Aubergines are one of our favorite vegetables in the nightshade family. Aubergine is a fruit used as a vegetable when cooked. Eggplant (Solanum melongena) or aubergine is a species of nightshade grown for its edible fruit. Eggplant is the common name in North American and Australian English but British English uses aubergine. It is known in South Asia, Southeast Asia and South Africa as brinjal. I love aubergines cooked in any way, in particular roasted, stuffed with fish meat and other meat, stewed, braised and even steamed and seasoned with soy sauce and fried garlic.
I read a very interesting article from The Telegraph UK today on aubergines. It says that the superfood avocado has now been replaced by the unsung hero: the humble aubergine.
Indeed, aubergines are so in vogue right now, vegans are using them to make (pardon the ghastly portmanteau) “fakon”, or fake bacon. See various health freaks on Instagram for artfully-filtered photographic evidence. Some popular cafes that I go to use tastefully grilled aubergines as meat replacement for their gourmet vegan burgers.
But how healthy are they? Purple fruit and veg in general are beneficial- think beetroot, blueberries, plums, red cabbage – because the anthocyanin which provides their colour is a powerful antioxidant. Aubergine skin is also high in phytonutrients and chlorogenic acid. As neuroscientist Dr James Joseph famously said: “If I could eat only one colour per day, it would be purple.”
Aubergines also form part of a Mediterranean diet, which recent research suggests could be better for the heart than taking statins. Redolent of sultry summer holidays, they can be stirred in ratatouille, mashed in baba ghanoush, layered in moussaka or baked in Tony Soprano’s favourite: parmigiana di melanzane, aka “parmi”.
Aubergines are an excellent source of dietary fibre. They are also a good source of vitamins B1 and B6 and potassium. In addition it is high in the minerals copper, magnesium and manganese.
Aubergines are rich in antioxidants, specifically nasunin found in aubergine skin – which gives it its purple colour. A potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Cell membranes are almost entirely composed of lipids and are responsible for protecting the cell and helping it to function. The lipid layer is crucial for letting nutrients in, wastes out and receiving instructions from messenger molecules that tell the cell what to do.
Aubergines are high in fibre and low in fat and therefore recommended for those managing type 2 diabetes or managing weight concerns. Initial studies indicate that phenolic-enriched extracts of eggplant may help in controlling glucose absorption, beneficial for managing type 2 diabetes and reducing associated high blood pressure (hypertension).
Aubergines may also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. These positive effects are likely to be down to nasunin and other phytochemicals in aubergines.
Aubergines are a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Research suggests a link between aggravated arthritic symptoms and the consumption of these types of foods. Although no case-controlled studies confirm these findings, some individuals consuming nightshade-family vegetables experience an aggravation of arthritic symptoms and may benefit from limiting or avoiding these foods.
Aubergines contain significant amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid overconsuming them.