Carrots – one of the greatest urban myths

I gave a talk at a local school recently.  One boy put his hands up,

‘My mum tells me that eating lots of carrots helps you to see better in the dark.’

Whilst I would in no way wish to cross another parent’s comment on the importance of eating vegetables, especially with the great uphill battle of geting our children to eat their daily 5-a-day, I just had to tell the class about one of the greatest urban myths that still persists today.

We all know that eating carrots is important for the normal functioning of the retina, but as to whether or not eating additional quantities of carrots can improve our vision is one of those tales which has amused me greatly since I discovered its true origin whilst teaching on a pre-reg course a few years ago.

In the Second World War, British intelligence started a rumour that our boys in Bomber Command were consuming large quantities of carrots to improve their night vision.  What the RAF were really trying to cover up was that the increased success of the pilots’ flying capabilities at night, together with an sharp rise in the number of enemy bombers brought down from the coastal night skies, was due to the development of Al: Airborne Inception Radar.

The carrot story was widely covered in the press and as a result, the general public began eating significantly increased quantities of carrots and root vegetables to help them get about at night in the blackout.

How ‘Cat’s Eyes’ helped change the world: WWII fighter pilot John Cunningham.


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