Carrot-Vision Myths

Marty Ottenheimer pointed out to me the other day that Carrots do not actually help vision. Rather, the story we often hear is a result of a rumor from WWII. ABC Science explains:

…if you don’t get enough carotenes or Vitamin A in your diet, eventually you will suffer problems in your vision. This was the basis of the myth started by the Royal Air Force, the RAF.

In the Battle of Britain, in 1940, the British fighter pilot, John Cunningham, became the first person to shoot down an enemy plane with the help of radar. In fact, in WW II, he was the RAF’s top-scoring night fighter pilot, with a total of 20 kills. Some pilots were better flying in daylight, while others, like Cunningham, were better at night. His nickname was “Cats’ Eyes”. The RAF put out the story in the British newspapers that he, and his fellow night pilots, owed their exceptional night vision to carrots. People believed this to the extent that they started growing and eating more carrots, so that they could better navigate at night during the blackouts that were compulsory during WW II.

But this story was a myth invented by the RAF to hide their use of radar, which was what really located the Luftwaffe bombers at night – not human carrot-assisted super-vision.

The punch-line is that German folklore already held that carrots would make eyes better. Susceptibility to fraud is usually rooted in pre-existing beliefs and prejudice.

2 thoughts on “Carrot-Vision Myths”

  1. I love the carrot story, though you may be interested to know that from a dietetics perspective in the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm, one could argue that they may have been onto something, as a common result of liver blood deficiency (not an altogether uncommon diagnosis in TCM) is night blindness. Now how does liver blood deficiency relate to carrots? The spleen (considered more the digestive energy as opposed to the western definition of the organ itself) is considered to transport and transform food toward the making of blood(the liver stores the blood)…..and carrots, along with many other yellow and orange colored vegetables are said to support the spleen. Healthy spleen qi supports healthy liver blood and results in healthy night vision. Given that we are talking holistic medicine, 2+2 don’t always = 4 in the way of carrots and night vision, given there are always so many variables, however there are connections in the TCM perspective.
    Eat your carrots. :)
    My best to your dad from a former student in California.

    Janet Jackson

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