Lychee: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Lychee: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Lychee (Litchi chinensis), or litchi, is a subtropical fruit belonging to the Sapindaceae or soapberry family. It’s grown commercially in over 20 countries worldwide, including China, India, Vietnam, and Thailand, and has been used as a food and natural medicine for thousands of years.

Sometimes called “alligator strawberries,” lychees have bumpy, reddish-toned skin covering semi-translucent, sweet flesh. Their flavor is often described as berry-like with floral undertones.

Lychees are highly nutritious and may benefit health in several ways.

Lychees are packed with plant compounds that may help support overall health by protecting against cellular damage and regulating inflammation. Lychee fruits contain a variety of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, polysaccharides, and polyphenolic compounds.

Studies show that diets rich in certain antioxidants, such as gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, catechin, caffeic acid, epicatechin, and rutin—polyphenol compounds concentrated in lychee—may help lower the risk of a number of common health conditions.

For example, high polyphenol intake has been associated with a lower risk of several cancers, including stomach cancer, the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer globally.

A number of animal studies have found that certain polyphenols and types of carbohydrates called polysaccharides concentrated in lychee have powerful anticancer properties. These may be able to stop the spread of cancer cells and induce cancer cell death.

Additionally, lychee is high in vitamin C, a nutrient that is a powerful antioxidant in the body. Maintaining optimal vitamin C levels is essential for keeping your body healthy. Research shows that people with higher vitamin C intake are less likely to develop common health conditions such as certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases (diseases that cause nerve cells to gradually lose function).

Vitamin C helps protect against these conditions by reducing oxidative damage to cells and protecting tissues from harmful compounds that may otherwise lead to disease. Oxidative damage occurs when the body has too many unstable molecules called free radicals and not enough antioxidants to get rid of them.

Lychees provide nutrients that keep your heart healthy, including vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. One lychee fruit covers 8% of your daily vitamin C needs and can help you maintain optimal levels of this important nutrient.

Vitamin C intake is linked to improvements in heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure). One review of 18 studies found that people with higher blood levels of vitamin C had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels than those with lower vitamin C levels. People with hypertension tended to have lower vitamin C levels than those with normal blood pressure readings.

Lychees also provide fiber, which helps support healthy cholesterol levels, and potassium, a mineral that plays a critical role in blood pressure regulation.

Lychees are low in calories yet provide several essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, copper, and vitamin B6.

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a one-cup serving of fresh lychee fruit:

  • Calories: 125
  • Carbohydrates: 31.4 grams (g)
  • Protein: 1.58 g
  • Fat: 0.83 g
  • Fiber: 2.47 g
  • Vitamin C: 136 milligrams (mg), or 151% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Folate: 26.2 micrograms (mcg), or 7% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 0.19 mg, or 11%of the DV
  • Potassium: 325 mg, or 7% of the DV
  • Copper: 0.281 mg, or 31% of the DV

Lychee fruits provide a good amount of several vitamins and minerals but are particularly rich in vitamin C. In addition to functioning as a potent antioxidant, vitamin C is required for critical processes such as immune function, collagen production, and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Current recommendations for adults are 75-90 mg of vitamin C daily. However, some research suggests that the optimal daily intake of vitamin C is much higher. One study suggests that people should aim for about 200 mg of vitamin C daily to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and support overall health.

Lychees are also a good source of copper, a mineral involved in immune function and brain development. It’s also needed for the activation of enzymes necessary for energy production, neurotransmitter synthesis (the creation of chemical messengers in your body), and many other important processes.

The fiber in lychee supports digestive health by promoting regular and comfortable bowel movements and a balanced gut environment.

Lychees are nutritious, but their consumption is associated with a few health concerns.

Although rare, it’s possible to be allergic to lychees. Consuming lychees may result in serious allergic reactions in some people. This could cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that causes swelling of the face and throat and may lead to breathing difficulties.

Lychees may cause allergic reactions in people with other allergies, such as sunflower seeds and mugwort pollen.

Additionally, lychees contain amino acids that may cause dangerous hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in specific populations. For example, in malnourished children, a very high intake of lychees could cause severely low blood sugar that can lead to brain injury. Keep in mind that this side effect has only been reported in malnourished children suffering from starvation in impoverished areas of the world.

Some studies mention that lychees could interfere with several medications, such as blood thinners and diabetes medications. These potential interactions are likely associated with consuming very large doses of lychee. Still, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before adding lychees to your diet if you take medications.

Lychees can be enjoyed raw and cooked. You can find them online or in specialty stores, like Asian grocery stores. They might be canned in syrup, purėed, or frozen.

To enjoy lychees, simply peel off the skin and eat the white-colored flesh off the pit. Lychees can also be pitted and added to fruit salads, desserts, sauces, and other dishes.

Here are a few ways to enjoy lychees:

  • Add them to fruit salads
  • Top oatmeal, chia pudding, and yogurt with fresh lychees
  • Blend fresh lychees into salad dressings and sauces
  • Use canned lychees to make homemade sorbet and ice cream
  • Add lychee puree to cocktails like martinis and margaritas
  • Try adding fresh lychees to smoothies
  • Incorporate fresh or cooked lychees into savory dishes such as curries and fish recipes

When ripe, lychees’ skins turn pinkish-red, and the fruit is soft and springy to the touch. Signs of an overripe lychee include a strong fermented smell, very soft flesh, and brown, cracked skin.

Lychees are unique-looking fruits with a sweet, berry-like taste. They are high in plant compounds and nutrients such as polyphenols and vitamin C, which support overall health and may protect against several health conditions, including certain cancers.

Lychees are safe for most people but can cause allergic reactions and may interact with common medications. If you have food allergies or are taking one or more medications, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before adding lychees to your diet.

Lychees are delicious on their own but can also be added to recipes like fruit salads, sorbets, curries, and beverages like smoothies and cocktails.

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