The Fascinating Origins Of The ‘Carrots Give You Night Vision’ Myth Have Been Revealed


How many times have you been told to eat your carrots to help your eyes? It’s an axiom that parents, grandparents, teachers, and pediatricians have passed down to children for ages. Well, it turns out that carrots aren’t going to magically improve your eyesight or make you more able to see at night any more than drinking milk is going to give you the ability to fly (which would be very cool, to be honest).

There is, of course, scientific data to back up that if you have a vitamin A deficiency (which can cause loss of eyesight) then eating carrots will help restore your vision, but that’s not going to work for anyone who isn’t suffering from a lack of the vitamin in their system. And it’s not the only fruit or vegetable to help in this situation. You could eat a carrot to boost your vitamin A levels — Carrots have high amounts of beta-Carotene — but you could also eat “sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, fish, liver, and tropical fruits” to boost your vitamin A. Either way, you’re not seeing in the dark.

So where did the idea that carrots would improve your vision or give you night vision even come from? Fake news World War II propaganda. The British had developed an onboard radar system which allowed their fighter pilots to spot German planes coming in for bombing raids under the cover of night. When the Brits were pushed on how they were able to shoot down the aircraft, they said it was because they were feeding their fighter aces carrots which it improved their night vision to X-Men like levels. Seriously, well except for the X-Men part.

And the Germans fell for at least some of it. Did they completely buy into the lie? Probably not, but it still prompted the Germans to start feeding everyone carrots so they could see at night just like the British — because it’s always better to be safe than sorry. John Stolarczyk, the head curator of the World Carrot Museum (yes, that’s a real job) (and a real museum), told the Smithsonian, “I have no evidence they fell for it, other than that the use of carrots to help with eye health was well ingrained in the German psyche. It was believed that they had to fall for some of it.” Stolarczyk continues, “There are apocryphal tales that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots, as they thought there was some truth in it.”

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The propaganda machine had another unintended consequence: Brits back home fell for the lie as well. So much so that posters which stated that eating carrots would help you see during blackouts began popping up all over the place. Again, seriously. All of this coupled with the fact that sugar was rationed and vegetables were not added to the popularity of carrots as a staple food that people still think will help them see better. But here’s the truth once and for all: carrots won’t make you see in the dark, you still need technology for that.

(Via The Smithsonian)