Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Color Orange: How I almost turned into a carrot, and what I learned

I just got done eating a pound of carrots every day for a month (March 6th through April 4th).  Actually I got done over two weeks ago, but I've been on a really long road trip ever since and couldn't share any of my findings.  Now, at long last, the moment one or two (or even three) of you have been waiting for: 

What happened?

Eating a pound of carrots every day was difficult, much more so than I had anticipated.  But I did it anyway-I was dedicated to the Carrot Cause.  For the first 28 days or so, as I was plugging along, testing out new methods of eating carrots, and hoping my GI tract wouldn't implode, I didn't notice any change in my skin color.  On day 28, however, I compared my palms with those of a few other people, and we all agreed mine were a little more orange (or red, or both) than the others.  I kept looking around and asking people what they thought, and over the next few days I became convinced that:
  1. Both my palms and my soles were more orange than before.  Not overwhelmingly so--no one stopped me on the street and screamed, "You have orange palms!"--but noticeably more than other people's.  
  2. My face had more color to it - It seemed more red than orange, but it looked like I had spent a day or two outside, when in reality I had been living like a vampire for the prior several days and seen very little sun.  I also wasn't wearing any blush, so we can rule that out.                                                      
  3. No other part of me changed color in any noticeable way.
 That's the good news--I observed some modest changes on certain parts of my body.  The bad news is, the pictures don't show it very clearly, and maybe only the keenest of observers will notice.  Whether it's because I have zero photography skills, or because it's hard to photograph one's own palms, or because I can't figure out when to use a flash and when not, the pictures are inadequate to really show what happened.  However, they aren't without merit--you can probably see at least a little color in the "after" pic of the palms, and when I looked at the enlarged "after" pic of my face I could see a tiny bit of red.       

Pictures (click to enlarge):

                      Before                                                                                            After

    What else did I learn? 

    First off, a pound of carrots is both more and less than you think.  It sounds like a lot, so at first you might say, "Wow, a whole pound of carrots every day!"  Then you look at the bag and you're not as impressed.  But then you try to eat them, and about halfway through your jaw is aching, your stomach is distended, you think you're turning into a carrot, and you still have half a bag to go.  That's when you say, "I don't think the human body is meant to ingest this many carrots in one day."   And you're probably right. 

    Second, carrot smoothies are, for reasons unknown, anathema to my stomach.  The first few days were fairly smooth, and on day four I tried putting most of a day's carrots into a smoothy with some fruit (banana, apple, orange).  The smoothy tasted surprisingly good, and I thought I'd found a great way to get get the carrots down faster, and with less likelihood of developing jaw arthritis.  But a few hours after drinking the carrot smoothy, my stomach went crazy.  I had all sorts of bloating and pain.  Nothing could calm it (I tried a ton of remedies).  I didn't even blame it on the smoothy at first, I just thought I had exceeded some "carrot threshold" and I was paying the price.  And I almost gave up as a result.  But as my stomach very gradually calmed over the next five days or so, I kept thinking back to the smoothy and growing more suspicious of it.  I tried making a similar smoothy one more time to verify my hypothesis--this time I carefully spread the smoothy-consumption out over the whole day--and sure enough, I had some of the same symptoms, though they were less severe and didn't last as long.  Who knew smoothies would be the bane of my carrot existence? 

    Third, it's really hard to eat a whole carrot cake in one night.  It's also hard to eat a whole loaf of carrot bread in a day.  I tried the cake once and the bread twice, and though they were delicious (except the second loaf, which I screwed up),  it was really, really hard to get it all down in a single evening (so much so that I gave away the last fourth or so of the cake and ate some more carrots to make up the difference).  And that was after substantially reduced the quantities of the non-carrot ingredients in both the cake and the bread - before the reduction, the cake would have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 calories; my changes likely chopped off over 1000 of those.

    Fourth, the easiest and most enjoyable way to eat carrots that I tried was the All Carrot No Potato version of this recipe, using Lipton soup and oil.  Those were some tantalizing carrots! (see below)  

    Eventually I quit trying so many recipes and settled on just sticks.  After all, this project was supposed to make me more healthy, right?  Cake and dessert bread don't usually do that.  And while I was trying to use the new recipes to calm my stomach, all it really needed was no more smoothies!    

    Other tidbits you can take or leave:  

    During the second half of my experiment, I divided the carrots into AM and PM carrots, trying to eat the AM bag before lunch, and the PM's after.  Spreading them out helped my GI tract, not to mention my sanity. 

    I made a habit of drinking water coolers (zero-calorie drinks that taste kinda like diet Sprite) with my carrots almost every day to make eating them more fun, though I discontinued this practice during the the stomach-craze of weeks one and two.  

    As Thomas Culwell recommended, I reported a subjective "healthiness level" each day, on a scale of 1-10.  The results were pretty unremarkable - they dipped after each smoothy, but otherwise seemed to depend mostly on how much sleep I'd gotten.

