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Rambutan: Gut & Bone Supporter or Narcotic-Like Toxin?

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Rambutan - Dr. Axe

Much like other tropical fruits, such as the jackfruit, lychee and mangosteen, rambutan is a serious showstopper on the grocery store shelf. Striking the perfect balance between sweet and sour, it is a one-of-a-kind ingredient thanks to both its unique appearance and impressive nutrient profile.

Not only is it a great source of several important vitamins and minerals, but each serving packs in a powerful punch of disease-fighting antioxidants as well.

Unfortunately, most people have never tried rambutan, let alone even heard of it and the incredible health benefits it can provide. Here are some of the top benefits of this flavorful fruit, plus some simple ways to start adding it to your diet.

What Is Rambutan?

Rambutan, also known as mamon chino,  chôm chôm or its scientific name, Nephelium lappaceum, is a tropical fruit that belongs to the soapberry family of plants. It is closely related to other fruits, such as the lychee, mamoncillo and longan fruit. Native to Indonesia, the rambutan fruit has pale flesh, a light brown seed inside and reddish, spiny skin covering its exterior. In fact, the name “rambutan” is derived from the Malay word “rambut,” meaning “hair,” due to the hair-like protrusions that cover the fruit.

The rambutan is a good source of fiber, plus important micronutrients like manganese and vitamin C. It’s also been associated with a number of health benefits and used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat an array of different ailments.

Potential rambutan benefits include improved digestive health, stronger bones and better blood sugar control. It’s also been studied extensively for its antioxidant content and antimicrobial properties, which could help fight off bacterial infections to protect overall health.

Nutrition Facts

Rambutan is a good source of manganese and vitamin C. It also provides other micronutrients, such as niacin and copper.

One cup (about 150 grams) of canned rambutan fruit in syrup contains approximately:

  • 123 calories
  • 31.3 grams carbohydrates
  • 1 gram protein
  • 0.3 gram fat
  • 1.3 grams dietary fiber
  • 0.5 milligram manganese (26 percent DV)
  • 7.4 milligrams vitamin C (12 percent DV)
  • 2 milligrams niacin (10 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram copper (5 percent DV)

In addition to the nutrients listed above, this fruit also contains a small amount of calcium, iron, magnesium and folate.

Health Benefits

1. High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds that have a powerful impact on health. They help fight the formation of free radicals in the body, prevent oxidative stress and protect the cells against damage. Not only that, but some research also shows that antioxidants could play a role in disease prevention and may reduce the risk of chronic conditions like cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Rambutan is a great source of several disease-fighting antioxidants that can help support better health. In particular, this fruit contains a good mix of compounds with antioxidant properties, including vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenes, xanthophylls, tannins and phenols.

2. Stabilizes Blood Sugar

High blood sugar can cause a range of adverse side effects. These include increased urination, unintentional weight loss, nerve damage and vision loss. Including a good variety of high-fiber fruits and veggies in your diet, such as rambutans, is a great way to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Some research also shows that rambutans may contain several key compounds that can help you maintain normal blood sugar levels as well. In fact, one animal model published in the journal Nutrients found that rambutan peel extract was effective at decreasing blood sugar levels in mice. They also supplied antioxidants to help protect the tissues against damage.

Rambutan - Dr. Axe

3. Promotes Digestive Health

Each serving of rambutan contains a good amount of fiber, with 1.3 grams in a one-cup serving. That’s up to 5 percent of the daily recommended value for most women. Fiber moves through the gastrointestinal tract undigested. It helps add bulk to the stool to prevent constipation and improve digestive health along the way.

According to a review published by the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Kentucky, upping your intake of fiber from foods could aid in the treatment of many digestive conditions, including hemorrhoids, gastroesophageal reflux disease, intestinal ulcers and diverticulitis.

4. Supports Strong Bones

Rambutan is a great source of manganese, an important mineral that’s involved in many aspects of health. This includes bone formation. In fact, it’s estimated that about 43 percent of the body’s manganese is actually found in the bone.

Adding manganese-rich foods to your diet can help support healthy bone formation to reduce the risk of serious conditions, such as osteoporosis. Case in point: One animal model out of Sookmyung Women’s University’s Department of Food and Nutrition in Seoul, South Korea actually found that supplementing with manganese for 12 weeks led to significant increases in bone mineral density in rats.

5. Contains Antimicrobial Properties

In addition to its antioxidant content and rich nutrient profile, some studies also suggest that rambutan may possess powerful antimicrobial properties as well. These properties help fight off infections and optimize health.

