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Carrots Won't Help You See at Night, but Blueberries Might?

Nov 19, 2014 06:27 PM EST
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It is commonly believed that the carrot can give humans better night vision - a myth started by WWII propaganda and perpetuated by the discovery that high concentrations of vitamin A are good for eye health. Now, while the carrot won't actually help you see in the dark, new research investigates if the blueberry will.

The Myth of the Carrot

I will admit it. When I was a boy, I jammed as many carrots into my mouth as I could after I first heard that the orange root could make me see like a night stalking jungle cat. During games of manhunt I often fearlessly strolled into the deepest parts of backyards and campgrounds, confident in the fact that I had carrot-bolstered supervision.

It turns out that it was a miracle I never got lost.

That's because despite everything good vitamin A-rich carrots do for eye health, they do not help your eyes seen any better in the dark.

It turns out that we've all been the victims of every effective British propaganda launched in the middle of World War II.

"At one point in the early 40's there was a glut of carrots, and the [British] government let it be known that carotene, which is believed to help (or restore) night vision, was largely responsible for the Royal Air Force's (RAF) increasing success in shooting down enemy bombers," expert and curator John Stolarczyk wrote for the little-known World Carrot Museum.

News stories even began appearing in the British press about extraordinary personnel manning the defenses, including Flight Lieutenant John Cunningham, an RAF pilot dubbed "Cats Eyes" for his exceptional night vision. Predictably, Cunningham's abilities were chalked up to his love of carrots. (Scroll to read on...)

According to Stolarczyk, this resulted in a sudden upsweep in carrot consumption not only among militants, but citizens as well, who desperately wanted to see better during wartime blackouts.

"The ruse not only reduced the surplus vegetables but also helped to mask the chief reason for the RAF's success - the increasing power of radar and the secret introduction of an airborne version of the system," he explained.

The curator added in an email to the Smithsonian that he is unsure if the Nazis actually fell for it.

However, in a review of Ministry files for an upcoming book on the subject, Stolarczyk found a number of "apocryphal tales that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots."

Could Blueberries Have Won the War?

And while carrots may not be the miracle vegetables my 10-year-old self thought they were, blueberries might be.

That's at least according to a new study published in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry.

The study details how recent lab work, shored by studies conducted in the past decades, has revealed that anthocyanins, which are pigment molecules in blueberries and other plants, encourage the regeneration of key molecules in the eye involved in perceiving light. (Scroll to read on...)

In a new set of carefully designed and placebo-controlled experiments, researchers found that a blueberry-supplemented diet did not actually help a person see in the dark. However, it did help participants adjust to sudden light changes faster. This means that in the wake of a sudden flash or blackout - common during the London Blitz - the eyes of blueberry lovers would recover faster than your average peepers.

However, it's important to note that this improvement was barely noticeable among the healthiest participants, meaning that it certainly wouldn't be enough to win a war.

Instead, the researchers suggest that people commonly exposed to "photobleaching" - when you are blinded by the flash of a camera - like movie stars, would benefit most from a berry-filled diet.

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