Is it a reality or a myth that eating too many carrots can turn you orange? Find out the truth about carrots and skin color.
Bugs Bunny was right. They’re good for you. But eating too many carrots can turn you orange – or a sickly shade of yellow-orange, similar to the effects of a bad self-tanner. Surprisingly, you don’t have to eat pounds of carrots to turn orange either. Eating as little as four large carrots in a day can “bring out the orange” in some people.
Why Will Eating Too Many Carrots Turn You Orange?
Carrots are a lovely orange color because they contain pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids have a multitude of health benefits in the human body. Some carotenoids are converted to vitamin A, a vitamin that’s important for vision, a healthy immune system, and moist mucous membranes. Without adequate amounts of vitamin A, a person’s night vision will suffer, and they can develop dry eyes – along with dry skin and dry mucous membranes.
The carotenoids that aren’t converted to vitamin A also have health benefits – by acting as antioxidants and helping to reduce inflammation. Some studies suggest that carotenoids help to protect against certain types of cancer.
It’s important to get enough dietary carotenoids, but too much really will turn you orange. A single carrot has a little over twice the recommended daily value for vitamin A – and significant amounts of carotenoids. When the amount of carotenoids a person takes in exceeds the body’s ability to store or use it, levels build up in the blood stream – causing the skin to turn orange or yellow – a condition known as carotenemia. This is common in children who have liver disease, diabetes, or an underactive thyroid gland, which causes them to process carotenoids differently.
Is Eating Too Many Carrots Dangerous?
Carotenemia is usually not dangerous, unless you have an underlying health problem – such as liver disease. Usually the yellow-orange skin pigment goes away once a person stops eating too many carotenoid-rich foods. The skin discoloration can often be mistaken for jaundice, but carotenemia can be distinguished from jaundice by checking the sclera (the white part) of the eyes. They will be yellow in jaundice, but normal in appearance with carotenemia. The skin can remain discolored for several months after carotenoids in the diet have been reduced, since the body can store them.
The Bottom Line?
Carrots certainly have their health benefits, but it’s best to eat them in moderation to avoid carotenemia. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to add more balance to your diet. Keep in mind that other fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, particularly orange ones, such as sweet potatoes, squash, and apricots. Eat them in moderation too.
Emedicine website. “Carotenemia”