A 2014 in vitro study evaluating the antimicrobial effects of rambutan peel extracts found that the fruit was effective at blocking the growth of several strains of bacteria, including Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. Similarly, another in vitro study published in the journal Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine demonstrated that the seeds of rambutan also possess potent antibacterial properties that can help ward off infection and disease.

Uses

Virtually every part of the rambutan fruit has been used in traditional medicine, thanks to its incredible medicinal properties. The fruit is often used to treat diarrhea and thought to act as an astringent. That means it helps shrink and constrict the tissues of the body to protect organs like the skin.

Meanwhile, the leaves of the rambutan plant are thought to decrease headaches, while the bark of the rambutan tree is used as a natural remedy for oral thrush.

Wondering how to eat rambutan and where to find it without jetting off to Southeast Asia? While it is totally possible to find rambutan in the United States, it may require you to look beyond your local grocery store. This exotic ingredient can often be found in Asian markets and specialty stores. It is widely available in either fresh or canned form.

The rambutan taste is typically described as both sweet and sour, much like a grape, although it can vary based on a number of different factors. It can be easily peeled by poking a slit in the skin, removing the oval-like fruit and carefully extracting the seed.

The fruit itself can be eaten raw or cooked. It also makes a great addition to smoothies, desserts, salads and even main courses for a punch of extra flavor. Keep in mind, however, that while the fruit can be enjoyed as is, it’s not recommended to eat rambutan seeds raw or boiled. They may have narcotic effects and contain saponins, compounds that can have toxic effects in humans.

Rambutan vs. Lychee vs. Dragon Fruit

Rambutan, lychee and dragon fruit are three of the most popular varieties of tropical fruit around the globe. Each is favored for its vibrant color, unique appearance and delicious flavor. However, there are several key differences that set these three exotic fruits apart.

Lychee is a type of fruit that, like rambutan, belongs to the soapberry family of plants. It has a rough pink exterior that covers the sweet flesh inside. Lychee also contains a single black seed in the middle. Much like rambutan, lychee is a great source of antioxidants and fiber. However, it’s significantly higher in several important micronutrients, including vitamin C, copper, potassium and vitamin B12.

Meanwhile, dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is actually a species of cactus native to Central and South America. It stands out for its distinct appearance. Dragon fruit has bright pink skin, white flesh and and black, crunchy seeds. Like the other two fruits, it’s also known for its nutritional value. It is a good source of fiber and vitamin C, as well as micronutrients like iron and B vitamins.

Recipes

There are plenty of different ways to start using rambutan in your kitchen, from main dishes to drinks and desserts. Need some inspiration? Here are a few simple and delicious recipes to get you started:

Interesting Facts

Although it’s believed that the rambutan fruit is native to the Malay archipelago, the exact origins are unknown. What is known is that the fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years. Around the 13th century, it was brought to Zanzibar and Mozambique by Arab traders. Years later in the 19th century, rambutan was introduced to Suriname in South America by the Dutch.

Today, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are considered the largest producers of rambutan. However, it’s also widely cultivated in other tropical regions, such as Africa, the Caribbean, Mexico, India, Costa Rica Panama, Ecuador and the Philippines.

Risks and Side Effects

When consumed in moderation, rambutan can be enjoyed as a nutritious part of a healthy, well-rounded diet. However, there are several things to consider before making it a regular part of your routine.

First of all, some people may be allergic to rambutan. This can cause food allergy symptoms like hives, itching, rashes or swelling. If you notice these or any other adverse side effects after eating rambutan, discontinue consumption immediately and talk to your doctor.

The fruit is also relatively high in calories, and canned varieties can be especially high in sugar. Keep intake in moderation, and pair with a good variety of other healthy fruits and veggies to prevent unintentional weight gain.

Additionally, keep in mind that it’s typically not recommended to consume the seeds raw or boiled. They have been shown to act as narcotics and may also contain saponins, which can be toxic to humans. Be sure to remove the seed by slicing along the flesh of the fruit and sliding it out before consuming.

Final Thoughts

  • Rambutan, also sometimes called mamon chino, is a tropical fruit that belongs to the soapberry family of plants. It is native to Indonesia.
  • In addition to its distinct taste, it also stands out for its unique appearance, including its spiny pink exterior that surrounds the pale white flesh inside.
  • It’s a great source of several nutrients, including manganese, vitamin C and fiber. It’s also high in antioxidants, including carotenes, xanthophylls, tannins and phenols.
  • Potential rambutan health benefits include improved blood sugar control, enhanced digestive health and stronger bones. It also contains antimicrobial properties that could help defend against several different strains of bacteria.
  • For best results, enjoy this tasty Asian fruit as is, or try it in smoothies, desserts, salads or main courses to help round out a healthy and balanced diet.
Josh Axe

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