Eggplant has been enjoyed around the world for thousands of years as part of healthy, traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diet. Today it is commonly eaten in such places as France, Italy, Australia, Israel, Egypt, the U.S. and just about everywhere else too.
It’s known by a few different names around the world but most commonly referred to as an aubergine. In places such as South Asia, Southeast Asia and South Africa, eggplant goes by the name brinjal.
This “veggie” is especially loved for its bright purple color, fleshy skin, uniquely bitter-yet-pleasant taste — and of course the widespread benefits of eggplant nutrition.
What are the health benefits of eating eggplant?
Eggplant has a lot to offer: a high amount of antioxidants, special phytonutrients, including phenolic compounds, flavonoids, such as nasunin, and numerous vitamins and minerals too. All of these eggplant nutrition benefits come at a low calorie count of only 35 calories per cup, thanks to its high fiber and water content.
What Are Eggplants?
Eggplant, a member of the nightshade and Solanaceae plant family, is considered by researchers to be a part of a group of valuable crops due to their anthocyanin antioxidant compounds, which can be seen in its rich purple colors.
While most people think of this tasty food as a vegetable, it’s technically a fruit.
Why is eggplant a fruit?
It contains many small seeds and grows from the edible flower of the Solanum melongena plant.
What is the meaning of eggplant, and why are eggplants called eggplants?
According to most sources, because varieties of eggplant that were grown hundreds of years ago were smaller and often white, yellow or speckled in color, they were said to resemble hen, swan or goose eggs, hence the name. For a long period in history many people chose to stay away from eating it because it was thought of as a poisonous plant due to its deep color.
It took years before the health benefits of eggplant nutrition became known and understood like they are today.
Is eggplant a superfood?
Researchers continue to learn more about the health benefits of eggplant nutrition. It may not be not the highest in many nutrients as some other superfoods, such as kale or berries, but it is certainly unique.
It contains a somewhat rare and extremely beneficial type of antioxidant known as nasunin. Nasunin is a type of anthocyanin antioxidant found in all types of eggplant varieties, in addition to other deeply colored fruits and vegetables.
Nasunin is one of the key contributors to the health benefits of eggplant nutrition. Like other antioxidants, it has the ability to fight free radical damage in the body, which is often the cause of disease development and the mechanism at which our bodies’ age.
Most of the nasunin present within this veggie/fruit is found in its purple skin, so consuming the entire thing, including its peel, is important to reap all the health benefits.
Eggplant Nutrition Facts
One cup (about 82 grams) of raw eggplant nutrition contains approximately:
- 20.5 calories
- 4.8 carbohydrates
- 0.8 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 2.5 grams fiber
- 0.2 milligrams manganese (10 percent DV)
- 18 micrograms folate (5 percent DV)
- 189 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
- 2.9 micrograms vitamin K (4 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams vitamin C (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams niacin (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 11.5 milligrams magnesium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams copper (3 percent DV)
Meanwhile, one cup (about 99 grams) of boiled eggplant nutrition provides approximately:
- 34.6 calories
- 8.6 grams carbohydrates
- 0.8 grams protein
- 0.2 grams fat
- 2.5 grams fiber
- 0.1 milligrams manganese (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamine (5 percent DV)
- 2.9 micrograms vitamin K (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (4 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams niacin (3 percent DV)
- 13.9 micrograms folate (3 percent DV)
- 10.9 milligrams magnesium (3 percent DV)
- 122 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams copper (3 percent DV)
If you find eggplant at a farmers market, most likely during the late summer months or in early fall, you will probably come across the numerous sizes and shapes. It can be found in a range of colors, including deep purple, light purple/lavender, jade green, orange, yellow-white and purple-white striped.
Eggplants can be found in sizes that are as large as a football or smaller than a tomato or zucchini.
The kind most popular in most of North America is the deeply purple, large and oval type. This kind has a creamy, beige/white flesh and a spongy consistency that easily soaks up sauce, oil and flavor.
China, India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey are the leading growers of eggplant varieties.
Today there are seven main types that are harvested and made available throughout most “Western” countries, including the most popular types, the Italian (large, purple oval) and small Japanese eggplant.
