There are certain foods that on my shopping list regularly as daily or weekly additions to our diet and others that we might have a little less often.. One of these is aubergines which I love but only eat occasionally as I have a tendency towards gallstones. If you do not suffer from either gallstones or kidney stones then you can enjoy a couple of times a week at least.
We were all encouraged to eat our ‘greens’ when we were children, and we know that the brighter the food colour the more anti-oxidants they contain, but I cannot recollect being told to eat my ‘purples’. But it is this colour which gives this food its uniqueness.
When we are enjoying a moussaka or ratatouille made with this versatile food we don’t tend to dwell on its medicinal properties, but like the majority of fresh produce we eat, aubergines have some powerful health benefits.
The History of the aubergine.
The aubergine has its origins in ancient India and is mentioned by different names in Sanskrit, Bengali and Hindustani languages. It was grown in China as well but only came to Europe around 1,500 years ago. There is no Latin or Greek name for it but there are Arabic and North African names indicating that it came to this continent via that trade route.
Americans call it the eggplant, and in India it is known as Brinjal. In Spain, aubergines are called berengenas or ‘apples of love’ for supposed aphrodisiac properties. Something that I take on faith! In northern Europe they had a strange notion that eating the vegetable caused fevers and epileptic seizures and named it Mala Insana or ‘mad apple’. It is also known as melanzana, garden egg and patlican in other languages.
The aubergine belongs to the nightshade family that includes tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes. It grows from a vine and will vary in size and colour although the flesh of all the different types tends to be slightly bitter and spongy in texture.
When you are selecting the aubergine go for the smaller, smooth skinned vegetable. Gently push with your thumb and if the flesh gives slightly but springs back it is ripe. If the indentation remains it is overripe and will be soggy inside. If you knock on the fruit and it sounds hollow it will be too dry and inedible.
What are the medicinal properties of the aubergine.
As with all plants, the aubergine has a sophisticated defence system to ensure its survival. When we eat it, we inherit some of these properties and our bodies process and use specific nutrients to benefit our own health. The aubergine has an abundance of nutrients including antioxidants, phenolic compounds including chlorogenic acid and flavonoids such as nasunin.
Nasunin is a potent antioxidant in the skin of the aubergine and has been studied for its ability to prevent free radical damage to cell membranes. Lipids or fats are the main component of cell membranes and not only protect the cell from damage but also regulate the passage of nutrients and waste in and out of the cell. The research is focusing on brain cell health and eating aubergines regularly may help protect us from degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Nasunin may also help prevent oxidative damage to the LDL or the unhealthier cholesterol in our blood that leads to plaque in the bloodstream and blockages in the arteries.
Nasunin also assists with the regulation of iron in the body. Iron is an essential nutrient required for the transportation of oxygen in the blood and our immune function. However, too much iron can increase free radical damage and is linked to heart disease, cancer and degenerative joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Nasunin is an iron chelator, which means that it binds with the iron processed from the food we eat and transports it safely in the blood stream preventing excess iron from causing damage to cells.
What are the benefits of Chlorogenic Acid.
Chlorogenic acid is a phenolic compound and one of the most potent free radical scavengers in plant tissues. It is very abundant in aubergines and very effective against free radical damage to LDL cholesterol. Additionally it may help prevent certain cancers and viral infections. Like Brussel sprouts some varieties of aubergine can be very bitter and it is thought that this is due to very high levels of Chlorogenic acid, which is also responsible for the rapid browning of the flesh when it has been cut.
Other good reasons to include aubergines in your diet on a regular basis.
The aubergine is a good source of dietary fibre, which not only helps prevent constipation but also helps eliminate waste from the body and prevent the build-up of plaque in the bloodstream leading to arterial disease. Recent research is identifying some very interesting properties in certain fibres including the ability to absorb and eliminate harmful bacteria from the body without the need for antibiotics. Fibre in the diet has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and also regulate blood sugar levels
By eating aubergines regularly you will also be including healthy amounts of potassium, manganese, copper, vitamins B1, B3, B6, folate, Vitamin C, magnesium and tryptophan. It is what I call a well-rounded food.
Are there any drawbacks to eating aubergines?
The majority of us can enjoy aubergines on a regular basis in our diet and obtain its full health benefits, but as I mentioned earlier, a small proportion of people should avoid eating it.
The aubergine contains relatively high concentrations of oxalates, which are found in all plants and humans. If oxalates are too concentrated they crystallise and form stones in the kidneys and the gallbladder. If you already suffer from kidney or gallbladder problems then it would be best to avoid aubergines. This also applies to rheumatoid arthritis and gout sufferers, as this vegetable is part of the nightshade family and could increase the symptoms of these diseases. This applies to tomatoes as well. I have found that cooked tomatoes cause me less problems and they are too nutritionally rich to avoid completely. I suggest you try eating cooked tomatoes twice a week, three days apart and monitor your symptoms.
You will find many great recipes online for the preparation of aubergines and if you have one that you particular enjoy then please let us all know.
©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007
Next time Onions and Garlic
Author Mary Smith – http://www.marysmith.co.uk/ posted this in the comments but thought it should have a spot here with the aubergine info…..thanks Mary.
I love aubergines. Here’s one of my favourite ways of eating them. It’s a recipe from Afghanistan where they are called Banjan-sia.
4 Aubergines/Eggplants – the nice, long purple ones
Oil (I use sunflower)
Salt and black pepper
1 tsp paprika
4 tomatoes, sliced
1 onion finely chopped
8 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 cup thick yogurt
1 cup sour cream
Slice the eggplants lengthwise into thick slices. Fry in the oil until golden and still slightly firm in the middle. Drain on kitchen paper. Fry the onions with one of the minced cloves of garlic until soft then add the sliced tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are soft. Add a cup of water; bring to the boil then leave to simmer until the sauce thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put the eggplant into the sauce to warm through. Mix the yoghurt and sour cream together with the minced garlic, 1 tsp salt and dried mint. Put half the yoghurt sauce on a serving platter, top with the eggplant and tomato sauce the pour the rest of the yoghurt sauce on top. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve with fresh nan bread. Enjoy!