    I tracked the research in my notebook, checking off carrots and recording observations.  There's a picture of these pages att the bottom, but I warn you it's not for the faint of heart - a couple parts have what for many people would be Too Much Information.  One day early on I wrote, "[I] feel like a carrot".  Another day much later I wrote, "Getting really tired of carrots now for some reason."  Go figure. 

    I've decided that eating a pound-a-day for 30 days isn't the most effective way to turn orange--it might take more than 30 days for the color change to really take effect, and you probably don't need a whole pound each day for it to happen.  I postulate that half-a-pound every day for 60 days would be more effective.

    Turns out, there are a lot of carrot recipes out there.  

    • Eating a pound of carrots every day, like crocheting and garbage-collecting, is harder than it sounds. 
    • Carrot smoothies are dangerous, and sometime in the future they may be used for biological warfare.
    • I may be less prone to turning orange than your average Joe Shmoe.     
    • Eat fewer carrots for a longer period of time if you really want to turn orange. 
    • I will never eat another carrot.   At least not on purpose.  At least not very soon.  

      Carrots in pictures:

           the carrot research journal (repeat warning: TMI):


          1. Ben, This is so weird! And I loved it. What in the world made you decide to eat carrots for a month? So random. And smoothies like that are to be handled with great care. You have to work up to fiber densities like that! Haha. Funny stuff. -Daina

          2. Awesome Ben... Had a thought for you, since being the curious person I am- I googled carrots. Lots of sites have said the reason why infants get "Carotenosis" is due to the fact that the vegetable has been pureed.
            "Infants and small children are especially prone to carotenoderma because of the cooked, mashed, and pureed vegetables that they eat. Processing and homogenizing causes carotene to become more available for absorption. A small 2.5 ounce jar of baby food sweet potatoes or carrots contains about 400-500% of an infant's recommended daily value of carotene." It appears that only 3% beta-carotene is released when the carrots are eaten raw. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v56/n5/full/1601329a.html
            Interesting article. Glad to hear you didn't suffer too much harm from the experiment!

          3. Ronnie great points, I had actually run across some of that info in my prior research, about how much more of the carotene is absorbed from carrots that are cooked, pureed, or served with oil (since it's fat-soluble stuff). But I mostly ignored that info during my experiment, though I did cook the carrots several times. That would be a great offshoot experiment to further the cause, eat maybe one fourth (or even less) as many carrot but always cook or puree them or both, and add a tiny bit of oil for optimal absorption. Plus do it for longer than a month, or "as long as it takes". Not eating the whole pound would make it much easier, so I think you could keep it up. You're almost making me want to try that myself...maybe...but not any time soon. :)

            Daina you're totally right, I needed to work up to that much carrot in a smoothy! Maybe I could've gotten jamba to put progressively more fiber boosts in their drinks so I could adapt. Hard to say. And if you were really wondering why I started this, the answer can be find two blog posts ago-I was inspired by my old roommate Jake (I can't remember if you talked about reading that one ever).

          4. All I can say is...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. How come you weren't this much fun in college?!? ;-)

            My question is this: how long until you eat your next carrot?

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          6. Your report is more thorough than I expected; I like it, and would be very interested to see if pureed carrots do cause you to go orange faster. Just not interested enough to try it myself. :) Perhaps you could convince several health journals to write about your results and then maybe that would make you notable enough to have a permanent Wikipedia entry. That was another goal we had back in the day, if you recall. Maybe that could be your next challenge!

          7. Congrats on completing your goal.

          8. Haha Becky, what kind of question is that?? :) And who says I'm fun now, this whole blog thing is just a facade for my extremely boring personal life....maybe

            Jared I hope I get famous for something like a carrot experiment one day so that I can be in Wikipedia...that would be a good project though, trying to figure out the fastest way to become famous enough to merit my own Wiki page...hmm....

          9. Awesome!!
            I love carrots so to me is easier to eat them I just don't eat them daily well not until a week ago... I decided to get rid of some pounds and eat healthier so now instead of sandwiches between meals I eat carrot or salad... but I like more the taste of carrot so I usually eat those $0.99 Bags that comes with 6 or 7 carrots and I eat them raw... weekends I make an orange and carrot juice... as a breakfast with a couple of eggs and a steak!... yummy... anyways Congratulations and I like your analysis pretty sweet... I haven't turn orange but I'll try to come back and share any changes too! :)

          10. Yep, I've done this and I *definitely* turned orange. However, I think that eating nearly all your carrots raw keeps the nutrient absorption low. I really only started changing color and having people make comments after I grew fond of shredded carrot salads where they were partially cooked or marinated (which might also sort of "cook" them, like ceviche).

            I think cooked carrots have FAR more beta carotene available to the body.