Some types of eggplant varieties include:
- Japanese eggplant/Chinese eggplant
- Western or globe
- Graffiti/Sicilian eggplant
- Italian eggplant
- White eggplant
- Indian eggplant
- Little green eggplant
- Thai eggplant
- Black magic
- Black beauty
- Little fingers
- Slim Jim
The health benefits of eggplant nutrition seem to be consistent across the different types, with the exception of the variety known as “black magic” eggplant. This strand, which is sold commercially in U.S. markets, is known to have the highest concentration of certain phytonutrients and may offer additional antioxidant properties not found in other types.
Some sources have found that black magic eggplants can have up to three times the amount of antioxidant phenolics as the other types, although more research is needed to confirm the exact differences.
1. Has Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects
As mentioned above, one of the most studied eggplant health benefits is the rich source of antioxidants. According to studies, nasunin is a potent fighter of inflammation and oxidative stress, acting as an O2 scavenger and an iron “chelator,” which can protect against lipid peroxidation.
It is used to help iron become absorbable by the body and bind molecules to poisonous metal agents, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, which can then be carried out of the body, resulting in a detox.
Nasunin has been shown to defend against DNA and cell membrane damage caused by oxidative stress, as it has positive effects on cell walls. It also has the ability to protect the fat (or lipid) layer of the cell membrane that keeps its structure intact and prevents mutation or cell death.
Nasunin is one antioxidant involved in the ability to help cells receive and use nutrients from food and to discard of waste. Without enough antioxidants like nasunin present within the body, toxins and waste build up and can lead to a host of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis and more.
2. Helps Protect Against Cancer
It’s believed that there are 13 types of protective phenolic acids present at significant levels within eggplant. Different types of eggplants have varying levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients, but all share similar qualities in their ability to fight cancer.
Eggplant nutrition contains disease-fighting nasunin, as previously mentioned, in addition to many other phytonutrients, like chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid is type of polyphenol that has been linked with benefits such as regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism.
Cholorogenic acid is found in the cell walls of certain plants and known to be very beneficial in stopping free radicals from forming cancerous cells and leading to cancer tumor growth. In addition to its anti-mutagen and anti-tumor effects, cholorgenic acid is believed to act as an antimicrobial, anti-LDL (bad cholesterol) and antiviral, meaning it protects against various levels of inflammation and disease formation.
3. Helps Lower High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Eggplant is a top cholesterol lowering food. Studies show that eggplant has anti-hypertensive effects and can be beneficial for heart health due to its ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress. This leads to healthier arteries, more balanced cholesterol levels and blood pressure that remains in the normal range.
Eggplant nutrition has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining healthy normal cholesterol levels because of its phytonutrients’ ability to improve circulation and reduce plaque buildup in the main arteries, including the aorta. While your body does need a certain amount of cholesterol, consuming eggplant is correlated with balancing the amount that is held within your blood vessel walls and improving blood flow.
According to research done by the Royal Society of Chemistry, some studies show that eggplants contain potent cardio-protective compounds judging by their ability to increase left ventricular function (one of the main blood-pumping chambers of the heart) and reduce apoptosis.
4. Can Help Improve Digestive Health
Eggplant is largely made up of water, which is why it is so low in calories. Consuming foods that have a high content of water, fiber and nutrients helps flush out waste and toxins from the digestive tract.
The digestive tract and colon need to be well-hydrated in order to push stool through the intestines and out of the body.
Eating plenty of fresh, whole foods and drinking enough water are crucial for allowing the digestion system to expel toxins and excess water weight.
Because of the known benefits of eggplant nutrition, this veggie/fruit is included in the GAPS diet. GAPS is a diet especially helpful in correcting digestive disease, neurological issues, reducing inflammation and treating autoimmune diseases.
Is eggplant good for losing weight?
Because of the fiber and water content, it may be useful in helping achieve weight loss. It’s a great addition to any low-calorie, healthy diet because it provides an array of vital phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals yet is very low in calories.
Is eggplant a protein or carb?
Like other fruits/vegetables, it’s a source of mostly carbohydrates, but it also contains fiber — which means it can help make you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat.
