Eggplants originated in India and were first cultivated for food more than 7,000 years ago in China. They are part of the nightshade family of plants and contain the oxalates common to all nightshades. Growth is similar to most pepper varieties with individual eggplants forming on the ends of flowering sprigs over the whole plant. The skin is thin but tough and the flesh is spongy, soft and somewhat watery.
The skin of eggplants is an outstanding source of several powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. The darker the skin color, the more of these important compounds are present. The high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content also accounts for the bitter flavor of some eggplant varieties. Some like to peel eggplant before cooking and eating to reduce the bitterness but this practice removes most of the antioxidant compounds and a large portion of the fiber content.
The inner flesh is a good source of vitamins B1, B6, B3, K and folate. Eggplant is also a good source of the minerals copper, potassium and manganese. If eaten with the skin, this vegetable is an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Those suffering from arthritis or gout, or known to be sensitive to nightshade plants, should be very cautious about eating this vegetable. The oxalate compounds developed in nightshades can cause joint pain and inflammation in susceptible people who have trouble metabolizing them. These oxalates can interfere with the absorption of calcium, as well. Most of the population has no problem with this issue.
Eating eggplant regularly can have several important health benefits. It has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and on artery walls including the aorta. The antioxidants in eggplant can also bind with excess iron in the body and assist with its removal, lessening the formation of free radicals. One of the anthocyanin phytonutrients in eggplant is known to protect cell wall membranes, including the lipids in brain cell membranes. Chlorogenic acid, one of the phenolic compounds found in all eggplant varieties, exhibits anti-cancer, antimicrobial and antiviral activity. This is a very good package for a single vegetable.
There are many ways to prepare eggplant. They can be roasted whole in the oven, cut up and sauteed, steamed or sliced and layered into casserole dishes instead of lasagna noodles. It is eaten as a vegetable or pureed into a dip. Still most popular in India, China and Italy, eggplant makes a great addition to every healthy whole food diet.
Click here for a delicious, gluten-free eggplant parmesan recipe.