By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Full of nutrients and antioxidants plus versatile and delicious, the nectarine comes with a long list of health benefits and can make a tasty addition to everything from pizzas to pies.
Hailing from the Rosaceae family of plants, nectarines are related to raspberries, pears, apricots and plums. They are also nearly genetically identical to peaches, set apart by just one different allele.
There are many different nectarine types that can range in color from white to vibrant yellows and reds, though they all boast similar health benefits.
From supporting better gut health to boosting immunity, nectarines can be a nutritious and delicious part of the diet.
- High in antioxidants
- Promotes better digestion
- Aids in weight loss
- Enhances eye health
- May help kill certain cancer cells
- Strengthens immune system
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Improves heart health
1. High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that can help reduce the risk of chronic disease by neutralizing harmful free radicals. These are molecules that accumulate as a result of things like a poor diet, stress or pollution and can cause damage to your cells.
Nectarines are packed with beneficial plant compounds that act as antioxidants in the body, thanks in part to their high vitamin C content. (4) Including a few servings of nectarines in your diet each week can help provide you with plenty of antioxidants to improve your health and fight against these dangerous free radicals.
In addition to nectarines, other high-antioxidant foods include berries, leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, and herbs like cinnamon and turmeric.
2. Promotes Better Digestion
Nectarines provide a good chunk of fiber, a nutrient that is incredibly important when it comes to digestive health. Dietary fiber moves through your gastrointestinal tract undigested, supporting regularity by adding bulk to the stool and helping to get things moving.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams for men. Eating just one nectarine per day can knock out up to 8 percent of your daily fiber needs. (7)
Other high-fiber foods that can help you optimize your digestive health include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
3. Aids in Weight Loss
Nectarines are low in calories but high in fiber, making them an excellent addition to the diet if you’re looking to lose weight fast.
Fiber travels slowly through the digestive tract, helping you stay fuller for longer to decrease appetite, curb cravings and promote weight loss. (8)
Research suggests that increasing your intake of fruits like nectarines could help you lose weight. In fact, several studies have found that fruit consumption is linked to a lower body weight and greater weight loss. (9, 10, 11)
Swapping out high-calorie snacks and sweets for nectarines can help slash the number of calories you consume and keep your waistline under control.
4. Enhances Eye Health
Nectarines are high in vitamin A, an important nutrient when it comes to vision and eye health. In fact, a deficiency in vitamin A can result in symptoms like night blindness, dry eyes and decreased vision.
Increasing evidence from researchers such as those at the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Canada shows that these important carotenoids could even protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. (13)
Just one nectarine a day can fulfill about 9 percent of your daily vitamin A requirements. Make sure to also include plenty of other good sources of vitamin A in your diet, including leafy green vegetables, carrots, milk, eggs and liver.
5. May Help Kill Cancer Cells
Nectarines contain powerful compounds that have been shown to help block cancer cell growth in some test-tube studies. A study in the journal Food Chemistry noted that the polyphenols in nectarines and peaches helped kill off and stop the growth of breast cancer cells without negatively affecting healthy cells. (14)
A study out of Texas A&M University published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry also showed that the polyphenols found in peaches and nectarines reduced the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. The researchers recommended eating two to three peaches or nectarines each day to see the same beneficial effects. (15)
Another study that was part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study with over 472,000 participants showed that eating nectarines was associated with a lower risk of lung cancer in men. (16)
Of course, more research is needed to confirm these possible cancer-busting benefits, but it’s clear that eating antioxidant-rich foods like nectarines has the potential to make a major impact on your health.
6. Strengthens the Immune System
Nectarines contain several health-promoting compounds that could help give your immune system a boost and ward off infections. For example, a massive review comprising 30 studies showed that vitamin C helped reduce the severity and duration of colds. (17)
Nectarines also contain fiber, which can act as a prebiotic to provide food for the beneficial gut bacteria. Fostering a healthy gut flora has been shown to enhance immune health and may even help prevent disease. (18) Additionally, nectarines are high in antioxidants that may also protect immune cells from damage and keep your immune system working effectively. (19)
In addition to eating nectarines, make sure to fill your diet with other immune-boosting foods, such as fruits, vegetables and fermented foods, to help boost gut health even more.
7. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
The fiber found in nectarines can help regulate blood sugar levels to prevent spikes and crashes. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and keeps blood sugar levels from shooting up after eating. (20)
Studies have found that increased intake of whole fruits may be linked to a lower risk of diabetes, likely thanks to the beneficial fiber they contain. (21, 22) One study even found that daily fruit consumption was associated with a 12 percent lower risk of developing diabetes. (23)
If you have diabetes, however, it’s still important to keep your fruit intake in check. Although nectarines do contain added fiber that can help slow sugar absorption, they can still increase your blood sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation as part of an otherwise healthy, carbohydrate-controlled or low-carb diet.
8. Improves Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death and accounts for a whopping one-third of all deaths. In most cases, though, it can easily be prevented by making simple modifications to your diet and lifestyle.
