Baby carrots have become one of America's favorite vegetables. But rumors about chlorine and other concerns keep circulating. Is there anything to worry about? Nutrition Diva examines the evidence.
Q. "Baby carrots are a staple around our house. Often, it's the only vegetable we can get our kids to eat. But is it true that they are soaked in chlorine -- or that they are less nutritious than 'adult' carrots?"
A. It's no mystery why so-called baby carrots have come to dominate the raw vegetable category. They're super convenient (no washing, peeling, or cutting required), and they are reliably sweet and crunchy. Best of all, we can actually get our kids to eat them. Is it too good to be true?
See also: Get Kids to Eat Healthier
First of all, let's get our terms straight. True baby carrots are carrots that are harvested when still immature. What many people call "baby carrots" are more accurately labeled "baby-cut" carrots -- adult carrots that have been whittled down to size by machines. One carrot may produce 3 or 4 baby-cut carrots.
Are Baby-Cut Carrots Soaked in Bleach?
It's true that baby carrots (along with lettuce and lots of other pre-cut raw vegetables) are treated with a weak solution of chlorine and water to kill any bacteria that may be hitching a ride. This practice doesn't present a health threat. Quite the opposite, sanitizing the vegetables vastly reduces the risk of food-borne infection.
This chlorine solution doesn't soak into the vegetables and is completely rinsed off before the carrots are packaged. Contrary to urban legend, the whitish coating that you sometimes see on baby carrots is not the result of "bleaching" but simply a sign that the surface of the carrots have dried out a bit.
Are Baby-Cut Carrots Less Nutritious?
Farmers have cultivated special varieties of carrots for this market; they tend to be sweeter and have a less pithy core. Surprisingly, however, according to the USDA, the amount of natural sugar in baby-cut carrots is virtually identical to regular carrots.
The USDA does report some differences in nutrient levels. Regular carrots have higher levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene. Baby-cut carrots, on the other hand, boast higher levels of folate, selenium, and lutein. But both kinds of carrots deliver plenty of nutrition for the calories. And if your kids are ten times more likely to snack on baby carrots than regular ones, that alone makes baby-cut carrots more nutritious (for them).
If you want to up the nutritional ante, try supplementing the carrots with some sugar-snap peas or those darling little red and yellow peppers that have started to show up at grocery stores.