Fact or Fiction?: Carrots Improve Your Vision
Can scarfing carrots really help you see better in the dark?
6-23-2014 | Dina Fine Maron | Scientific American associate editor for Medicine, Biology and Health
In the dead of night, just how did the British Air Force manage to gun down German aircraft during World War II? Eating carrots was the key to the pilots’ success, according to the U.K. Ministry of Food. The now-defunct agency rolled out a propaganda campaign detailing the pilots’ superb carrot-enriched night vision and encouraging civilians to devour more of the locally grown vegetable to help them function during blackouts. The root vegetable is rich in beta-carotene, a naturally occurring pigment that nourishes the eye.
Decades later rumors swirled that the British Royal Air Force pushed that message as a cover-up for the recently adopted radar technology they were secretly relying on for their nighttime skirmishes. Information from the de Havilland Aircraft Museum suggests that subterfuge was indeed the British Ministry of Information’s plan. But Bryan Legate, assistant curator at the Royal Air Force Museum in London has a different view. “I would say that whilst the [British] Air Ministry were happy to go along with the story [of carrot-improved vision], they never set out to use it to fool the Germans,” Legate says. “The German intelligence service were well aware of our ground-based radar installation and would not be surprised by the existence of radar in aircraft. In fact, the RAF were able to confirm the existence of German airborne radar simply by fitting commercial radios into a bomber and flying over France listening to the various radio frequencies!” he adds.
Yet the question remains: Are carrots truly able to improve eyesight or is that the stuff of fiction?