Embracing the Eggplant

Eggplant slices on cutting board on wooden background
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Though it’s embarrassing to admit, eggplant has always been on my “do not eat” list. The spongy purple veggie just never appeared at the dinner table growing up.  Even after marrying into an Italian family that serves eggplant as the vegetable di giorno, I held my ground. Then, last Thanksgiving, I finally broke down. At the demand request of my mother-in-law, I took a timid bite of eggplant parmigiana.

Much to my surprise, I actually liked it!

Speaking of family, eggplant belongs to the nightshade family, which also includes the tomato and bell pepper. Here in New York, this heat-loving vegetable matures during the warm summer months, ready for harvest in early fall. This September, I had the opportunity to visit one of the dozens of farms that dot the eastern tip of Long Island and pick ripe eggplant straight from the vine! While a trip to the farm is a rare occasion, I do buy locally-grown produce whenever possible. By reducing the distance from farm to table, you maximize nutrient retention and even minimize your carbon footprint while doing so. Plus, it’s a real treat for your taste buds!

In addition to being rich in fiber, potassium and folate, eggplant is also chock-full of heart healthy and cancer-fighting compounds. A 2011 animal study found that eggplant reduced cardiac muscle cell death and improved left ventricular function. Chlorogenic acids, a family of phytonutrients present in eggplant, have been shown to have both anti-LDL and anti-cancer properties. Another compound, nasunin, is a potent antioxidant and the major component of the anthocyanin pigment responsible for the deep purple color of an eggplant’s peel. Nasunin decreases free radical formation via the removal of excess iron and may also play a role in inhibiting the blood vessel formation that’s necessary for tumor growth and metastasis.

Clearly, eggplant is a nutrient powerhouse that all of us should incorporate into our produce selections. I’m just sorry it took me so long! Try eggplant grilled or sprinkled with cheese and oven-baked. And next “pizza night,” I challenge you to make your own: use locally-grown vegetables for the freshest toppings and substitute pureed eggplant for flour to make a healthy, low-carb crust!

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Megan Madden
Megan Madden, MS, RD, CDN is the owner of The Healthy Diet, a private practice offering nutrition counseling services in New York City.