That line your parents used to tell you about eating all the carrots off your plate so you could see better? It was a ruse. In fact, the carrot myth was first popularized during World War II by the British military, in hopes that the Germans wouldn’t find out that the Royal Air Force (RAF) had started using a new, high-tech tool to spot Nazi bombers attacking at night. Instead of admitting that radar was giving them superior night vision, the RAF told the world that their pilots were on a carrot-rich diet, and that their collective eyesight had improved dramatically.
The root of a myth:
- Stories about carrot-eating RAF pilots with excellent night vision were planted in the British press, including a tale about flying ace John Cunningham, who earned the nickname “Cat's Eyes” due to his ability to spot and pursue Nazi targets in the dark.
- The British public also began eating more carrots, at least in part because they believed it would help them to see better during the frequent blackouts. Citizens were encouraged to grow carrots in home gardens, to help alleviate wartime food shortages.
- There is a kernel of truth behind all of the propaganda -- carrots are good for overall eye health. Beta-carotene from carrots could help reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, and eating carrots could benefit people with nyctanopia, a form of night-blindness that can be caused by a vitamin A deficiency.