From childhood, Mom admonished me, “Eat your carrots! They’re good for your eyes.” Now, I wore glasses. Later, with Mom’s approval, I became an organic chemist.
Since I listened to Mom, I eat my carrots. In fact, with lots of butter and salt, I rather enjoy them! But throughout my youth, I always wondered if they really are good for our vision. Here’s what I learned.
Carrots contain the organic compound β-carotene. It’s chemical structure is seen in the image below.
The chemical formula of β-carotene is C40H56. In addition to imparting the orange color to a carrot, if a molecule is split down the middle and the cleaved double bond is hydrated for both halves, the result is two molecules of retinol, C20H30O. See the image.
Carrots and Retinol
Does the name retinol suggest the word retina to you? It should. Retinol is one major form of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is absorbed by the body and is good for the eyes. Your mom told you the truth. You should have eaten your carrots.
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