Health Benefits of Eggplant

Eggplant, also known as aubergine, is a dark purple vegetable in the nightshade family. Other nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Eggplant has a mildly bitter taste and a sponge-like texture. 

They are usually oval-shaped, but Asian varieties from China and Japan are long and thin. Additionally, there are small, ornamental white eggplants that are also edible, as well as green and orange varieties.

Eggplant originally grew wild in India. Since ancient Chinese farmers in the 5th century BC started growing it, it has spread throughout the world to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Finally, European colonizers brought it to North America.

Eggplant grows best in regions with temperatures between 70° and 85° Fahrenheit. Today, China, Egypt, Japan, Italy, and Turkey are the top eggplant-producing countries in the world. 

Health Benefits

Eggplant may be a tasty vegetable, but it also has health benefits for those who eat it.

Cancer Prevention

The dark purple skin of eggplant contains nasunin, a unique antioxidant that experts believe may preserve and protect cell membranes. Early studies show that it may protect the fats in the membranes, which are responsible for protecting the cells from harmful free radicals.

A free radical is a molecule within the body that has an unpaired electron, making it potentially unstable and thus, harmful. Your body naturally produces some free radicals, but they can also come from external sources like radiation, cigarette smoke, or certain industrial chemicals. 

Two of the most common diseases that experts believe free radicals cause are cancer and atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries leading to heart disease

In addition to the potentially cancer-fighting antioxidant nasunin, eggplant has other antioxidants that may help fend off free radical damage that can lead to cancer and other diseases. Chlorogenic acid, also found in eggplant, is an antioxidant that not only helps prevent cancer but is also antibacterial and antiviral.

Heart Disease

Chlorogenic acid may also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels (‘bad cholesterol).  High levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease.

The antioxidant nasunin also helps to decrease amounts of iron in the blood, when there is too much. Lots of iron is a risk factor for heart disease, especially in men and people with uteruses who do not menstruate.

Lower Calorie Option

Eggplant may be a good choice for those seeking lower-calorie foods. It has few calories and is high in fiber. Since the vegetable has a spongy texture and absorbent nature, some eggplant dishes use it as a lower-calorie alternative for ingredients like meat or bread. One cup of eggplant has just 35 calories.

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Nutrition

Since eggplant is high in fiber, that makes it great for a heart-healthy diet. High fiber diets may reduce the risk of heart disease.

It also contains:

Nutrients Per Serving

1 cup of cooked eggplant contains:

Things to Watch Out For

All members of the nightshade family of vegetables contain alkaloids. In higher doses, alkaloids are poisonous to humans. Tobacco is another nightshade plant that has higher alkaloid levels and is toxic.

While the nightshades we eat are lower in alkaloids, some experts believe that certain people are more sensitive to them. They also believe that nightshades may worsen inflammatory conditions. However, there are no scientific studies proving this.

Others maintain that they simply feel better when they exclude nightshades from their diet. However, food sensitivities are specific to each person.

If you believe you may be sensitive to nightshade vegetables, you may want to work with a doctor or nutritionist to do an elimination diet or other form of testing before you decide to cut them out.

How to Prepare Eggplant

When choosing an eggplant, make sure the skin is smooth and shiny. Avoid breaks in the skin or blemishes. Make sure the stem looks fresh and that the eggplant bounces back a bit when you squeeze it. You don’t want it to be too firm or too soft. 

The skin is edible, so you can leave it on when preparing eggplant. Cut off the stem and then cut into your desired shape—slices and cubes are popular options. Cut off and discard any parts that are turning brown. Those parts are more bitter than the normally creamy white interior.

Some people salt their eggplant before cooking to reduce the bitter taste. If you prefer a slightly less bitter-tasting eggplant, then put your cubes or slices in a colander and apply salt liberally. Let it sit for at least 60 minutes, then rinse the eggplant and press gently between paper towels to remove the more bitter juices. Whether or not you salt your eggplant depends on your personal preference.

Common eggplant preparations include frying, roasting, grilling, and baking. Popular dishes or snacks that include eggplant are:

  • Eggplant parmesan
  • Eggplant lasagna
  • Baba ghanouj
  • Vegetable curry with eggplant
  • Eggplant fries
  • Eggplant croquettes
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Cholesterol Guidelines & Heart Health.”

Cleveland Clinic: “What's the Deal with Nightshade Vegetables?”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Harvard Health: “Fiber-full eating for better health and lower cholesterol.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Roles of Chlorogenic Acid on Regulating Glucose and Lipids Metabolism: A Review.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Relation between Body Iron Status and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease.”

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Maricopa County Journal: “The Elegant Eggplant.”

The World's Healthiest Foods: “Eggplant.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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