Including nutrient-rich foods like nectarines is one way to help enhance the health of your heart. Nectarines contain several nutrients that may reduce certain risk factors of heart disease. They contain soluble fiber, for instance, which has been shown to help decrease levels of total and bad LDL cholesterol. (24)
They are also high in polyphenols that could aid in heart disease prevention. In fact, one study from China found that a higher intake of polyphenols from foods like nectarines and peaches was associated with lower levels of triglycerides and increased levels of good HDL cholesterol. (25)
Follow a healthy diet, get in plenty of physical activity, and limit alcohol and tobacco use to enhance your heart health even more.
Nectarines are low in calories but can provide a burst of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A along with several other important micronutrients.
One medium nectarine contains approximately: (27)
- 62.5 calories
- 15 grams carbohydrates
- 1.5 grams protein
- 0.5 gram fat
- 2.4 grams fiber
- 7.7 miligrams vitamin C (13 percent DV)
- 471 IU vitamin A (9 percent DV)
- 285 miligrams potassium (8 percent DV)
- 1.6 miligrams niacin (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 miligram copper (6 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients above, nectarines also contain some manganese, phosphorus, vitamin K and vitamin E.
Nectarine vs. Peach vs. Apricot
Nectarines are often confused with many other types of fruit, including peaches and apricots. It’s true that the minute differences between them can get a little fuzzy — pun intended.
Though peaches and nectarines are sold as different fruits commercially, they are actually from the same species of fruit. Because of this, there are minimal differences in taste, appearance and nutrition between the nectarine and the peach.
In fact, the only major difference between the two is the thin layer of fuzz that covers the surface of peaches and is absent from nectarines. Fuzziness is considered a dominant trait in peaches, so some peaches grow with it while others may be fuzz-free. There are also sometimes instances where a fuzzless peach (or nectarine) may pop up on a peach tree or a fuzzy peach may show up on a nectarine tree.
However, because they are virtually the same fruit in terms of taste and texture, if you have a recipe that calls for peaches, you can easily swap in nectarines instead (and vice versa).
Apricots, on the other hand, belong to the same family as nectarines and peaches but have some more noticeable differences. They are smaller than nectarines, contain the same fuzz as peaches and have a more distinct tart flavor that is ideal for baked dishes.
How to Find/Use Nectarines
Nectarines are widely available at most grocery stores. Be sure to look for one that is brightly colored and firm with unblemished and smooth skin.
You should also opt for organic, locally sourced nectarines when possible. This is because nectarines are considered one of the “dirty dozen” foods that are most likely to harbor harmful pesticide residues. Buying organic ensures that you aren’t consuming these potentially toxic chemicals.
While nectarines make a satisfying snack all on their own, you can also add them to a variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. Grill them up and throw them on pizzas, sandwiches and salads, or mix them into your next batch of frozen yogurt or cobbler. Alternatively, try out some of the nectarine recipes coming up to get a few servings of this healthy fruit into your day.
Ready to take advantage of all of these impressive nectarine health benefits? Here are a few nectarine recipes that can help you add this delicious fruit to your diet:
- Nectarine Salsa
- Stone Fruit Salad with Pecans & Blue Cheese
- Nectarine & Avocado Toasties with Almonds, Feta and Chili Flakes
- Roasted Pepper, Nectarine and Ricotta Grilled Pizza
- Nectarine Rose Tart
It’s a common myth that nectarines are some sort of cross between a plum and a peach. While it’s easy to see how one might think this given the similarities between the peach and nectarine vs plum, this is not true.
Nectarines, like peaches, are believed to originate in ancient China where they have been grown for thousands of years. They have been cultivated throughout history and were even enjoyed in ancient Persia, Greece and Rome.
When Spanish explorers came to America, they brought this tasty fruit with them, where it gained rapid popularity.
Today, it’s estimated that about 95 percent of nectarines in the United States are grown in California, though China and Spain account for the vast majority of global nectarine production.
Although generally considered a safe and healthy part of the diet, some people may be allergic to nectarines. If you think you may have a nectarine allergy or experience any adverse side effects after eating nectarines, you should talk to your doctor.
Nectarines are also high in fructans, a type of sugar that is easily fermented by the bacteria in your gut and may trigger symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome. For this reason, nectarines are often restricted in a low FODMAPs diet. If you find that you are sensitive to foods high in fructans, you should consider limiting your intake of nectarines.
Additionally, keep in mind that the pit of the nectarine does contain cyanide. While you would need to eat a massive amount of nectarine pits to see any real negative effects, it’s always important to remember that moderation is key.
Final Thoughts on Nectarines
- Nectarines are from the same species as peaches but contain a recessive gene that results in a lack of peach fuzz.
- They are low in calories but can provide fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and niacin.
- Thanks to their impressive nutrient profile, nectarines can strengthen eye, immune, heart and digestive health; may help with weight loss; can lower blood sugar levels; and may even help kill off cancer cells.
- Best of all, they can easily be included in a healthy diet and can be used in sweet and savory dishes alike.
Rachael LinkDr. AxeNovember 8, 2017