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.
Although the dark purple version of eggplants is best known, they 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.
This article will focus on the nutritional benefits of the traditional purple eggplant.
Contents of this article:
Here are some key points about eggplants. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Eggplant comes in a range of colors
- The anthocyanins in eggplant may protect heart health
- Another chemical in eggplant - nasunin - may help improve blood flow to the brain
- One cup of eggplant provides 10 percent of your daily fiber needs
Possible health benefits of eggplant
The eggplant, also known as aubergine, garden egg, guinea squash, melongene, and brinjal.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds is 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, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease, and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and lower weight.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating foods containing flavonoids is associated with a lower risk of mortality from heart disease. Consuming even small quantities of flavonoid-rich foods may benefit human health.
Several studies show that consumption of a type of flavonoids known as anthocyanins can help lower 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 percent less risk of heart disease than those who consumed less.
Laboratory analyses of the phenolic compounds in eggplant reveal that the vegetable contains significant amounts of chlorogenic acid, one of the most powerful free radical scavengers found in plants. Chlorogenic acid has been shown to decrease low-density lipid (LDL) levels, and also serves as an antimicrobial, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic agent.
Polyphenols in eggplant have been shown to exhibit anti-cancer effects. Anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. They protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and, in turn, prevent tumor growth and the 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 brain cell membranes from free radical damage. It also assists in the transport of nutrients into the cell and move waste out.
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 the overall calorie intake. Since eggplant is already low in calories, it makes a great part of a healthy, low-calorie diet.
Nutritional breakdown of eggplant (aubergine)
One cup of raw eggplant contains:
- 20 calories
- 0.8 grams of protein
- 4.82 grams of carbohydrate
- 0.15 grams of fat
- 2.5 grams of dietary fiber
A one-cup serving equates to:
- 10 percent of daily fiber needs
- 5 percent potassium
- 3 percent vitamin C
- 5 percent vitamin B6
- 1 percent iron
- 2 percent magnesium
Eggplants contain anthocyanins, compounds that belong to a class of naturally occurring phytochemicals known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are present in many plant-based foods and, in addition to providing health benefits, they also contribute to the coloration of many fruits and vegetables. In this case, anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that give the eggplant their well-known dark purple complexion.
Many of the nutritional benefits gained from consuming eggplants are obtained from the skin of the vegetable. Eggplant skin is full of fiber, potassium, 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.
How to incorporate more eggplant into your diet
When buying eggplants, it is best to choose ones that are firm and somewhat heavy for their size. Avoid eggplants that appear withered, bruised, or discolored.
The skin should be 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 to keep them fresher for longer.
Using a stainless steel knife instead of carbon steel prevents the material from reacting with the phytochemicals in the vegetable, which can cause the eggplant to turn black.
There are a host of delicious eggplant recipes available.
In order to draw out some of the compounds that contribute 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 more tender, less bitter, and more palatable. This will also make the pieces less prone to absorbing oil used when cooking. Finally, simply rinse the eggplant to remove the majority of the salt.
Eggplants have a slightly bitter flavor and spongy texture, making them a unique and interesting addition 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, 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.
Nasunin, a phytochemical found in eggplants, 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 is not recommended for those with low iron levels.
Eggplants are part of the nightshade family. Nightshades contain alkaloids, including solanine. There is a theory that these chemicals aggravate arthritis or inflammation. While research is insufficient to support this theory, many people do report relief when they exclude eggplants, tomatoes, and other nightshade foods. A dietitian can help prepare a nightshade elimination diet to see if it improves symptoms.
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.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important for 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 and Helen Yuan, nutrition intern.