The Carrot Train to Crazytown

This is one of our favorite (and best-known) articles ever – and with so many new people doing the Whole30 in August, we felt like it deserved another day in the spotlight. Enjoy!

In a conversation with a consulting client, we were talking about simple meal combinations. We outlined a few examples – smoked salmon, avocado, and honeydew melon; a grilled chicken breast with ghee-topped butternut squash; or, if in a pinch, a few hard-boiled eggs and a banana.

Our client responded with the following: “A banana?! Are you freakin’ kidding me? I haven’t had a a banana in a year and a half. I’m, like, over the moon with the prospect of eating a banana. I could weep, seriously. It feels like I’m doing something naughty even considering a banana. How messed up is that?”

Um, that is very messed up.

And it reminded us of Melissa’s now-infamous Carrot Confrontation. She was participating in a discussion on a message board when someone asked what she eats in a typical day. She replied with a list of things she had eaten that morning – chicken, radishes, eggs, spinach, olives… and carrots. She mentioned she had eaten almost an entire bag of baby carrots. At which point, another poster responded, “You should be careful about eating so many carrots. Carrots are pretty high in sugar.”

This response makes us wish we had more middle fingers.

Because the day you tell us that CARROTS AREN’T THAT GOOD FOR YOU is the day we sit down and have a long chat. Which brings us to the following rant – get off the Carrot Train to Crazytown and think about it for just a brief moment. We’ll start you off.

They’re CARROTS, people.

We could get all science-y here, and talk about glycemic index versus glycemic load. We could talk about how the all natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are nothing like the mutated, processed sugar-like substances found in soda, Starbucks Frappuccinos and “healthy” whole bran muffins. We could also talk about how the sugar in carrots comes bundled with an amazing assortment of valuable phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.

But we’re not going to get all science-y here, because we’re trying to prove a point. Amidst the ridiculous volume of nutritional information floating around out there, the confusing statistics like ORAC values and potential renal acid load, all of the books and diet plans and recommendations and suggestions, it’s easy to lose the beta-carotene forest through the trees. So we’re going to recommend one simple thing.

Take a step back and use your head.

In the big picture, carrots are not “high in sugar.” Are they higher in sugar than, say, spinach? Sure. Should you eat five bags a day, or mindlessly munch your way through a bag while watching TV? Probably not. We wouldn’t recommend you eat five bags of anything a day, or mindlessly munch on anything, ever. But if you feel like something sweet, w will applaud you for your healthy choice if you grab a carrot. If you want something crunchy to gnaw on while stuck in a work meeting, we’re more than okay if you plow through an entire bag of carrots. If you don’t like vegetables at all, but can somehow manage to choke down a serving of carrots… we’re thrilled, because one vegetable is better than no vegetables.

We understand the fact that, when both choices are good, one might be more good. And we do caution against using “sugary” real food like fruit as a substitute for real sugar if you’re having cravings. But unless eating carrots are going to tempt you into a box of Krispy Kremes, we are not worried about your intake.

And we seriously doubt any proposed “carrots as a “gateway vegetable” theory.

So let’s not be too quick to jump on the Carrot Train to Crazytown. Take a step back and think about your food choices from a rational perspective. Eating mostly high-quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats? You’re doing better than 99% of the general population. Want to take it further? Try to balance your fruits and vegetables on a bigger scale. Eat plenty of color, get plenty of variety, and fill every plate with leafy greens. But, like, you want a banana? Eat one. Want some beets, or a sweet potato, or some carrots? Have them. Because in the whole scheme of things, fruits and vegetables are still, as far as we know, good for you.

Except for corn, of course.

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  1. Carina says

    Work meetings might not be the most appropriate way to eat carrots. Is there anything that makes a more annoying sound while eating than carrots?

    But otherwise: yay, carrots! :)

  2. says

    Carina, if other folks in the meeting can eat bagels with cream cheese (getting cheesy grossness all over their work papers), Doritos with Diet Coke (getting cheesy Dorito grossness all over their hands and licking them clean), and Bavarian cream donuts (must I say more), I can eat some damn carrots.

