Contrary to popular belief, pineapples, which came to be known as such because of their resemblance to pinecones, did not originate in Hawaii. Christopher Columbus brought pineapples back to Europe after one of his expeditions to South America, where they are believed to have originated from. Pineapples became known as an extravagant and exotic fruit, served only at the most lavish of banquets.
Today, pineapple can be commonly found in any grocery store and in many homes all-around the world. In Central and South America, pineapple is not only valued for its sweet taste - it has been used for centuries to treat digestion problems and inflammation.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of pineapples
One cup of fresh pineapple chunks contain approximately 82 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 2 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of total carbohydrate (including 16 grams of sugar and 2.3 grams of fiber) and 1 gram of protein.
Fresh pineapple is the only known source of an enzyme called bromelain.
Pineapple is also a source of important vitamins and minerals such as thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, manganese and potassium and antioxidants and polyphenols, such as beta-carotene.
Fresh pineapple is the only known source of an enzyme called bromelain, which has been used in studies to determine it's effectiveness in alleviating joint pain, arthritis, reduce inflammation, inhibit tumor growth and shorten recovery time following plastic surgery.
Possible health benefits of consuming pineapples
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like pineapples decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
Age-related macular degeneration: A higher intake of all fruits (3 or more servings per day) has also been shown to decrease risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Asthma prevention: The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients. One of these nutrients is beta-carotene, found in plant foods like pineapple, mangoes, papaya, apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin and carrots.
Blood pressure: Increasing potassium intake by consuming high potassium fruits and vegetables can help with lowering blood pressure. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.1
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.1
Cancer: As an excellent source of the strong antioxidant vitamin C, pineapples can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer.
Diets rich in beta-carotene may also play a protective role against prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition7 and has been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.8
High fiber intakes from all fruits and vegetables are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society:
"there are studies suggesting that bromelain [found in pineapple] and other such enzymes may be used with standard cancer treatment to help reduce some side effects (such as mouth and throat inflammation due to radiation treatments)."
Diabetes: Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium pineapple provides about 13 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Digestion: Pineapples, because of their fiber and water content, help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
Fertility: Antioxidant-rich diets have been shown to improve fertility. Because free radicals also can damage the reproductive system, foods with high antioxidant activity like pineapples that battle free radicals are recommended for those trying to conceive. The antioxidants in pineapple such as vitamins C, beta-carotene and the vitamins and minerals and copper, zinc and folate have properties that affect both male and female fertility.5
Healing and Inflammation: Some studies have shown that bromelain, the enzyme found in pineapples, can reduce swelling, bruising, healing time, and pain associated with injury and surgical intervention. Bromelain is currently being used to treat and reduce inflammation from tendinitis, sprains, strains, and other minor muscle injuries as well as swelling related to ear, nose and throat surgeries or trauma.9
Heart health: The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in pineapple all support heart health.
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).1
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.1
Skin: The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (as in a pineapple) or applied topically, can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture. Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of your skin.
How to incorporate more pineapples into your diet
Make your own pineapple juice! Nothing tastes better than fresh fruit juice in the morning.
Select a pineapple with a firm, plump body without bruising or soft spots and green leaves at the crown. A green outer shell does not mean the pineapple is not ripe and contrary to popular belief, neither does the ease in which the leaves pull from the crown. Pineapples should be picked at their peak ripeness since unlike other fruits, they will not continue to ripen once picked. Whole or cut pineapple should be stored in the refrigerator.
If consuming canned or packaged pineapple, make sure to pick up the varieties canned only in pineapple juice, not heavy syrup.
- Keep a bowl of freshly chopped fruit front and center in a clear container in the refrigerator. Seeing the fruit readily available will likely cause you to choose them as a snack more often rather than raiding the cupboards for a less healthy processed snack
- Add pineapple to your favorite kebabs. Try shrimp, chicken or steak kabobs with red onions, pineapple and cherry tomatoes
- Make a fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges and grapes. Top with unsweetened shredded coconut for a fresh twist
- Add some pineapple slices to your salad at lunch or dinner. Compliment the pineapple with walnuts or pecans, a crumbled cheese and light balsamic or citrus vinaigrette dressing
- Make your own juice! Nothing tastes better than fresh fruit juice in the morning. When you make your own, you can be sure there are no added preservatives or sweeteners
- Make a fresh salsa with pineapple, mango, jalapeno, red peppers and chipotle pepper and use as a topper for your favorite fish tacos.
Potential health risks of consuming pineapples
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist