When it comes to summer produce , you can’t go wrong with eggplant. Known for its deep purple hue and a certain euphemism via emoji, the veggie is impressively versatile. Serve it on sandwiches, toss it in salads, or add it to brownies. The warm weather veggie is also packed with antioxidants and fiber, offering stellar benefits for your heart, gut, and more. Not sure if eggplant deserves a place on your plate? Read on for the health benefits of eggplant, plus ways to add eggplants to your summer menu. What Is Eggplant?
As part of the nightshade family , eggplant (aka aubergine) is genetically related to peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. It’s native to South Asia and grows in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. The most common variety in the U.S. is the globe eggplant, which is dark purple and oval, according to the University of Kentucky Center for Crop Diversification . And while eggplants are typically prepared as you would other veggies (think: steamed, grilled, fried), they’re botanically classified as fruits — berries, in fact — according to the University of Florida . (Who knew?) Eggplant Nutrition
Boasting an array of nutrients — including fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin B 12 — eggplant is quite an all-star piece of produce. Its peel is rich in anthocyanins , which are antioxidants and natural plant pigments that give the fruit’s skin its purple hue, according to a 2021 study . (BTW, anthocyanins are also responsible for red- and blue-coloring of produce, such as blueberries , red cabbage, and currants, as well as butterfly pea tea .)
Here’s the nutritional profile of one cup of boiled eggplant (~99 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture : 35 calories
< 1 gram protein
2 grams fat
9 grams carbohydrate
2 grams fiber
3 grams sugar
Eggplant Health Benefits
Okay, so the purple produce is packed with nutrients — but how does that translate to your health? Ahead, the lowdown on eggplant health benefits, according to registered dietitians and research. Fights Oxidative Stress
Eggplant peel is packed with anthocyanins, which, ICYDK, protect the body from oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals (aka potentially harmful molecules), says Andrea Mathis, M.A., R.D.N., L.D., registered dietitian and founder of Beautiful Eats & Things . This is key because high levels of oxidative stress can damage cells and DNA, contributing to the development of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. The major anthocyanin in eggplant peel is nasunin , and while there isn’t a lot of research on it, two lab studies found that nasunin has antioxidant properties that can help quell inflammation.
Meanwhile, eggplant flesh contains antioxidants known as phenolic acids , according to an article in the South African Journal of Botany . Not only do phenolic acids find and neutralize free radicals, but they also stimulate protective antioxidant enzymes in the body, making eggplant an especially awesome antioxidant food, according to research published in Biotechnology Reports . (Another seriously antioxidant-rich ingredient? Spirulina .) Supports Brain Health
As the antioxidants in eggplant combat oxidative stress, they also protect your brain. Oxidative stress can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease , according to a 2019 article in the journal Molecules . Plus, “the human brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage,” explains Susan Greeley , M.S., R.D.N., registered dietitian and chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education . This is due to numerous reasons, but basically, the brain relies on many molecules to function. If a certain molecule experiences oxidative damage, it can mess with the other molecules — and their ability to interact and send signals to one another, according to an article in the journal Redox Biology .
Antioxidants, however, can shield your brain from this oxidative stress. This includes the anthocyanins in eggplant peel, which “can help boost memory and benefit overall neurological health [as well],” notes Kylie Ivanir, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and founder of Within Nutrition . A 2019 article in the journal Antioxidants also shares that anthocyanins and phenolic acids offer neuroprotective effects. Promotes Healthy Digestion
“The fiber in eggplant is a mix of insoluble and soluble fiber,” which paves the way for a happy digestive system, explains registered dietitian Tiffany Ma , R.D.N. Insoluble fiber doesn’t combine with water (and other liquids) in the gut. This promotes the movement of food through the intestines, ultimately preventing and relieving constipation, according to the University of California San Francisco . On the other hand, soluble fiber does dissolve in H20 in the gut, creating a viscous, gel-like substance that forms stool, improves constipation (by softening dry stool ) and diarrhea (by firming up loose stool). Ah, sweet relief. (FYI — You can also fill up on both types of fiber by chowing down on cantaloupe, another summer produce .) Protects Heart Health
Ma also dubs eggplant as a heart-healthy food , due in part to its fiber, which helps support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, she says. (High blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .) The antioxidants in eggplants can also lend a hand, as free radicals “may be involved in the development of atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque in the arteries [that] can lead to heart disease,” explains Ivanir. As the fruit’s antioxidants combat free radicals, they also can protect against atherosclerosis, says Greeley. What’s more, eggplant flesh contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that may help lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, says Ivanir. It can also reduce high blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes your blood vessels, according to a 2021 scientific review . Manages Blood Sugar
The fiber in eggplant can also stabilize blood sugar levels. “Fiber is an indigestible nutrient, which means our bodies take a while to metabolize [it],” says Ma. This slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the […]