Also known as an aubergine, the eggplant is a high-fiber vegetable that’s both low calories and rich in health-boosting nutrients, making it a versatile, tasty and healthy addition to your diet. From reducing the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure to weight management and helping to boost your brain power, the eggplant has a host of health benefits and is also quick and easy to cook.
We take a more in-depth look at this bulbous vegetable and why you should be incorporating it into your regular diet.
About The Egg Plant
Originating from the Indian subcontinent where they are considered the ‘king of vegetables’, the eggplant is now a familiar ingredient in recipes around the world. Distinct looking and with a deliciously fresh and earthy smell and taste, the eggplant is also known by several other names – aubergine, brinjal, melongene and guinea squash.
The eggplant is actually a fruit and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most recognizable is the bell-shaped vegetable with a glossy purple or black skin and can grow to more than a foot in length.
A member of the nightshade family, which also includes bell peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, eggplants contain an alkaloid called solanine, which in large quantities has been potentially linked to inflammation. However, it is present only in trace amounts in eggplants so is safe to eat. While there is no evidence the eggplant can exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis, the steaming, boiling and baking of the vegetable will also reduce the alkaloid content.
Eggplant Nutritional Facts
Nutrient-dense, the eggplant is a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and fiber, with a surprisingly low number of calories. When breaking this all down into numbers, you really do get a clear idea as to just how healthy the aubergine is.
When it comes to eggplant nutrition, one cup – around 80 grams – has just 20 calories and 5 grams of carbs, which is already good news. Add to this fiber, potassium, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, niacin (B3), magnesium, copper and iron as well as a host of antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, which gives the eggplant skin its gorgeous purple color and nasunin, which can protect against premature ageing. With a high-water content and almost no cholesterol or fat, a standard portion of eggplant also provides 10% of your body’s daily need for manganese, a super-mineral that supports skin and bone health.
With such a condensed package of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, eggplants are not only nutritious, but can help to prevent and manage some conditions as well as maintain your overall health and wellbeing.
Here are just some of the eggplant health benefits of adding this wonder veg to your diet:
- Aids digestion
As an excellent source of dietary fiber, eggplants are good for gastrointestinal health as they help to keep everything moving. Fiber stimulates gastric juices, supports regular bowel movements, bulks up stools and encourages a healthy peristaltic motion to smoothly push waste through and out of your body.
- Heart health
Some medical studies have shown that the nutrient, antioxidant and fiber content of eggplants may help to reduce the risk of one of the US’ biggest killers, heart disease.
The antioxidants found in eggplants can reduce stiffness in the heart’s arteries as well as help to prevent ‘bad’ cholesterol, both of which can contribute to heart disease or stroke. Fiber also helps to reduce the damaging cholesterol, LDL and support the uptake of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, boosting your heart health. And finally, when it comes to your heart, eggplants also contain a red-blue flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has been found to help reduce high blood pressure, protecting against stroke, heart attack and blood clots.
- Blood sugar control
From your afternoon ‘slump’ to helping to prevent Type 2 Diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels is essential to good health. Avoiding spikes in your blood sugars throughout the day not only keeps your energy more constant but can also help to protect against diabetes and its dangerous side effects.
Thanks to the fiber and natural ‘polyphenols’ plant components found in eggplants, adding this versatile vegetable to your diet can help to keep your blood sugars in check. Fiber helps to slow the rate at which your body absorbs sugar, keeping those blood levels nice and steady while the polyphenols not only may help to reduce sugar absorption but could also increase insulin production, all to keep those blood levels nice and steady.
- Weight management
Low in calories, fat and carbs but high in fiber, eggplants are a great addition to any weight loss or maintenance plan. The fiber in eggplants will keep you feeling fuller for longer, as it helps to inhibit the release of the hormone, ghrelin, which is responsible for telling your head you are hungry again. This means an eggplant-rich diet will help prevent you from reaching for the cookie jar thanks to its appetite-reducing abilities, as part of a balanced diet.
