Whether you prefer round or finger-shaped, purple or white eggplant, this vegetable can be part of a nutritious diet as long as you prepare it in a healthful way -- and it even offers some health benefits.
Eggplant is low in calories, with just 35 calories in each cup of boiled eggplant. It is basically fat-free, unless you add fat during cooking, and each serving provides about 1 gram of protein and 9 grams of carbohydrates, including 2.5 grams of fiber, or 10 percent of the daily value. Fiber helps fill you up and may also help lower your risk of heart disease, constipation and other digestive issues.
A serving of eggplant won't provide you with high amounts of any essential vitamins or minerals, although it does provide 6 percent of the DV for manganese, 5 percent of the DV for thiamine and trace amounts of many other essential micronutrients. Manganese is important for proper blood clotting and blood sugar control, and thiamine is necessary for turning the food you eat into energy. Both of these nutrients are necessary for proper brain and nervous system function.
Eggplant does provide many beneficial phytochemicals, however. For example, it contains an antioxidant called nasunin, which helps give its skin a purple color. This antioxidant may help limit your risk of cancer by limiting the growth of tumors, according to an animal study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2005. For this reason it may be best to choose smaller, tender eggplants that you can eat without peeling first.
Potential Health Benefits
Compounds in eggplant may bind bile acids, thus helping to lower your cholesterol levels somewhat, according to a study published in Food Chemistry in 2007. Asparagus, beets and okra were even better for binding bile acids, however.
Antioxidants found in eggplant called polyphenols may help lower blood pressure levels and improve blood sugar levels by acting in ways similar to the blood-pressure medications called ACE inhibitors, according to a preliminary study published in Bioresource Technology in May 2008. Further studies are necessary to determine whether eggplant has this same effect in people.
Eggplant antioxidants may also help limit liver damage, with moderately sized purple and white-green varieties exhibiting more beneficial effects than long green, green-striped or small pale-green varieties due to their higher antioxidant content, according to a preliminary study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in October 2010.
Eggplants are classified as nightshades, along with tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. These vegetables all contain a substance called solanine, which can cause an inflammatory reaction in people who are sensitive to it. In most people, the small amount of solanine contained in these foods won't cause a problem. If you think you're sensitive to solanine, try avoiding these foods for a couple weeks to see if your symptoms improve. If not, then you're probably fine eating eggplant and other nightshade vegetables. Cooking can help destroy some of the solanine, so even sensitive individuals should be able to eat it in small amounts without problems.
Adding Eggplant to Your Diet
Although eggplant Parmesan is one of the more common restaurant dishes containing eggplant, this dish is high in both fat and calories if it is prepared in the typical manner - frying. For a healthier version, bake your eggplant Parmesan instead. You can grill eggplant slices, use cubed eggplant in stir-fries or add your favorite pizza toppings to eggplant slices for a healthier pizza alternative. They're also one of the typical ingredients in the vegetable stew called ratatouille. Whole eggplant can be pierced and then microwaved or baked.
If using oil to cook your eggplant, you may want to soak the eggplant slices in salt water then rinse them off and pat them dry. This helps remove some of the water they contain and limit the amount of oil they'll soak up during cooking.