    And yes, that is based on personal experience. ;)


  3. says

    *love* As someone who has multiple food issues, and body image issues, and tends toward fanaticism occasionally, I love your approach to bananas and carrots. I have been known to avoid both of those things, while doling them out to my kids, on the basis of keeping the carbs low, and I know intrinsically that they’re not bad, but it’s hard to get past certain road-blocks like fear of carbs. Thanks for spelling it out.

  4. Lynne says

    I so appreciate reading this article. Too many other blogs/websites make me fear bananas and carrots….while all the time I was thinking, ‘but it’s REAL food??’.

    So, THANK YOU!

  5. says

    I loved this the first time I read it and even more today…I find myself on the Carrot Train to Crazytown quite often. Thankfully, Whole 9 and the Whole 30 help me get off that train and on a better path to balanced living.

  6. Janelle says

    Oh man. And the worst is that sometimes thinking like that can be used to justify much worse food choices. Like, my husband will not get over his fear of cholesterol and eggs… But, the other day, we sat down for lunch, and he had a giant plate of leftover spaghetti AND tortilla chips with ketchup for dipping. Wrong on so many levels. And, I’m like, “And you’re worried about my plate of eggs and veggies?” :)

  7. says

    Ha! If you ate carrots excessively every day, your skin might turn orange-ish. That said, there are a few people who are so sensitive to sugar that they have to watch even their carrot intake. A FEW. Obviously you’re not one of them.

    If that’s the worst thing somebody can say about your diet, that you eat too many carrots now and then, well you’re doing fine. Keep up the good work!

  8. Mariah says

    Once I actually DID eat carrots excessively every day, and my skin actually DID turn orange. I’ll attempt to exculpate myself by saying that I was already on the vegan train to crazytown, so it might explain it a little better. At least that ride is over!

  9. says

    Absolutely love this and could not agree more. Real food is real food, some people need to chill out (including myself sometimes!)

  10. Cody H. says

    I LOVE carrots and I do need to restrict my carrot consumption. I would routinely buy 25# bags of carrots and mindless eat them. I would probably eat 1-1.5 pounds of carrots a day. Yes A DAY. The 25# bag would usually last me a little over 2 weeks. I started getting comments from people asking if I spray tanned or if I had jaundice because my skin was orange. It did get pretty bad at one point, my hands and face especially looked orange. I went cold turkey for a month without any carrots to get my skin tone back to normal. Now I’m back to a healthy carrot habit of 1-2 large carrots per day. I got carried away because I was finding deals where I could buy bulk juicing carrots for $.20 a pound, so a 25# bag only cost $5. They were cheap, travel well, don’t really spoil, and are good for me, so I went crazy. But as we all know, too much of anything, even if its good, can become bad. I did have a friend tell me that carrots were basically a fruit due to their sugar content.

  11. Deniseregina says

    Can’t keep carrots in the house, because I WILL eat 6 in 24 hours. Of course, that was before Whole30. I’m on Day 11 now and notice my cravings are more controlled. So maybe I’ll try again when I’m finished. However, I do buy one 2-3 times 2 week at the cafeteria at work. Enjoy every bite.

  12. Bethany says

    This gave me such a chuckle! I’m totally new to this whole 30 thing (like day 2 new) and feel like I’m kinda doing this blind. I found it funny to think that carrots could be considered a problem to some since I’m literally 3 weeks into a “paleo-ish” diet straight from a typical American diet of Taco Bell, cheeseburgers, lots of pasta and lots of beer. Lots of beer, (sniffle) I miss my beer. Anywhoo I figure that I’m doing pretty dang good eating carrots with my meals of meat meat meat. They’re super easy to eat raw and pretty dang tasty. Obv not my only veg choice but one I turn to regularly. Quite a change from my previous eating habits. Any advice for a newbie feeling my way around is much appreciated!

