Lychees, also spelled litchis, are a delicious, refreshing fruit that have been enjoyed in China and other parts of Asia for centuries. Often referred to as a “superfruit”, lychees have an impressive nutritional profile and offer a variety of health benefits.
An Overview of Lychees
Lychees are small, round or oval fruits with a rough texture. Beneath the pinkish-red, leathery skin lies sweet, translucent white flesh and a large seed. They have a perfumy fragrance and sweet, delicious flavor.
While fresh lychees are a seasonal summer treat, they can often be found canned, dried and frozen year-round in many grocery stores. Lychee flavored drinks, desserts and teas are also popular.
So what exactly makes lychees worthy of superfruit status? Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits you can expect to gain from adding this fruit to your diet.
One of the reasons lychees make such a healthy addition to your diet is their stellar nutrient profile.
Some of the top nutrients found in lychees include:
- Vitamin C – Lychees are packed with immune-boosting vitamin C. Just a 1/2 cup provides 40% of your recommended daily value.
- Fibre – Each 1/2 cup of lychees contains 2 grams of dietary fibre to support healthy digestion.
- Copper – Lychees are a good source of copper, with one serving providing 18% of the RDI for this essential mineral.
- Folate – Important for cell growth and development, 1/2 cup of lychees delivers 7% of the recommended intake for folate.
- Potassium – With 10% of the RDI in a 1/2 cup serving, lychees are a tasty way to increase your potassium intake.
- Antioxidants – Lychees contain a variety of protective plant compounds and antioxidants, including gallic acid, epicatechin and oligonol.
Let’s explore some of the top ways that these nutrients and antioxidants can benefit your health.
1. Support Heart Health
From vitamins and minerals to fibre and antioxidants, lychees are packed with nutrients that play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart.
The potassium found in abundant amounts in lychees helps control blood pressure levels. Lychees also contain copper, an essential mineral necessary for maintaining healthy blood vessels and forming red blood cells.
Additionally, research suggests that antioxidants like oligonol found in lychee fruit may help protect against cardiovascular disease by preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging blood vessel walls.
The combination of nutrients makes lychees an effective addition to any heart-healthy diet.
2. Help Control Blood Sugar Levels
Uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions globally. Foods that help stabilize blood sugar levels are extremely beneficial for controlling this disease.
Interestingly, emerging research is discovering that lychees have antidiabetic properties and may help improve insulin sensitivity.
In one study, subjects fed lychee fruit pulp experienced an almost 35% decrease in blood sugar levels compared to controls. Researchers believe this glycemic control may be attributed to the oligonol antioxidants found in lychee pulp.
Additional human and animal research demonstrates that polyphenolic compounds extracted from lychee fruit may help regulate the expression of genes involved in insulin resistance and glucose metabolism.
The results suggest that incorporating lychees into your diet may be an easy and delicious way to help manage healthy blood sugar levels.
3. Boost Immunity
Because of their substantial vitamin C content, lychees are able to give your immune system a big boost.
Vitamin C is well documented for it’s ability to support immune function. It increases the production of white blood cells, which are the body’s main line of defense against pathogens.
Research shows that those with low intakes of vitamin C are at a higher risk for respiratory infections like the common cold and flu.
Just a half cup of lychees provides 40% of the recommended daily intake for this protective vitamin. Lychees also contain zinc and folate, two additional nutrients that offer immune enhancing benefits.
4. Improve Digestion
The fibre and water content in lychee fruit may bring benefits for your digestive system.
Fibre adds bulk to stool and helps food pass more quickly through the digestive tract. This can help relieve constipation while also reducing bloating, cramping and other unwanted GI issues.
Research also shows that the nutrients in lychee pulp act as probiotics by encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome. This boost in beneficial bacteria improves digestion and enhances immune function.
So if you are looking to keep your digestive system regular, eating lychees is an easy way to support a healthy gut.
5. Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Exciting emerging research suggests that compounds found in lychee fruit may help fight cancer.
Studies demonstrate that extracts from lychee fruit exhibit selective toxicity towards several types of human cancer cells while having no effect on healthy cells.
Researchers have also found that oligonol derived from lychee pulp causes cancer cell death and slows the growth of tumors in animal testing.
While more research is still needed, scientists believe that the unique antioxidants found in lychee fruit interfere with pathways that lead to cancer, stopping it in it’s tracks.
Incorporating lychees along with other antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables into your diet can help lower your risk for this serious disease.
6. Support Brain Function
The nutrients in lychee fruit, particularly vitamin C, copper and antioxidants, make them an effective brain food.
Vitamin C is needed to make neurotransmitters including serotonin, an important chemical that influences mood. Many find that consuming vitamin C boosts their mental alertness and focus.
Copper also benefits brain function by supporting nerve signalling pathways. Lychees are one of the best food sources of copper.
Additionally, research demonstrates that oligonol derived from lychees can help prevent neural damage from environmental toxins by suppressing inflammation and preventing the formation of plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
So when you need a mental boost, snacking on some lychees may be just what the doctor ordered!
