You should learn to love your peach fuzz — and no, I’m not referring to the facial hair. Peaches are a valuable source of nutrition, and peach nutrition helps your body fight free radicals, prevent cancer and protect your heart from disease.
A native fruit to China, the peach has been around for millennia and is considered a succulent, tasty fruit for use in different kinds of dishes all over the world. But the benefits don’t just stop at taste. Peaches are high-antioxidant foods that have anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, which is why peach nutrition offers a slew of impressive health benefits.
What Are Peaches?
Peaches are part of the genus Prunus, which includes the cherry, apricot, almond and plum. It’s also part of the subgenus Amygdalus along with the almond, as they’re both distinguished by their corrugated seed shells. The peach is known officially as Prunus persica, earning its unique name from the journey it took from its location of origin, China, through Persia via the Silk Road to Europe.
There are three basic varieties of peaches: freestone (in which the peach pulp does not cling to the hull), clingstone (where the inner pulp holds tight to the hull) and the less well-known flat or “Saturn peach.” Also sometimes referred to as the doughnut peach, the Saturn peach is flatter and less fuzzy than standard peaches.
Both common peach types can be cultivated with a white or yellow peel, each of which has flecks or lines of red in the skin. The white varieties tend to have a sweeter, less acidic taste and are popular mostly in Asian countries. Europeans and Americans tend to prefer the yellow-skinned, more tart varieties.
A common question people have about peaches is, “Are peaches similar to nectarines?” The answer to that is yes. Actually, peaches and nectarines are identical fruits genetically, save one genetic allele that causes nectarines to have a smooth, fuzz-free peel. Nectarines are not, as some people believe, a cross between a peach and a plum.
1. Combats Free Radicals
One of the greatest qualities in peach nutrition is the high quantity of antioxidants found in these delicious fruits. Peaches display strong antioxidant properties that have long-term implications for fighting disease and ridding the body of free radicals. (1) When free radicals are able to bounce around in your various body systems, they can wreak all kinds of damage, known as oxidative stress, and contribute to disease and cell breakdown on many levels.
A diet heavy in antioxidants is your best, natural defense against the damage caused by free radicals. In fact, many fruit juices (including freshly squeezed peach juice) begin the process of relieving oxidative stress in just 30 minutes after you consume them. (2)
As with many types of food, the specific variety of peach determines the exact antioxidant load. In addition, the part of the peach you like to consume also impacts how much of the antioxidative benefit you get from eating peaches. Research indicates a higher level of antioxidants in the peel versus the pulp, for example. (3) You’ll also find better nutrient content in fresh peaches, as peach preserves and peach syrup contain very little of what makes peaches so beneficial. (4)
Caffeic acid is an antioxidant specifically found in high levels in peach nutrition. (5) It protects the body from the dangerous carcinogenic mold aflatoxin that’s often found in certain types of food like peanuts, corn and peanut butter. More than any other antioxidant tested, caffeic acid destroyed the production of aflatoxin, reducing it by 95 percent. (6) Considering the mountain of evidence linking aflatoxin with cancer, the presence of caffeic acid in peaches is an especially important reason to eat them regularly.
2. Fights and Prevents Cancer
Like so many whole, fresh foods, peaches have been strongly linked to the prevention and regression of various cancers, placing them among some of the best cancer-fighting foods around. According to a 2014 study by researchers at Texas A&M, polyphenols in peaches (and plums) successfully inhibited the growth and metastasis (spreading to other organs) of at least one strain of breast cancer cells. They recommend breast cancer patients eat two to three peaches a day to experience the same cancer-protective effects. (7)
Another study by the same university found that not only do these polyphenols slow breast cancer growth, but they also kill those same cancer cells without causing any healthy cells to die. (8)
Caffeic acid, the antioxidant found so richly in peaches, can inhibit a type of fibrocarcinoma, a tumor that grows in fibrous connective tissue. (9) Certain colon cancers are also stunted in their growth by the consumption of peaches and similar fruits.
And it’s not just the pulp and skin that are so beneficial in the peach’s fight against cancer. In traditional Asian medicine, the seed of the peach has been used for millennia in the treatment of many diseases. In 2003, scientists found that the compounds in peach seeds reduce the growth of papilloma (tumors) on the skin and slow their carcinogenesis, the process by which benign tumors develop into cancer. (10)
Your skin can also benefit from the flowers of the peach tree. Peach flower extract, through antioxidation, protects your skin from UV damage and the development of skin cancer. (11)
While I don’t recommend chemotherapy treatments for cancer until all natural options have been exhausted, peach nutrition also offers help alongside the use of the common chemotherapy drug cisplatin. One dangerous side effect of this type of chemo is hepatotoxicity, which refers to chemical-induced liver damage. When cisplatin is administered alongside peach skin, however, the degree to which the liver was damaged was drastically reduced in one 2008 study in Korea. (12)
3. Prevents Dangerous Heart-Related Conditions
As the staggering obesity rate in the West begins to rise, the rise of a condition known as metabolic syndrome also goes up. This cluster of conditions is dangerous and broadly affects age groups from teenagers to the elderly, greatly increasing the risk of heart disease if the syndrome is left unchecked.
