deficiency then eating carrots won’t further improve your night vision.
Night blindness, medically termed “nyctalopia” is the inability to see in at night or specifically, in low-light. It has several causes and one of them is a vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A deficiencies are rare in the U.S. and other developed countries. The diets consumed in developed countries contain adequate amounts of vitamin A and vitamin A can be stored by the body in the liver.
How the Improved Night Vision Claim Started
During World War II the UK Ministry of Food had an oversupply of carrots on their hands, so they tried to create a demand for carrots. They created Doctor Carrot—a carrot carrying a doctor’s bag with “VIT•A” on it. The UK Ministry of Food also created ads claiming RAF pilots were improving their night vision by eating carrots.
Their messages worked and consumption of carrots increased. Many people thought that eating carrots might help them see better during blackouts. So, if you were ever told as a child to eat carrots so you could see better at night, this is where it all started.
If you’re interested in more carrot history click here to visit the World Carrot Museum. Yes, there really is a carrot museum.
Your Eyes Need Vitamin A
Getting enough vitamin A in your diet is essential to keeping your eyes healthy and carrots are an excellent natural source, but there are many other dietary sources. Sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, milk, cheese, cantaloupe, mangos, eggs, and sweet red peppers are all excellent sources of vitamin A.
Your eyes need vitamin A to create rhodopsin in the rods of your retina to enable vision in low-light. Rhodopsin is found in the retinas of animals and humans and is the pigment-containing sensor protein that converts light into an electrical signal.
Vitamin A also supports the healthy functioning of the conjunctival membranes and the cornea.
Eye Health vs. Eyesight
Healthy eyes can still need glasses to clearly focus on either near or far objects because the shape of the cornea or the eyeball. Nearsightedness and farsightedness can be corrected with LASIK surgery because that surgery reshapes the cornea. No amount of vitamin A will change the shape of your corneas and the way they refract light.
Eating for Good Eye Health
Eat a variety of foods high in vitamins A, E, C, along with foods high in lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids. A partial list of foods containing those vitamins and nutrients follows:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards
- Broccoli, peas, zucchini, tomatoes
- Oily fish such as salmon and tuna
- Eggs, nuts, beans
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Sweet potatoes, carrots, mangos
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Virginia and Washington D.C.