Can eggplant make you fat?
It’s extremely unlikely that eating too much eggplant would lead to weight gain, unless of course you eat lots of high-calorie eggplant parmesan or other eggplant recipes that are rich in cheese, oil, etc.
5. High Source of Bone-Building Manganese
Something you may not already know about eggplant nutrition is that one cup provides roughly 6 percent to 10 percent of your daily needs of important manganese. Manganese is a mineral that is naturally occurring in the body in small amounts, so the rest must be obtained from a healthy diet.
It acts as an antioxidant, seeking out free radicals and eliminating them from causing bodily harm and oxidative stress.
Manganese contributes to the formation of a healthy bone structure because of its impact on bone mineralization and metabolism. It is needed in order to metabolize and use calcium properly and to create essential enzymes for the formation of strong bones.
Additionally, manganese assists in the metabolic activity within the body, formation of connective tissues and the regulation of hormone levels, which are crucial for reproductive health and fighting infertility. It also plays a part in regulating healthy thyroid gland function, fighting depression and controlling blood sugar levels.
6. Good Source of Energy-Promoting B Vitamins
Eggplant nutrition provides a good source of vitamin B1 and vitamin B6, two of the vitamins that are included in the healthy metabolism and energy-promoting B vitamin complex. B vitamins are water-soluble, found in many vegetables and other whole food sources, and are needed to maintain healthy energy levels, brain function, metabolism, heart health and focus.
They are also required by the body to absorb all of the nutrients from the foods you eat, working to convert fats and carbohydrates into useable “fuel” for the body the burn.
Vitamin B6 is needed to help create amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Amino acids are used for numerous bodily functions, and without enough of them, problems including a lack of energy, skin inflammation, anemia, depression, chronic fatigue and nutrient deficiencies can all occur.
Vitamin B6 is also involved in the formation of hemoglobin (which carries oxygen to the blood), neurotransmitters (which help control your mood), as well as regulation of blood glucose. Vitamin B1, meanwhile, is used for maintain a healthy metabolism, blood and heart health, brain function, and more.
7. Can Help Prevent Skin Cancer
When an extract is taken from the skin of eggplant, a highly concentrated cream is made that studies have shown is able to help fight skin cancer. This type of cream contains a 10 percent concentration of solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (BEC), which has been clinically proven as an effective treatment for several types of skin cancers: keratosis, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
How to Select and Store
Is eggplant available year-round?
Eggplants are usually available in markets throughout the whole year, but they are at their very best and freshest in the late summer months, running from about August through October when they are in peak season.
They are similar to other nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, sweet red peppers and purple potatoes, because of some of their chemical compounds. Eggplants grow on short vines that are similar to those of tomato plants.
Thus, buying conventional (non-organic) eggplant is considered to be safe, and the benefits of eggplant nutrition are still intact even in non-organic varieties — though it’s always best to buy organic when you can.
When looking for eggplants to purchase, look for the type with a solid shape that appears to have no serious dents and bruises.
Many appear brightly colored and glossy, with shiny skin. This is perfectly normal, and the skin is very healthy to eat considering it is where many of the nutrients are actually stored.
Unlike many other veggies, eggplant is actually best stored at room temperature or slightly cooler but doesn’t necessarily need to be refrigerated. It can stay out at room temp for several days after being harvested, at which point you’ll want to move to the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel, and placed in a reusable container or plastic bag.
This will keep the veggie/fruit fresh for about a week, although some people find that they can store eggplants for two to three weeks in a cool place before they start to spoil.
Freezing eggplant can alter the texture and cause it to become waterlogged, so this isn’t usually recommended.
How to Cook (Recipes)
Obviously the fleshy part of eggplant is edible, but can you eat eggplant leaves? The leaves are edible but not very flavorful — plus they contain compounds called solanine, which when consumed in very high amounts (which is unlikely) may cause some health issues.
Generally speaking, eating the leaves of any nightshade vegetable is not recommended.
Do you have to soak eggplant before cooking?