However, peaches (along with plums and apricots) offer hope for the occurrence of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. These “stone fruits,” termed as such because of their large inner seed shells, have proved to have a unique combination of bioactive compounds that, together, create drastic improvement in individuals at risk for heart disease. While all of the antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and other vitamins and minerals in peaches may be found in other foods, researchers believe the fusion of the specific levels of these nutrients is what makes them so special.
Various facets of metabolic syndrome are treated by consuming stone fruits, including diabetes, cholesterol, inflammation and weight gain. (13) One study examined the effect of replacing sugary drinks with natural fruit juices high in polyphenols and found it had a significant impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors. (14)
One study of over 1,300 people in China tested the effect of higher bioflavonoid consumption from fruits, including peaches, and found that, especially in women, the subjects’ lipid profiles all showed improvement. (15) This means that the risk factors for heart disease that are tested from the blood, such as cholesterol levels, improved across the board.
4. Reduces Inflammation
Because inflammation is at the root of most diseases, it’s also helpful to know that peaches and other fruits like it help decrease inflammation levels in the body. Among its many anti-inflammatory abilities, peach nutrition stops the production of inflammatory cytokines and suppresses the release of histamines in the bloodstream that cause allergic reactions. (16)
Fresh pulp and peel from peaches have serious fighting power against inflammation that causes cell death in the body, making peaches excellent anti-inflammatory foods.
5. Treats Gut Disorders
Not only does the extract of peach flowers protect against certain cancers, but it’s also a reasonable treatment for certain gut disorders known as motility disorders. Motility is the contraction of the muscles that mix and expel materials within your gastrointestinal tract.
Motility disorders include things like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, diarrhea and many others. Peach flower extract is an effective prokinetic agent that increases the frequency and/or strength of contractions in the GI tract while maintaining their proper rhythm. (17)
6. Destroys Candida Fungus
As I mentioned above, what gives peaches their power isn’t only the presence of individual nutrients, but the bioactive compounds that result from the combination of the specific amounts of nutrients they provide.
This is also true in explaining the peach’s potency against candida symptoms, the most common yeast infection. Peach nutrition fights and eliminates the growth of candida fungus with its combination of polyphenols, bioflavonoids and condensed tannins. (18)
7. Supports Healthy Eyes
Because they contain the powerful antioxidants like lutein, peaches also help to protect your eyes and keep them healthy. The carotenoids build up in the macular tissue of your eyes and help prevent macular degeneration, an age-related cause of blindness and blurred vision caused by damage to macular cells. (19)
In addition to its many vitamins and minerals, low calorie content and, of course, delicious flavor, the peach also comes packed with great antioxidants, including all five classifications of carotenoids. As a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C, plus beneficial fiber, it’s no wonder peaches are such a wonder fruit when it comes to maintaining optimal health and fighting disease.
One medium-sized peach (about 2 ⅔ inches in diameter) contains about: (20)
- 59 calories
- 14 grams carbohydrates
- 1.4 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 2.3 grams fiber
- 10 milligrams vitamin C (16 percent DV)
- 489 IU vitamin A (9 percent DV)
- 285 milligrams potassium (8 percent DV)
- 14 milligrams magnesium (3 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram iron (2 percent DV)
Although its scientific name speaks of Persia, the peach most likely originated from China. Peach cultivation has been recorded in ancient Chinese records dating back as far as 1100 B.C., making way to the western parts of Europe by around 300 B.C., and were a popular Roman food in the first century A.D. The Americas were introduced to peaches around the 1500s when they were brought by Spanish settlers, and England and France finally began appreciating their delicious benefits by the mid-1600s.
In 2010, researchers from the U.S., Italy, Chile, Spain and France gathered at a consortium to present findings of the International Peach Genome Initiative, a study into the exact genome of the peach and the takeaways regarding different peach varieties and how they differ.
Peaches aren’t as widely produced as some similar fruits because they require a dry, temperate climate in which to grow. This makes them ill-suited for tropical climates except when grown in high altitudes. China is the largest producer of the peach, growing over half of the peaches throughout the world. It’s followed in production by Italy, Spain, the U.S. and Greece. In recent years, there has been at least one peach-growing season in the U.S. in which the sensitive fruit was completely wiped out by an unexpected cold snap in the late winter.
