One of the simple pleasures of going to a farmers market is eyeballing all those brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Carrots, of course, are among them – but in surprisingly more colors than just their trademark orange, and all with high levels of vitamins and minerals.
What isn’t as well-known about carrots is that their lush green tops are also edible and highly nutritious – perhaps even more than the carrots themselves. Japanese research has suggested that carrot leaf extract has preventive effects on tumor proliferation, meaning carrot leaves may hinder tumor cells from growing. What’s not to love about that?
Carrot leaves contain abundant chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that’s rich in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and essential fatty acids. But if you’re tasting them for the first time, don’t be alarmed if you find carrot tops bitter. The bitterness owes to their high levels of potassium, a vital nutrient contributing to lower blood pressure and reduced stroke risk that also protects against muscle loss and helps prevent the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
As an aside, keep in mind that carrot leaves contain alkaloids and nitrates. This means it’s advisable to buy only organic carrots if you’re going to eat the tops, since these leaves quickly absorb pesticides.
How to incorporate carrot tops into your diet? At Viver Health we often use them in juicing, salads, soups, and stocks. (But beware of juicing extra-large quantities of carrots each week as you don’t want your skin to take on an orange tint . . . beta-carotenoids are powerful that way!)
Here are a few tasty ways to enjoy carrot tops:
Sauté them with Swiss chard, mixing in olive oil and lemon to counter the bitterness.
Blanche them briefly and cut them up into a nice green salad.
Shred cabbage and carrots (tops and all) in your food processor to make a slaw, mixing in celery seeds, pumpkins seeds, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
If you decide to pass on carrot tops – and we hope you don’t! – consider pairing carrots with a nutrient-dense fat such a peanut butter. Fats help the absorption of carotenoids, which are fat-soluble, into the bloodstream.