The eggplant, also known as aubergine, garden egg, guinea squash, melongene and brinjal, is usually distinguishable by its signature egg-like shape and vibrant purple color. When most people think of eggplant, this is the image that comes to mind. However, eggplants actually come in a variety of shapes and colors from small and oblong to long and skinny, from shades of purple to white and green.1
No matter the name, shape, or color, all eggplants contain many beneficial nutrients and phytochemical compounds that benefit human health. This article will focus on the nutritional benefits of the traditional purple eggplant.
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Nutritional breakdown of eggplant
One cup of raw eggplant contains 20 calories, 0.8 grams of protein, 4.82 grams of carbohydrate, 0.15 grams of fat and 2.5 grams of dietary fiber. A one-cup serving meets 10% of daily fiber needs, 5% potassium, 3% vitamin C, 5% vitamin B-6, 1% iron and 2% magnesium.
The eggplant, also known as aubergine, garden egg, guinea squash, melongene and brinjal, is usually distinguishable by its signature egg-like shape and vibrant purple color.
Eggplants also contain anthocyanins, compounds that belong to a class of naturally occurring phytochemicals known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are present in many plant foods and in addition to providing health benefits - they also contribute to the distinguishable coloration of many fruits and vegetables. In this case, anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that give the eggplant their well-known dark purple complexion.2
Many of the nutritional benefits gained from consuming eggplants are obtained from the skin of the vegetable. Eggplant skin is full of fiber, potassium and magnesium and antioxidants. In fact, its phenolic content makes it such a potent free radical scavenger that the eggplant is ranked among the top 10 vegetables in terms of oxygen radical absorbance capacity.7
Possible health benefits of consuming eggplant
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 the eggplant decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
The fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and phytonutrient content in eggplants all support heart health. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating foods containing flavonoids is affiliated with a lower risk of mortality from heart disease. Consuming even small quantities of flavonoid-rich foods may benefit human health.2
Several studies show that consumption of the flavonoids known as anthocyanins has played a major role in lowering risk of cardiovascular disease. One particular study revealed that those who consumed more than three servings of fruits and vegetables per week containing anthocyanins had 34% less risk of heart disease than those who consumed less. In another clinical study, researchers found that increased intake of anthocyanins was associated with significantly lower blood pressure.3
Research on the effects of eggplant consumption in animal studies has shown that rabbits with high cholesterol that consumed eggplant juice displayed a significant decrease in weight and blood cholesterol levels.5
Laboratory analyses of the phenolic compounds in eggplant reveal that the vegetable contains significant amounts of chlorogenic acid, which is one of the most powerful free radical scavengers found in plants. Chlorogenic acid has been shown to decrease LDL levels, and also serves as an antimicrobial, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic agent.4
Polyphenols in eggplant have been found to exhibit anti-cancer effects. Anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. They protect body cells from damage caused by free radicals and in turn prevent tumor growth and invasion and spread of cancer cells. They also stimulate detoxifying enzymes within cells and promote cancer cell death.3
Findings from animal studies suggest that nasunin, an anthocyanin within eggplant skin, is a powerful antioxidant that protects the lipids comprising cell membranes in brain cells from free radical damage. It has also been proven to help facilitate the transport of nutrients into the cell and wastes out.6
Research has also shown that anthocyanins inhibit neuroinflammation and facilitate blood flow to the brain. This helps prevent age-related mental disorders and also improves memory.3
Weight management and satiety
Dietary fibers are commonly recognized as important factors in weight management and loss by functioning as "bulking agents" in the digestive system. These compounds increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller for longer and thereby lowering your overall calorie intake. Since eggplant is already low in calories, it makes a great part of a healthy, low-calorie diet.
How to incorporate more eggplant into your diet
When buying eggplants choose ones that are firm and somewhat heavy for their size. Avoid eggplants that appear withered, bruised, or discolored. The skin should smooth and glossy with an intense purple hue. Eggplants should be stored in the refrigerator until ready for consumption, and the skin should be left intact when storing in order to prevent them from perishing too quickly. Use a stainless steel knife instead of carbon steel in order to prevent the material from reacting with the phytochemicals in the vegetable, which would cause the eggplant to turn black.
Cut the eggplant into thick slices, and then bread and bake or sauté them and add them to a pasta dish. Top with Parmesan cheese to create Eggplant Parmesan.
In order to draw out some of the compounds contributing to the eggplant's bitter taste and to make the flesh more tender, you can "sweat" the eggplant by cutting it into pieces and then sprinkling them with salt. Let the salted pieces sit for about 30 minutes, moisture will be drawn out and will leave the eggplant tenderer, less bitter and overall more palatable. It will also make the pieces less prone to absorbing oil used when cooking. Then, simply rinse the eggplant after the process is complete in order to remove most of the salt.
Eggplants have a slightly bitter flavor and spongy texture, making them unique and interesting additions to many dishes. They can be prepared whole, cubed, or sliced, and can be fried, grilled, baked, roasted or steamed.
- Replace pizza crust with sliced eggplant and add tomato sauce, cheese, and other toppings for a gluten-free, low-calorie treat
- Sauté or stir-fry chunks of eggplant with some of your other favorite ingredients for a quick, easy meal
- Cut the eggplant lengthwise into thick slices and grill them. They can be served on their own or in a burger
- Slice the eggplant into strips or wedges and bake them in the oven for healthy eggplant fries
- Cut the eggplant into thick slices, and then bread and bake or sauté them and add them to a pasta dish. Top with Parmesan cheese to create Eggplant Parmesan.
Potential health risks of consuming eggplant
Research suggests that the polyphenols found in eggplants contribute to their bitter flavor, which means that the eggplants with the highest levels of antioxidants are also the most bitter and unpleasant to eat. However, scientists are hoping to be able to genetically improve eggplants so that they contain high levels of beneficial nutrients and remain palatable.4
It has been discovered that nasunin, a phytochemical compound found in eggplants, essentially binds with iron and removes it from cells. Though this may be beneficial in cases of excess iron in the body, consuming large amounts of foods that contain nasunin, such as eggplant, is not recommended for those with low iron levels.6
Eggplants also contain oxalates, which can contribute to kidney stone formation. Kidney stones can lead to acute oxalate nephropathy or even kidney death. Consuming foods containing oxalates, such as eggplant, is not recommended for those prone to kidney stone formation, and it is suggested that those suffering from kidney stones limit their intake of oxalate-containing foods.8
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 a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by Megan Ware RDN LDand Helen Yuan, nutrition intern.