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Is carrot juice the next superfood trend farmers can take advantage of?

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2017-04-28  Views: 20
Core Tip: Could carrot juice be the next big super food trend farmers could take advantage of?
Could carrot juice be the next big super food trend farmers could take advantage of?

The largest carrot producer in South Africa certainly thinks so.

Vito Rugani harvests 200 tonnes of carrots a day at his 2,500-hectare farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

About 30 per cent of the crop will end up in juice, which is produced using a process he developed in conjunction with an Italian professor.

It's high in beta-carotene, the pigment that makes carrots orange, which converts to vitamin A in the body and has been credited with helping to fight some diseases.

"The carotenoid value in life, in our bodies and health, is not understood by most people," Mr Rugani said.

"People equate carrot juice or root juice to fruit juice and they're totally different.

"The whole spectrum of nutrition is different, their whole handling is different, the reason why you drink them is different."

But while Mr Rugani was convinced about the health benefits, consumers have been harder to reach, and scientists also have reservations.

Eating foods high in beta-carotene has long been associated with preventing disease, but what was not clear was whether that benefit came specifically from the pigment or simply from including nutritious vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale in the diet.

Supplements of the antioxidant have had mixed performances in scientific trials, leading the Cancer Council to recommend people obtain their nutritional requirements from whole foods rather than supplements.

In a position statement on the antioxidant, the charity said "studies have shown there is a convincing association between beta carotene supplements and an increased risk of lung cancer in current smokers."

It also said beta-carotene supplements were unlikely to have a substantial effect on the risk of prostate and non-melanoma skin cancers, however foods containing carotenoids were associated with a reduction in the probable risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancer.

A number of reviews have also found there was insufficient evidence to prove carotenoids decreased the risk of cancer, though the Cancer Council did note the reviews did not distinguish between those consumed in the diet or through supplements.

But while the science around the value of beta-carotene was inconclusive, Mr Rugani was convinced carrot juice was vital to good health, and could offer farmers a lucrative revenue stream if the general public caught on.

"The most you can get of your beta-carotene requirement if you ate fruit would be 3 per cent of your needs," he said.

"Basically you need vegetables or carotenoids to keep you resilient against cancer, to keep your body pH right.

"There's a whole spectrum of understanding that's missing in the average consumer's insight.

"They equate it to a fruit juice and they think it's playing the same role as a fruit juice, it plays a totally different role."

Mr Rugani has credited the growth of his carrot business to Australian farmers who stepped in 15 years ago when he was on the brink of collapse and mentored him back to profitability.

Forty per cent of the fresh carrots sold in South Africa come from his farm, but the juice business has not yet taken off.

Whether carrot juice can claim superfood status or not, Mr Rugani said Australian farmers should investigate the opportunities it presents.

"I'm sure it would work, why not?" he said.

"The climates are very similar, I think [production] is almost identical [to South Africa]."

 
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