by Ed Halmagyi


All the best myths are built on a bedrock of truth. That’s why they are believable.

The story of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table drew upon the historical facts of early English history, then engorged the tale with mysticism and magic. Our unfounded fear of ghosts derives from our sensible belief in the spirit. And every discovery of a new aquatic dinosaur fossil makes Nessie just that little more real.

But hey, did you hear the one about carrots helping you to see in the dark? The British claimed this far and wide during WWII, and attributed their accurate night-time anti-aircraft skills to the carrot-rich English diet.

Well, true to mythical form, there is an element of reality to this oft-touted claim. You see, carrots get their colour from an important pro-vitamin called beta-carotene, a bright orange chemical that becomes vitamin A once ingested. When vitamin A attaches to certain proteins in the retina it becomes the light receptor cells that allow the eye to see. So, a deficiency of vitamin A will lead to night blindness and eventually vision problems.

There’s the bedrock of truth.

Unfortunately, even the most gluttonous consumption of carrots will not make your vision sharper than it would otherwise have been. In fact, the only likely result from eating a gross quantity of carrots will be a condition called hypercarotenemia, turning your skin orange. Well, saves on the fake tan in any event!

Carrots originated in Afghanistan and are related to parsley, parsnips and fennel. It existed in hundreds of varieties and colours. The modern orange carrot, however, was hybridised in Holland during the 1600’s. Always choose firm, crisp carrots whose leaf shoots are still green. And look out for some of heirloom varieties of carrot now available. You’ll find green, black, yellow, white and even candy-cane striped carrots.

As for the accuracy of English gunnery, sorry to break it to you, but this had more to do with their advances in radar technology. Still, it’s a great story to get the kids eating vegies!
Spiced carrot cake with walnuts