7. Promote Weight Loss
If you are looking to shed a few pounds, incorporating lychees into your diet may help. That’s because these tasty fruits are nutrient-dense, high in fibre, full of water and low in calories.
Half a cup of raw lychees contains just 66 calories. Plus they provide 2 grams of fibre, which helps promote feelings of fullness and satiety.
Their high water content also allows them to fill you up quickly without adding extra calories. Water and fibre are nutrient powerhouses when it comes to weight loss.
While the research is limited, some small studies also suggest that polyphenols derived from lychee may help combat obesity by interacting with receptors in fat cells that regulate fat metabolism.
So don’t be afraid to enjoy a healthy portion of this sweet summertime treat, even when watching your waistline.
8. Improve Skin Health
The antioxidant vitamins and protective compounds found in lychee make them an excellent food for enhancing the look and feel of your skin.
Vitamin C is essential for building collagen, the most abundant protein in your skin. Collagen provides structural support and elasticity, keeping skin looking supple and youthful.
Research shows that enjoying vitamin-C rich foods like lychees can improve the texture, hydration and look of your skin. Lychees also contain antioxidants which help protect against UV damage from the sun’s harmful rays.
Some even drink lychee juice or use beauty products containing lychee extract to reap the skin enhancing benefits of this superfruit.
So next time your complexion needs a boost, lychees can come to the skin’s rescue!
9. May Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is at the root of modern conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disorders. Finding ways to reduce inflammation is key to staying healthy.
Once again, we can look to the antioxidants in lychee fruit for help. The oligonol derived from lychees demonstrates anti-inflammatory activities by suppressing the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Research also shows that polyphenolic compounds found specifically in the seeds of lychee fruit exhibit natural anti-inflammatory abilities by inhibiting the production of nitric oxide. This can help tackle unwanted inflammation.
By including inflammation-busting lychees as part of your regular diet, you may be able to lower your risk for any number of inflammation-related health conditions.
10. Easy to Add to Your Diet
One of the best things about lychees is that they are very easy to enjoy. With their sweet candy-like flavor, you can simply peel and eat them on their own just like you would grapes or cherries.
Remove the outer shell to uncover the smooth, mouthwatering flesh inside surrounding a large central seed. Pop the seed out and enjoy the decadent fruit.
You can also dice lychees to add to fruit salads and yogurt parfaits. They make a refreshing addition to smoothies and summer drinks as well.
Get creative by using lychees to top waffles, pancakes, ice cream or your favorite desserts. Canned lychees work perfectly fine if fresh are not available.
So don’t be afraid to incorporate this tasty superfruit into your meals and snacks. Your body will thank you!
Are Lychees Safe For Me to Eat?
Lychees are safe for most people to consume and enjoy. However, they do contain moderate amounts of sugar, so diabetics should be mindful of portion sizes.
Some people may experience mild allergic reactions to lychees, including mouth tingling or irritation, hives, headaches and swollen lips or face. Discontinue eating them if any uncomfortable symptoms occur.
On rare occasions, consuming lychees may cause a foodborne illness called hypoglycemic encephalopathy in both children and adults. This now uncommon syndrome is linked to eating lychees on an empty stomach and appears to be more prevalent in parts of Asia.
To stay safe, lychees should always be eaten as part of a meal containing other foods. This minimizes the likelihood of blood sugar irregularities.
As with any fruit, it’s best to enjoy lychees in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet. For most people, the impressive health benefits far outweigh any risks when consuming lychee fruit.
Yes, lychees do contain a moderate amount of natural sugars. A 1/2 cup serving has about 15 grams of sugar. This is less than many other fruits. But diabetics still need to be mindful of portions when consuming lychees.
No, only the interior flesh of the lychee should be eaten. The outer shell/skin can be difficult to digest and may cause gastrointestinal upset in some people. Peel off the bumpy red skin to access the sweet white flesh inside.
Lychees have a perfumy smell and a sweet, delicious taste often described as a cross between grapes and strawberries. The texture is juicy and smooth, similar to that of grapes or cherries.
Yes, canned lychees can still provide beneficial nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants. Canned varieties may be less fresh and have added syrups, so check the label. But they make a decent substitute when fresh lychees are out of season.
It is possible. Some of the symptoms of lychee allergy include itching or swelling of the throat/lips/mouth, hives, headache and gastrointestinal discomfort. Discontinue eating them if you suspect an allergy.
Yes, lychee fruit is safe for most children to consume and offers beneficial nutrition. To prevent the very rare risk of hypoglycemic encephalopathy, children should not eat lychees on an empty stomach.
In many parts of the world, lychees are referred to as “the gift for a joyful life”. After taking a closer look at the remarkable nutrients and health benefits lychee fruit has to offer, it’s easy to see why they may boost longevity.
With their stellar nutrition profile, vibrant taste and refreshing texture, adding lychees to your diet is an effortless way to support overall good health. Just be sure to enjoy them as a snack or part of a larger meal, rather than on an empty stomach.
So next time you see these spiky little fruits at the market, pick some up so you can treat your body and delight your taste buds at the same time! From cardiovascular protection to anti-cancer abilities, stronger immunity to healthier skin, lychees are certainly one of nature’s superfruits.