When you hear the term carbs, you probably visualize a big plate of pasta, thick slices of bread or a rich cream sauce, but vegetables contain carbohydrates, too. Carbohydrates include fiber, starch and simple sugars. Carrots are rich in certain carbs, such as fiber, but fairly low in other types such as glucose sugar. Consequently, carrots are easy on the waistline and don’t cause big spikes in blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate is a general term that includes all compounds made from sugar molecules. Carbohydrates made of complex sugars include fiber and starch. Fiber is very poorly digested, whereas starch takes quite a bit of time in your digestive tract to break down. Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, are also classified as carbohydrates and are easily and quickly digested and absorbed in your body. In fact, glucose is the end-product of all digestible sugars and is what your blood delivers to all your cells in order to produce energy. Carrots contain mainly fiber, but also some glucose and fructose. The total amount of carbohydrates in 1 cup of raw carrots is about 12 grams. The same amount of carrots provides about 50 calories, mainly from the carbs.
The total amount of fiber in 1 cup of raw carrots is about 3.5 grams, which is approximately 14 percent of the daily recommendation for women. Very little dietary fiber is broken down into simple sugars by your body, but it still provides a number of health benefits. For example, soluble fiber is able to attach to heavy metals, toxins and cholesterol in your intestines and drag them out of your body. Furthermore, insoluble fiber softens and bulks up your stool, which promotes bowel movements and helps prevent constipation. On the other hand, eating lots of fibrous carrots without drinking enough water can lead to constipation and trigger abdominal pain and flatulence.
Carrots contain some glucose, which is partially why they taste slightly sweet, but not as much as some other root vegetables such as yams or sweet potatoes. For example, 1 cup of raw carrots contains a little more than 1 gram of glucose, which is absorbed directly into your bloodstream from the small intestine. Your body essentially runs on glucose, especially your brain, so low levels in your blood quickly lead to symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and brain fog.
Carrots also contain some fructose, which is called fruit sugar, but not nearly as much as most fruits do. Fructose takes a little longer to digest than glucose, although the end-product of fructose metabolism is glucose. Fructose is much sweeter than glucose or even sucrose, or common table sugar, so fructose contributes the most to the slightly sweet taste of carrots.
Foods that are low in digestible carbohydrates such as carrots have a low glycemic load, which is a measure of how a food affects blood sugar levels and insulin release. In contrast, foods with high glycemic loads, such as ice cream, most baked goods and pasta, cause spikes in both blood sugar and insulin, which leads to a "sugar rush" quickly followed by a “sugar crash." Consequently, carrots are excellent vegetables for diabetics, who need to control their blood sugar levels, and other people wanting a low-calorie food rich in fiber and other nutrients.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.