What are aubergines?
Along with tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, the aubergine (Solanum melongena) belongs to the nightshade plant family (Solanaceae). In fact, aubergines grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height. They have a deep purple, glossy skin encasing cream-coloured, sponge-like flesh dotted with small, edible seeds.
In addition to the classic purple variety, aubergines are available in other colours, including lavender, jade green, orange and yellow, and are also available in a range of shapes and sizes. The most popular variety of aubergine looks like a large, pear-shaped egg, hence the American name ‘eggplant.’
An 80g serving of aubergine provides:
- 0.7g protein
- 0.3g fat
- 1.8g carbohydrate
- 2.1g fibre
- 168mg Potassium
An 80g serving of aubergine counts towards your five-a-day. Discover more with our handy five-a-day infographic.
Top 5 health benefits
1. Source of antioxidants
Aubergines are a source of protective compounds with antioxidant properties, one being nasunin, which is responsible for the fruit’s deep purple colour skin. This plant compound has been found to protect the fats that make up brain cell membranes. It’s the membranes of these cells that allow nutrients in and waste out, and receive instructions from messenger molecules, which instruct the cell what to do.
2. May help manage blood sugar control
Aubergines are a useful source of fibre and low in fat and sugar, making them a valid inclusion for those managing type-2 diabetes. In fact, test tube studies suggest that extracts of eggplant may help control glucose absorption, making them potentially helpful for managing type-2 diabetes and reducing the associated high blood pressure.
3. May help manage cholesterol levels
Some animal studies suggest including aubergine in your diet may help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the type often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. These effects are likely to be due to the fibre as well as the antioxidant content of aubergine, including nasunin. However, human trials are needed to clarify what is known in this area and to confirm its relevance in a human diet.
4. May help manage weight
Being a good source of fibre and a low-calorie choice, aubergine is an ideal ingredient to use in a weight management programme. It can be successfully used to replace more calorie-dense options in a range of different recipes.
5. May support heart health
The beneficial compound nasunin helps dilate blood vessels by activating a compound called nitric oxide, and in turn, another compound in the skin of the aubergine, chlorogenic acid, enhances this action to further help lower blood pressure. In addition to this, compounds in the pulp of a variety of different aubergines, including white aubergine, act as ACE inhibitors. This means they inhibit the action of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), a key enzyme in the management of blood pressure.
Are aubergines safe for everyone?
Aubergines are a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Some people choose to avoid this family of vegetables because anecdotal reports suggest there may be a link between aggravated arthritic symptoms and their consumption. However, to date there have been no case-controlled studies to confirm these reports.
Aubergines contain oxalates, although in comparison with other fruits and vegetables they are not significant contributors. However, some individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones may choose to avoid over-consuming them or as a minimum, choosing cooking methods that help reduce levels, such as boiling.
In rare cases an allergy may occur, but most reactions are mild. However, a small number of cases have included anaphylaxis.
A welcome alternative to help you reach your five-a day:
Moroccan aubergine & chickpea salad
Aubergine & goat’s cheese salad with mint-chilli dressing
This article was last reviewed on 6 October 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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