It’s fine to eat raw eggplant, although cooking it enhances its nutrient availability, texture and taste. Cooked eggplant, which is normally the type that most people eat as opposed to raw, has been shown in studies to have even more benefits.
Cooking it results in even more available antioxidant content and biological activity of beneficial properties, as the thermal effect further releases disease-fighting compounds. Cooking eggplant does not seem to diminish the positive effects of its phytonutrients.
The phenolic acids are responsible for giving eggplants their unique, sometimes bitter taste and turning their flesh brown when they are cut open and exposed to oxygen. Even when an eggplant is browning, there is nothing dangerous about this process, and it remains perfectly edible and healthy.
How do eggplants taste?
While the different varieties range somewhat in terms of their exact taste and texture, they are usually described as having a spongy, soft flesh and a pleasant but bitter taste. In many recipes, eggplant is used as a complementary ingredient that adds texture, volume and balance to stronger tastes coming from other highly flavored ingredients.
Here’s a brief overview of how to cook eggplant:
- Wash the outside, and either peel the skin or leave it on.
- Slice the top and bottom off to remove the stem.
- Cut it lengthwise. Then dice into whatever size you want (rounds or cubes), and add some sea salt to improve the texture. Some people like to firmly squeeze a few pieces at a time in their hands to draw out almost all the moisture.
- You can now bake, grill, roast, fry, etc. Avoid undercooking, which will leave behind a bland taste.
- Completely cooking it through results in a soft, smooth and creamy texture.
- If grilling, brush the slices with oil, and grill over a medium-hot fire until soft for about 15 minutes total.
- If baking, bake eggplant at about 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.
- You can sauté eggplant cubes in hot oil for about 10 minutes or quickly stir-fry for just several minutes.
Eggplant is a very diverse food, appearing commonly in cuisines of many countries, including Thailand, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, India and others. For example, popular eggplant recipes consumed around the world include ratatouille, curries, baba ganoush spread or dip, moussaka, vegetable stir-fries, grilled and BBQ dishes, and of course eggplant parmesan.
Ready to take advantage of all of these known eggplant nutrition benefits? Try making some of these simple recipes:
- Eggplant Wrapped Goat Cheese Recipe
- Gluten-Free Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
- Grilled Eggplant with Mozzarella Recipe
Other ideas include making:
- Spinach and eggplant lasagna
- Roasted eggplant topped with feta cheese
- Grilled eggplant on the BBQ
- Baked eggplant stuffed with brown rice and beans
- Eggplant rollatini
- Stuffed eggplant with grass-fed beef or lentils and quinoa
- Stir-fried Japanese eggplant and broccoli
- Eggplant casserole with mushrooms, onions and herbs
- Gluten-free eggplant flatbread pizza
Risks and Side Effects
What are the side effects of eggplant?
It is in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. Other nightshade vegetables include tomatoes, bell peppers and various types of potatoes.
Nightshade vegetables are known for causing digestive disturbances in some people.
Why is eggplant not good for you if you have a history of gout or kidney stones?
Nightshade vegetables are high in oxalic acid, which has been correlated with an increased risk for forming kidney stones and arthritis in some people. For this reason, if you struggle with these conditions it may be best to try eliminating eggplant and other nightshade vegetables.
Can you eat too much eggplant?
Some people report feeling better after removing nightshade vegetables from their diets, suffering from less digestive distress and other inflammatory symptoms, including arthritis. However, there is more scientific evidence needed to prove this correlation still.
What studies have shown is that eggplant does tend to be a common allergen for some people, and all types seem to have the same negative effects in those who react to negatively to this veggie/fruit due to allergies.
- Eggplant nutrition is unique because this veggie (which is technically a fruit) contains antioxidants, including nasunin, phenolic compounds and anthocyanin.
- It is low in calories but provides fiber, some B vitamins, manganese, vitamin K and folate (especially when you eat more than one cup’s worth).
- Health benefits include providing antioxidants, fighting inflammation, offering protection against cancer, lowering cholesterol, improving digestion and protecting skin health.
- While it can be consumed raw, cooking it improves its taste, texture and nutrient availability.
- There are many options regarding how to cook this popular food. It can be grilled, baked, roasted, stuffed, sautéed or stir-fried.