With its firm structure, you can also use eggplants as a replacement for more carb-heavy ingredients such as lasagna pasta sheets and it is a tasty way to bulk up a meal, leaving you happily satisfied and your diet on track.
- Cancer prevention
The humble eggplant is also known to contain substances that are showing some potential in helping to prevent of some cancers. In particular, solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (SRGs) which studies indicate can cause the death of cancer cells and reduce the recurrence of certain types of cancer. Then there’s the fact that eggplants are packed with antioxidants, including anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid which are known for their anti-inflammatory and potential anti-cancer properties. Eggplants are also rich in vitamin A, which may be beneficial in the treatment of lung, breast bladder and skin cancer.
And, as we all know, a diet rich in varied fruit and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet of which eggplant is a key component, can also help to protect you against cancer and support your overall good health.
- Cognitive function
We all have our ‘fuzzy days’ or days when our moods can be a little low, and it is recognized that a varied diet full of fruit and vegetables can help to keep our brains and cognitive function balanced and well. And with its power-pack of antioxidants, minerals and phytonutrients, eggplants are one of the best vegetable ‘brain foods’.
The eggplant’s colorful skin has nasunin, a powerful and hardworking antioxidant that helps to protect brain cell membranes from damaging free radicals while also helping with waste elimination from the cells, preventing inflammation and boosting blood flow. Other nutrients found in eggplants, including potassium also act as vasodilators, helping to deliver oxygen rich blood to ‘feed’ the brain, and keeping your cognitive center healthy and functioning as it should.
- Prevent anemia
Packed with numerous essential minerals, eggplants are a potent source of iron and copper, both of which are key to the health of your red blood cells. A deficiency in iron can lead to anemia, characterized by headaches, muscle weakness, fatigue and generally feeling rundown. Eating foods which are high in iron, such as eggplants can help to combat the symptoms of anemia, as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
- Bone health
If you’re at risk of osteoporosis or bone issues, then adding eggplant to your diet can help strengthen and build your skeletal health. Eggplants contain phenolic compounds which not only give them their gorgeous, unique skin color but have also been linked to increased mineral density and strength of bones. Add into the mix, iron and calcium, which eggplants have in plenty, and you can eat your way to better bone health and general strength.
How To Add Eggplant To Your Diet
So, now we know its health and nutritional benefits, ‘how to eat eggplant?’ is the next big question to ask. One of the very few purple vegetables you’ll find in the grocery store, they are not necessarily at the top of everyone’s weekly shopping list. But considering how healthy they are, you may well want to add them to your own meal planning!
Look for an eggplant that’s firm and feels nicely heavy in your hand, with a smooth, glossy and intact skin that has an intense purple color. You can store your eggplant for up to 5-7 days in your refrigerator’s crisper until you’re ready to cook with it.
The eggplant is surprisingly versatile and can be used as a main component of a nutritious meal or as a side, salad or dip. From the iconic dish, Moussaka, to stuffed eggplant, ratatouille and the Middle Eastern dip, baba ghanoush, there’s endless dishes and meal ideas to make the eggplant the delicious star of your plate. The eggplant also makes a great addition to soups, stews and sauces. The key is prepping and cooking them properly, so you get the right flavor out of the flesh while preserving all their health-boosting goodness.
Always use a stainless-steel knife to slice the vegetable as the metal won’t react with the phytochemicals in the plant, which can turn the flesh black. Eggplant can also have a slightly bitter taste so to prevent this coming through in your final dish, ‘sweat’ the eggplant by cutting into large cubes or slices and sprinkle with a little salt. Leave for around 30 minutes for the moisture to be drawn out, giving you a tender vegetable to start cooking with.
And finally, when it comes to the healthiest way to cook eggplant, steaming is best although roasting, baking or shallow frying are all good cooking methods to create a truly delicious aubergine dish.