  13. Karina says

    Can NOT understand how so many people really think that eating “too much” good food is bad for them. How screwed up has it all become, that we are afraid to eat REAL food!!! So sad and really kinda pisses me off!! It Starts With Food is a game changer for sure- I am out pushing it to whomever will listen!! Thanks for giving me a tool to not only help myself but that can be “gifted” to all those I love!!

  14. says

    I was all ready to sound off here, but you covered this pretty well. We need to stop getting our nutrition information from commercials and media. I teach my patients a very simple rule….real food will not hurt you.

  15. Su says

    I had a very similar experience MANY years ago. I told our receptionist that I was running to the market to pick up some fruit. I casually mentioned that bananas were on sale. “OH MY, I HAVEN’T EATEN BANANAS IN YEARS, THEY ARE BAD FOR YOU.”. WHAT?

    Meanwhile, I watched her eat loads of processed “Atkins Safe” manufactured fake foods, and she was sick all the time.


  16. Shannon says

    Dr. Mark, the sad thing is I had an endocrinologist tell me carrots and bananas and most other fruit were off limits, but bread, pasta and other starchy grains were ok in moderation. Crazy-town. I’m much better off now eating the fruits and veggies but no grains. I -still- can’t quite get over believing I could eat granola bars and whole wheat bagels but not carrots.

  17. N says

    1) I love this so much! Refreshing and balanced.

    2) Prior to this Whole30, had a coach helping me out with nutrition to get leaner and everything was going well… his guidelines were pretty similar to Whole9 recommendations. But then he cut sweet potatoes to 1/4 at a time and cut fruit altogether… only for a couple of weeks, but still! My brain broke. It was too much.

    3) On day 20 and my husband and I kicked ass at a 5K race yesterday – kicked ass! Tiger’s blood, baby :).

  18. Suzanne says

    I’m a Type II Diabetic. I had two carrots with dinner. My blood glucose shot up 40 points, plus it was 20 points higher than usual this morning. It’s not always simply a matter of common sense. There are better choices than carrots and bananas for me. If I want to preserve my health by managing my blood sugar successfully, I have to make different choices than the majority of people reading this blog.

  19. says

    For those who talked about “mindless consumption” of carrots, or eating pounds of carrots a day, that’s obviously not the sort of healthy behavior we’re talking about here. Mindless consumption of anything is inherently unhealthy, and overconsumption of any one food (even if it’s a veggie) means it’s pushing other nutrient-dense foods off your plate – which means your nutrition may be less than balanced. But these are extremes – the point of the article was not to be afraid of a few carrots, a banana, or a sweet potato.

    Suzanne, it is physiologically impossible for two carrots to cause a jump in blood glucose of that nature. Impossible. So that tells me that you still have some degree of insulin resistance and/or chronic stress/cortisol resistance that is pushing blood sugars out of the healthy range, even when you eat a healthy meal low in sugar. (Two carrots = 6 grams of sugar, and plenty of fiber to slow that down.) The answer isn’t to stop eating carrots, it’s to address the dietary and lifestyle factors that are causing your body to “overreact” in this fashion. I hope whatever program you choose helps you with that.

    Dr. Mark, thanks for weighing in! We love seeing medical professionals jumping into discussions like this, and if you ever have anything to add, please feel free!


  20. says

    When I brought in some bananas for work, a co-worker warned us not to eat more than 1 a day. She said there was enough potassium in two bananas to kill a person. When I said I was pretty sure that was not the case, she insisted, getting on the verge of a serious argument. I backed off…

    …then proceeded to eat two bananas (just to prove a point. I actually don’t eat much fruit unless it’s in season, which bananas never are where I live).

