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"Eat a Peach" and reap the health benefits

"Eat a Peach" and reap the health benefits

As fans of the legendary Southern rock band The Allman Brothers are aware, “Eat a Peach” was the title of a double album released by the group in 1972.  But, the phrase is more than a popular album title.  This suggestion also happens to be sound nutritional advice.

In addition to being delicious, peaches support overall health and well-being with their high content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  So let’s investigate the qualities that make these succulent fruits such a wise dietary choice.

Plant pigments in peaches function as “sunscreen for the eyes”

Botanically known as Prunus persica, peaches are classified as drupes or stone fruits - meaning their flesh surrounds a central pit.  Close cousins to apricots, peaches contain many of the same health-promoting micronutrients, including a pair of plant pigments (carotenoids) known as lutein and zeaxanthin.  These compounds protect the macula - the light-sensing layer of cells at the back of the retina - from damage from ultraviolet and “blue” light rays. 

So successful are lutein and zeaxanthin at protecting the eyes that they are included in the official AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Studies) formulation to preserve vision against age-related eye disorders.  (In fact, some researchers are so sold on the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin that they refer to them as “sunscreen for the eyes.”) Incidentally, peaches also contain beta-carotene - the same vision-promoting pigment found in carrots.  If you’re looking to preserve precious eyesight, it certainly can’t hurt to snack on peaches!

Peaches promote efficient digestion and healthy weight

With two grams of dietary fiber and a modest 58 calories per peach, these tasty fruits can be natural allies when it comes to promoting a healthy weight.  Their fiber - which helps provide a feeling of fullness that may discourage overeating - is evenly split between the insoluble and soluble varieties.  Insoluble fiber keeps food moving efficiently through the digestive tract, thereby speeding the elimination of waste from the body and warding off constipation.

As for soluble fiber, experts say it provides fuel for “friendly” bacteria in the gut.  It also leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids that have an anti-inflammatory effect - and may help improve symptoms of occasional diarrhea.  (Either way, the fiber in peaches is a “win/win” for digestive tract health!)

Support heart and arterial health with luscious peaches

Antioxidant compounds in peaches (including beta-cryptoxanthin, quercetin, and chlorogenic acid) help neutralize free radicals that could otherwise cause oxidative damage to the heart and other tissues and organs.  In addition, scientists say that peaches can bind to bile acids, meaning that they may help maintain desirable cholesterol levels.  Peaches are also a good source of potassium, which can encourage healthy blood pressure. 

In addition, they contain vitamin K, which helps keep arteries clear of harmful plaque deposits.  Finally, a single peach contains close to one-fifth of the reference daily intake for vitamin C for adults, which the Institutes of Medicine has currently set at 90 mg a day.  This antioxidant nutrient is essential to collagen production, which is needed for supple, flexible arteries.  So eating peaches can help you reach your daily quota of vitamin C.

Use peaches in salads, yogurt, and smoothies

Stir sliced peaches into yogurt or oatmeal, topped with granola and chopped almonds for extra crunch and nutrition.  You can also add peaches to salads, create a sweet and spicy peach salsa, or combine them with strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, and pears for a sensational fresh fruit salad.  Or feature them in compotes, jellies, jams, cobblers, and pies.  And with their sunshiny color and sweet, rich flavor, peaches make a heavenly addition to your favorite smoothie.

Look for peaches with fuzzy, intact skin and a robust and pleasing fragrance.  The fruits should feel firm but “give” slightly when pressed.  If you end up with peaches that are a little underripe, placing them on a countertop at room temperature for several days should do the trick.

If fresh peaches are unavailable, frozen or canned peaches are acceptable alternatives.  In a recent study, researchers found that fresh peaches, processed peach juice, and commercial peach jam (made from the same harvest of peaches) all had similar carotenoid profiles - meaning that their antioxidant compounds seemed to be unaffected by processing.  When buying canned peaches, opt for unpeeled fruits packed in water rather than sugar-laden syrup.

­­­Incidentally, scientists say that peaches may help prevent the release of histamine, helping to regulate the body’s immune response to allergens and easing allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and coughing.  So if you have annoying signs of seasonal allergies, nibbling on peaches might be worth a try!

Bursting with carotenoids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, peaches make a stellar addition to your healthy diet.

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