Far from being just a favorite fruit, peach trees, fruits and blossoms are regarded with high esteem in Chinese culture, both historically and today. The Chinese believe the different facets of the peach tree to be responsible for warding off evil spirits, protecting a person’s life and health, and bringing peace. Peach seeds have been used for many centuries as a part of Chinese medicine to treat various conditions, such as blood stasis, inflammation and allergies.
Peaches also have a special place in artwork, both in realism and symbolic pieces. Monet, Rubens and Van Gogh are among the many artists to depict various parts of the peach tree and fruit.
Although China is the overwhelming producer of peaches, making up over half of the world’s commercial peaches, the U.S. is no stranger to peach production — or appreciation. In the mid-’90s, Georgia was dubbed “The Peach State” and holds many peach-related celebrations, including the creation of the World’s Largest Peach Cobbler, which is made every year at the Georgia Peach Festival. However, the official record is held by the Hampton Inn of Ruston in Ruson, La. (21) Other states also honor the tradition of the yummy peach. Gaffney, S.C. proudly displays a uniquely designed water tower known as the Peachoid, visible from the nearby interstate.
How to Select Peaches
While it’s not uncommon to chill peaches, it’s important to know that you run the risk of losing some of the peach nutrition when doing so. While the carotenoid antioxidants remain stable, the vitamin C content drops when stored at low temperatures. (22) If you do choose to freeze your peaches, it’s a good idea to use a teaspoon of lemon juice on them to prevent browning while being stored.
A “climacteric” fruit, the peach continues to ripen after being picked. Many commercial growers pick peaches well before they’re ripe in order to ship them further before they ripen. When at all possible, you should purchase peaches from a local farmer’s market to ensure the freshest, most ethically grown product possible. If you buy unripe peaches, you can ripen them most safely by laying them out in one level on your kitchen counter for one to three days. And be careful — even slight pressure variations can bruise the peach skin.
At room temperature, peaches can be expected to last about a week after ripening. Depending on what type of dish you plan to make, you may want to use less ripe peaches. For example, unripe, crisp peaches toss well in salads, whereas overripe peaches are great for baked goods.
Canning peaches is another way people frequently enjoy peaches — however, again, this risks losing nutritive value. Canned peaches lose about 21 percent of their antioxidant load.
You might also want to try eating the seeds of your peaches every once in awhile. It’s true that these seeds contain trace amounts of the cyanide molecule, but it’s in very small concentrations, especially compared to other fruit seeds like apples. The seeds also contain an interesting nutrient known as laetrile, vitamin B17 and amygdalin. There is some evidence that laetrile may help fight or prevent certain cancers and boost immunity, although there are no recommended intake levels and it probably shouldn’t be consumed in consistently high amounts. Further research is needed on this, as the benefits are hotly debated.
The seed of a peach, shaped like an almond and found inside the peach hull, tastes similar to the almond with a slightly more bitter scent. Some research indicates that peach seeds in particular have fairly impressive health benefits, but again, further research is needed.
Start your day with a power-packed shake! I love this Peachy Super Kale Shake recipe that’s full of vitamin A, vitamin K and magnesium.
For a richly decadent salad, I also recommend Balsamic Peaches and Goat Cheese Salad. If you’re thinking about caramelized peaches with balsamic drizzle… your mouth might be watering a little right now, too.
And I would be remiss not to include a Peach Cobbler recipe. It’s one of the most popular ways to eat peaches, and for good reason. As a bonus, this peach cobbler won’t make you regret dessert.
Risks and Side Effects
While peach nutrition is an excellent addition to your diet, it’s possible to have an allergy to peaches and other similar fruits. (23) The usually mild reaction most people experience is known as oral allergy syndrome and is often treated by no longer eating the offending food and managing the allergy like a seasonal allergy, such as pollen.
As a fruit, peaches probably should be consumed earlier in the day rather than later because of the way the sugar content in them is processed. At least one study found a correlation between nighttime peach consumption and a higher BMI and bodyweight. (24)
I also mentioned before that there are trace amounts of cyanide in peach seeds. Mathematically, it would be impossible to consume enough peach seeds in a small enough period of time to actually hurt yourself — however, it’s always a good idea to do everything in moderation. If you choose to try eating peach seeds, do it responsibly and report any adverse reaction to your doctor immediately.
- Peaches are a delicious, readily available fruit that are full of valuable nutrients.
- The nutritional value of peaches is found in the highest concentration when peaches are purchased locally and eaten without chilling or freezing, taking advantage of both the peel and the pulp.
- The carotenoids and other antioxidants in peach nutrition fight diseases like cancer, macular degeneration and candida albicans.
- As a fruit, peaches are best eaten earlier in the day rather than in the evening.
- There are two common varieties of peaches, freestone and clingstone. Both contain the same nutritive value.
- Peach cobbler is a win-win for everyone, especially when it’s made with life-giving ingredients.