Carrot sticks are good for you. We’ve known that forever. Right? I can remember when I was just a little girl, being thin was really the “in” thing. I mean uber thin. Like Twiggy thin. All the women were dieting so they could be thinner – even though most of them were pretty darned thin by today’s standards. It seems like half the teenage girls and women at that time were living on “diet platters” consisting mainly of carrot sticks, celery, and cottage cheese.
Carrot sticks were a dieter’s best friend. Everyone knew that they were low in calories, even though most of us had very little idea what a calorie was! Most of us didn’t understand that a calorie is just a measurement of energy. And we had no idea how many calories were in a healthy meal, let alone how many we needed to consume in a day.
We just had this vague idea that eating too many calories made you fat. So, of course, the best possible thing was to consume as few calories as we could. Notice that nobody ever talked about our minimum caloric needs. But then again, this was before most of us had ever heard of eating disorders like anorexia. And malnutrition was something that happened in faraway places like Ethiopia – wherever that was!
But let’s get back to the carrot sticks.
How Many Calories Were in Those Carrot Sticks?
Carrot sticks were supposed to be really low in calories. Nobody talked about carrots being very healthy (even though they are.) It was just important that, as food goes, they were low-cal. So eating lots of carrots was good for you. It could help to make you really skinny. And of course, the only way to eat them was raw. Who knew why? It just seemed healthier somehow.
Girls as young as 7 or 8 were being asked if they could “pinch an inch” and were bombarded with messages about dieting to get thinner. Carrot sticks were one of the few foods we didn’t feel guilty about eating. So inevitably, they became the stuff of urban legends.
Some people said carrot sticks had only 5 calories each. I heard people say a whole carrot had 15 calories. Eventually, people started saying that the calories from eating raw vegetables like cauliflower and carrot sticks didn’t “count.” And that led to people saying that it took more calories to chew and digest the carrot than the vegetable actually supplied! Thus was born the legend of the “negative calorie” food.
Are Carrot Sticks a ‘Negative-Calorie’ Food?
People who promote the idea of negative-calorie foods say that some foods actually supply fewer calories than your body needs to handle the work of chewing, digestion, and processing of nutrients. They also say that some foods, mostly low-carb vegetables like carrot sticks, can boost your metabolism.
If you’ve watched popular TV shows that present this theory, you may have seen dramatic demonstrations of a woman eating a huge meal of beautiful, raw vegetables. The TV segment includes before and after measurements of this woman’s metabolism, plus some cool calculations that are supposed to prove that eating these vegetables sped up her metabolism so she was burning calories more efficiently after eating her carrot sticks, cucumber, celery, and fruits. There’s also an impressive demonstration that involves fire, which you just know is going to leave an impression in the viewers’ minds.
But did you notice that there was never any comparison to show what happens to this same lady’s metabolism if she ate a meal prepared from ingredients that aren’t on the list of negative-calorie foods? Ever wonder why not?
What Science Says About Negative Calorie Foods
If you search for scientific studies that prove some foods have a negative-calorie impact, you’re going to have a tough time finding any. What you will discover is that evidence-based discussions of negative-calorie foods like carrot sticks explain that your body does use some calories to digest food.
Your body needs about 5-15% of the calories you eat to break down the foods you eat and to make use of their nutrients. That applies to all the foods you eat, not just the ones that are high in water and fibre and low in fat. And a far greater percentage of your daily calorie intake goes to cover physical activity and your basic metabolic rate, or BMR.
Never mind, though! The dieters have always wanted to hear stuff like this. It makes you feel better about eating platters of rabbit food and curdled milk. It rewards you for passing up the foods you really wanted to eat, in favour of the carrot sticks or the trendy cabbage soup. And as far back as the 70s, myths like this have made all of us little girls feel there was at least one “safe” food that we wouldn’t be chastised for eating when our bodies were hungry.
The Truth About Calories and Carrots
Despite all the hype, those carrot sticks really are good for you. A medium carrot has just 25 calories – a bit more than legend had it in the 70s, but still very reasonable. It has just the teensiest amount of polyunsaturated fat, no cholesterol or trans fat, and low sodium. It also supplies enough vitamin A for two whole days!
Carrots are a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins C and B6. And one medium carrot fulfills the daily requirement that we eat one dark orange vegetable or fruit.
Carrots are one of the least expensive vegetables on your grocer’s shelf. They are versatile and they store well, and they are really easy to prepare. Raw carrots are the easiest, of course. Just wash them well and cut off the ends before eating (keep these for your soup bag, instead of throwing them away.) There’s no need to peel them unless the skins are really thick and nasty.
Preparing Carrot Sticks Ahead of Time
Carrot sticks are a great thing to have in your fridge. If they’re already prepared, you’ll be more likely to reach for them instead of an unhealthy snack like chips. And your kids are more likely to pack them in their school lunches or to grab a handful when they’re hungry after school.
Some people worry that cutting carrots ahead of time will rob the carrots of vital nutrients. But actually, it’s not that bad. Prepare what you need for a few days at a time and store carrot sticks and other cut vegetables in an airtight container in the fridge. As long as you keep your carrots cool, and away from water and light, they’ll hold their nutrients pretty well.
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