What are eggplants good for?

Eggplant essentials
Botanical name: Solanum melongena

Eggplant Nutrition Facts

Eggplants are known by various names in different countries around the world. In the U.K., eggplants are called aubergines, while in Germany, they’re called eierfrucht.1 While eggplants are fixtures in the American marketplace, their production is highly concentrated in seven countries. These include China, India, Egypt, Turkey and Japan.2

When asked to describe an eggplant, you would probably mention its distinct dark purple color and glossy, smooth skin.3 However, this only describes one type, as there are many eggplant varieties.

One eggplant type is small, white and looks a lot like an egg; another is long and skinny like a bean, while the "Toga" variety is yellow-orange with green stripes.4 What they all have in common, however, is the way they grow, suspended from tall plants that can reach up to 1.5 meters in height.5

Eggplants first appeared in Europe in the 14th century, and eventually made their way to America, with Thomas Jefferson introducing it in the 18th century.6 Today, Florida is the leading producer of eggplant in the U.S., followed closely behind by New Jersey and California.7

When choosing an eggplant, it should be firm, heavy in size and smooth, without any scars or marks on the surface. The skin should be glossy. Make sure you avoid any that have brown or blue streaks or are already shriveled.8

There are numerous ways eggplants can be prepared. They can be stewed, steamed, baked or fried. Because of their versatility in the kitchen, eggplants have proven to be a favorite among people who are limiting meat in their diets.9

Health benefits of eggplant

While eggplants don't have an overwhelming supply of any one nutrient, they contain an impressive array of many vitamins and minerals, such as fiber, folate, potassium and phosphorus, as well as considerable levels of vitamins A, K and B6, magnesium, zinc and calcium.10 You’ll find more about eggplants’ nutrition facts below.11

Eggplants are also known for containing high levels of phenols. Phenols are known to be one of the most powerful free radical scavengers, which can inhibit tumor growth, and fight cancer metastasis and angiogenesis.12,13

One interesting aspect of eggplant is that it's a member of the nightshade family of plants, along with tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, as well as chili peppers, habaneros, jalapenos and paprika.14 However, eating too much of it may also cause some problems, especially in people with excess iron in their body or patients who are susceptible to forming kidney stones.15 Interestingly, ancient Mediterranean people reportedly nicknamed it the “mad apple,” believing that eating eggplant would cause insanity.16

In 2011, India charged Monsanto with biopiracy for alleged attempts to genetically modify indigenous eggplants.17

Eggplant nutrition facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 25  
Total Fat 0.18 g  
Saturated Fat 0.034 g  
Trans Fat 0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Sodium 2 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 5.88 g  
Dietary Fiber 3 g  
Sugar 3.53 g  
Protein 0.98 g  
Vitamin A 23 IU Vitamin C 2.2 mg
Folate 22 µg Iron 229 mg

Watch out for eggplant lectins

As a member of the nightshade family, eggplants contain high levels of lectins, which are sugar-binding proteins that function as a defense mechanism for plants. These proteins are known to cause long-term health problems in humans, specifically targeting metabolism, cellular health and endocrine function. Their pro-inflammatory effects may also heighten your risk of heart disease and cancer.18 While eggplants offer numerous health benefits, they should be eaten in moderation, along with legumes and other foods high in lectins.

Studies done on eggplants

The consumption of eggplants has been linked to several beneficial health effects, including the lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as neuroprotective function and better weight management.

In a 1998 study from the Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, hypercholesterolemic rabbits were given eggplant juice to study its effect on plasma lipids and weight. The results showed that the rabbits had significantly reduced weight, plasma cholesterol levels and aortic cholesterol content.19

The antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties of eggplants were also studied in a 2010 research paper from Food and Chemical Toxicology. Five eggplant varieties were analyzed for their phenolic and flavonoid content, and their effect on cytotoxicity in liver cells. Researchers found that there was a significant correlation between the flavonoids and the hepatoprotective activities.20

Another animal study from Toxicology published in 2000 found that an anthocyanin phytonutrient in the skin of eggplants, called nasunin, is a potent antioxidant that fights free radicals and protects the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes from damage.21

Eggplant healthy recipes:
Eggplant sandwich

Eggplant Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

3 medium eggplants

2 tablespoons coconut oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 yellow bell peppers

12 sun-dried tomatoes

8 ounces of goat cheese

16 small basil leaves

 

Procedure:

  1. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices about ½ inch thick. Take the largest eight slices and place on a baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 20 minutes.
  2. Thoroughly rinse eggplant slices and pat dry.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat until glistening. Add eggplant slices 2 at a time. Cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast bell peppers on grill, or on a grill pan, preheated on high. Arrange whole peppers on grill and cook until the skin is charred, about 5 minutes per side. Place peppers in a paper bag. This allows the skin to be removed easily. Allow to cool in bag for about 20 minutes. Pull or scrape the skin off with your fingers or a paring knife. Cut off the stem end, cut open the peppers and scrape out seeds and membrane. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide.
  5. Cut sun-dried tomatoes into strips.
  6. Assemble the sandwiches by placing an eggplant slice on a plate. Spread each slice with goat cheese and top as desired with slices of roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil leaves. To complete the sandwich, place another eggplant slice on top.

This recipe makes four servings.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)

Eggplant fun facts

Eggplant dates back about 2,000 years in India, and there are actually more than 30 Sanskrit names for this fruit in ancient Indian literature. Some of these might be found at the USDA's eggplant collection in Griffin, Georgia, which is stocked with roughly 770 different varieties from around the world.22 While most may be unavailable at your local grocer, they're sometimes found in gourmet or ethnic food stores and farmers markets.

Summary

Eggplant is a plant-based foods that many Americans are unfamiliar with. In fact, they weren't often eaten until recently in North America, and were first grown as an ornamental plant. They are best known for their glossy purple skin, though there are a number of colorful and interesting varieties.

Eggplants are used as a traditional medicine in some Asian cultures, while others have utilized them for dishes such as eggplant parmesan and casseroles with other vegetables, cheese, meat and herbs.

Recently, scientists have found that eggplant contains powerful antioxidant phenols, including the anthocyanin phytonutrient nasunin, which are important for helping neutralize damaging free radicals in your body.

Eggplant comes from the nightshade family of plants, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, and all kinds of peppers, though it has a somewhat controversial potential for adverse reactions after eating. However, in European and Middle Eastern cuisine, eggplant could be considered a delicacy, a tradition or perhaps a comfort food. As with any other food, it's often all about the preparation.