  21. says

    I am bananas for bananas (if we are gonna stick with the puns,here) I think I may be a bit sugar dependent because come 2 or 3 pm, I am in desperate need of a boost either from coconut water or some kind of fruit. I feel like I am going to be one of those people who needs to do a whole 60 as it was difficult enough for me to not crave some booze, cigarettes (yuck), or my precious diet coke. I can’t seem to kick the fruit, I know it isn’t that bad, but just from reading ISWF, it is a more moderation thing rather than a crutch, which is what I have been doing. Small steps, though, right?

  22. says

    Lauren, this is a really common transitional strategy for folks who are REALLY reliant on sugar for energy. Try not to rely on the sugary pick-me-up and do your best to ensure nutrient-dense, satiating meals that include plenty of healthy fat as fuel. We’re trying to get you out of sugar-burner mode and into fat adaptation, and while that process takes many weeks to complete, it can start in just a few days. So do your best, and know that the banana is a way healthier choice than the coffee, Diet Coke, or candy you used to rely on at 3 PM.

    Anna, see my comment to Suzanne above. Two medium carrots is about 6 grams of sugar, and should be a perfectly healthy choice for diabetics who are doing a good job controlling blood sugars. However, if diabetes is poorly controlled, it doesn’t matter what you eat – the body’s insulin response is going to be disproportionately high. The answer isn’t to stop eating carrots – it’s to control blood sugars with healthy dietary strategies in the first place.


  23. Suzanne says

    My lifestyle factors include following your program’s nutritional principles, stress management (stress in my life is relatively minimal), high intensity training several days a week along with regular movement like walking and biking, and good sleep, My blood sugar IS well-controlled, but it’s controlled because I employ these strategies and make good choices about food. I’m not suggesting carrots are unhealthy. They are not an ideal choice for me because I’m trying to preserve pancreatic functioning.

  24. Anna says

    Hi Melissa,

    The thing about diabetics is that they have insulin resistance and/or an impaired insulin response – in some cases, none at all. That is part of how the disease is defined. The consumption of ANY grams of sugar, even 6 g, will have an effect on blood sugar. Whether a diabetic can handle carrots or not has nothing to do with how poorly their diabetes is controlled. It has to do with the degree of impairment of their pancreatic function and whether or not they use insulin or diabetic medications. I agree with you that the answer is to control blood sugars with “healthy dietary strategies.” But whether such strategies include carrots or not is an individual matter, as foods affect individuals differently.


  25. says


    I assure you, I understand the pathophysiology of insulin resistance. And I didn’t think I needed to state something that should be common sense, but apparently I do.

    If you have a particular context in your individual life – if you’re allergic to carrots, have a disease process, or simply hate the taste of carrots – then don’t eat carrots. It’s that simple. But that doesn’t make carrots as a whole an unhealthy choice for any one population as a whole (including diabetics) – only for particular individuals, in their individual context. The danger of overstatements of this nature is the exact point of the article.


  26. says

    Hah, bananas. When my youngest step-daughter (7) would come to our house for the weekend, I would buy *at least* 18 bananas in a (usually futile) attempt to keep her from gobbling everything else in the house (she would reliably start with the bananas before moving on).

    After two years of co-habitation with her and her older sister (also constantly ravenous, but at least stopped after maybe two bananas and two PBJs and a quart of milk, or two entire adult-sized meals), they went to live with their mother full-time. That was 18 months ago and my 3 kids (and I) are *still* trying to recover from the complete food-chaos from those two years.

    Anyhoo . . . even my 6yo son still associates bananas with my youngest step-daughter and hasn’t adjusted to what a reasonable amount of bananas should be to put into the shopping cart.

    And . . . my BFF and I were discussing glycemic load of carrots (!) just yesterday, so when I saw this post, I had to hoot. And now, I won’t stress about the hlaf-bag of baby carrots I had for breakfast.


  27. charlotte says

    modern bananas are quite different from the natural variety: much bigger, sweeter, and no seeds (more room for fruit). but what do I know; I had one in a smoothie today and I’m currently “mindlessly munching” on a bag of carrots…and I had a slice of bread…I’m still new to this! no bread after today- last day of 2012…