Eggplants, one of the few purple vegetables you’ll find in a mainstream market, aren’t very popular with consumers. In fact, they don’t even rank in the top 20 veggies sold in the U.S. But after reading about the nutritional benefits of eggplant, you may want to step up your intake. Here’s the lowdown on this somewhat mysterious plant, and easy ways to incorporate it into your everyday eating routine.

Eggplantnutrition facts

One cup of cubed eggplant provides just 20 calories, but offers up some important nutrients. Anthocyanins, the pigments that give eggplants their purple hue, have antioxidant properties linked to anti-inflammation and obesity protection. Another, called nasunin, is particularly good at fending off free radicals, and protecting cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease. This may be especially true in the brain, making eggplant an important food for protecting against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Eggplant’s chlorogenic acid supports immunity through its antimicrobial and antiviral activities. And a cup of eggplant also provides about 10% of the daily target for manganese, a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. The veggie supplies smaller amounts of folate and other B vitamins, potassium, and vitamins C and K.

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Eggplantbenefits

In addition to the antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber eggplants provide, they may offer protection against the top killer of men and women in the U.S.: heart disease. Eggplant anthocyanins have been shown to help reduce artery stiffness and central blood pressure in women. Central blood pressure, the pressure in the aorta, which sends blood from the heart out to the body, is a predictive measure of heart disease and stroke. Anthocyanins also help prevent the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a precursor to artery hardening, which can lead to either .

Carbs ineggplant

Eggplant is a non-starchy, or low-carb vegetable. A one cup portion, about the size of a baseball, contains just 5 grams of carb, and just 2.5 grams net carb. In addition to supporting digestive health and bowel regularity, eggplant fiber helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and supports weight loss by boosting fullness. It also makes a great filler when cutting back on other higher carb foods. For example, serving one cup of cubed eggplant with a half cup of cooked penne pasta instead of the reverse saves about 20 grams of carb per meal.

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The nightshade issue

Eggplants are a member of , which also includes tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, artichokes, and okra. Tom Brady famously avoids this group, due to compounds they contain called alkaloids, which are linked to inflammation. If you have an existing inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, avoiding nightshades may help to not exacerbate your symptoms. But there is no solid research to show that nightshades cause inflammatory conditions to develop.

It’s also important to know that steaming, boiling, and baking all help reduce the alkaloid content of nightshades by about 40% to 50%. In addition, you lose out on the anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other nutrients nightshades provide when you avoid the entire group. If you have chronic inflammation consider trying an experiment. Without making any other changes to your diet, cut out nightshades for two to four weeks and monitor your symptoms. If you do notice a difference, and symptoms return after adding them back to your diet, minimizing or avoiding them may be for you.

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Ways to enjoy eggplant

When cooking eggplant, try to include the skin, which is entirely edible, as often as possible, as it contains many of the beneficial nutrients. You can quickly cube and sauté eggplant on the stovetop with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper.

Eat as a side dish, add to salads, or toss with spaghetti squash paired with fresh basil. Cut eggplant into thick rounds and cook on the grill, alongside other veggies, like bell peppers and onion. Roast eggplant in the oven on a baking sheet, brushed or drizzled with a little avocado oil.

When sliced in half lengthwise eggplant can be scooped out, combined with additional ingredients, like beans and herbs, and stuffed. When baked in thinner rounds eggplant slices can be used in place of noodles to make veggie lasagna. Leftover roasted eggplant can be chopped and pureed (skin and all) intro a dip made with EVOO, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, cumin, and tahini.

Eggplant also makes a great addition to stirfrys. And if you're an adventurous eater, try incorporating eggplant into desserts, like eggplant cake or eggplant “bread” pudding– minus the bread. Get creative!

, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.

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