Nectarines: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Nectarines: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Nectarines (Prunus persica var nectarina) are members of the stone fruit family, along with peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots. Unlike peaches, nectarines are smooth-skinned (fuzzless) with red, yellow, or white pulp, and can vary in shape.

Nutritionally, nectarines are a better source of several vitamins and minerals than their peach relatives, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and flavonoids. 

The nutrients in nectarines may support healthy weight management and disease prevention, along with other benefits. There are many ways to incorporate the fruit into healthful meals, snacks, and desserts.

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Nectarines provide several antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E, and flavonoids, including anthocyanins. Antioxidants protect your cells from free radicals, which are compounds the body forms naturally in response to exposure to exercise, ultraviolet (UV) rays, cigarette smoke, and environmental pollutants.

Free radicals damage components of cells, including DNA, which may play a role in the development of cancer and other health conditions. Antioxidants interact with and neutralize free radicals, which prevents them from harming cells. Eating foods high in antioxidants, like nectarines, can help keep your antioxidant levels up, which may help protect you against disease.

Consuming fruits, including nectarines, has been shown to support healthy weight management in various ways. Research suggests eating fruit can help improve satiety (feelings of fullness) and reduce eating rate.

One study found that among women with overweight or obesity, fruit was more strongly associated with weight loss over four years compared to vegetables. This may be because people tend to consume fruit in place of other higher-calorie foods, like snacks and desserts, and consume vegetables in addition to other foods and meals.

Another study in over 74,000 women with a mean age of 51 found that the women with the highest fruit intakes had a 24% lower risk of becoming obese. Also, a Canadian study concluded that women who ate two or more servings of fruit per day had a 12% reduced risk of abdominal obesity (belly fat).

Only 12% of adults get the recommended two cups of fruit per day. Incorporating more fruits like nectarines into your diet can help you meet the dietary recommendations and support healthy weight goals.

About 38 million people in the United States have diabetes. Many people live with diabetes without a diagnosis; an estimated one in five people with diabetes don’t know they have the condition.

Eating more fruit, including nectarines, may help with diabetes prevention or management. Two large studies found that a higher fruit intake caused gut microbiota changes and metabolic alterations associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Gut microbiota are the specific microorganisms (including fungi, bacteria, and viruses) in the gut, which change in response to factors like diet and exercise. The gut microbiome is the overall community of microorganisms that live in the human gut.

Another study in half a million Chinese adults found that a higher consumption of fresh fruit was associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes. The study also showed that fruit consumption reduced the risks of death and the development of major vascular (related to blood vessels) complications among people with diabetes.

The protective effects are likely due to a combination of fruit’s ability to positively influence gut microbiota changes (more beneficial, protective microbes) and the fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients found in fruit.

A recent research review found that microbiota makeup can influence insulin sensitivity (how well insulin works to clear sugar from the blood), which can then influence blood sugar regulation and inflammation. Reducing inflammation, an effect of positive microbiota changes, has been shown to help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.

The National Cancer Institute recommends eating 2-6.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily for cancer prevention, specifically 1-2.5 cups of fruit. Nectarines can fill part of your daily fruit needs and provide cancer-protective antioxidants.

Anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in nectarines, have been shown to have anti-tumor effects. Research shows they protect against cancer by preventing or reducing DNA damage within cells that trigger mutations that lead to cancer. They also prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading and may actually kill off tumor cells.

However, more research is needed on the anti-cancer effects of antioxidants. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is not a replacement for cancer treatments.

Longevity does not just refer to living more total years. It means living a longer, healthier life, or having a greater healthspan. Researchers determine the success of someone’s aging by the person’s level of physical, mental, and social functioning in later years. They also consider the presence of major diseases.

An Australian study in over 1,609 people with a mean age of 61 found that people who more closely followed national dietary guidelines were 58% more likely to experience the qualities of successful aging. People who ate the most fruit in their diets were 49% more likely to age successfully. High fruit eaters also had a 23% lower risk of premature death compared to people who ate a low amount of fruit.

The same study also indicated that increasing fiber intake may improve aging outcomes. The researchers found that every additional 1 gram (g) of fiber in a person’s diet equated to a 2% increase in their likelihood of successful aging.

Fruit fiber may have a particularly significant impact on successful aging odds. Participants with low fruit fiber intakes were 36% less likely to age successfully compared to people with high fruit fiber intakes.

Fruit also appears to extend life. A review of 16 previous studies found people with the highest fruit and vegetable consumption had a 10-30% lower risk of all causes of death than people with the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption. Researchers also saw an additional 6% lower risk for every extra serving of fruit per day, up to 5 extra servings.

Cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide. Following nutritious eating patterns that include fiber-rich fruits may support heart protection in several ways.  

Eating more fiber, including fruit fiber, can reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome. Research found consuming 30-40 g of fiber daily was associated with a 27% lower risk of metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that together raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems. You may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following conditions:

  • A large waistline
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Low HDL “good” cholesterol

One study concluded that fruit fiber was more effective in protecting against metabolic syndrome than other fiber sources. Researchers found every 1 g of fruit fiber per 1,000 calories equated to a 6% risk reduction for metabolic syndrome. Fruit fiber intake curbs metabolic syndrome risk by:

  • Combatting insulin resistance, which occurs when insulin doesn’t work properly to clear sugar from the blood.
  • Inducing positive microbiota changes that lower inflammation in the body.
  • Reducing central obesity (belly fat).
  • Improving blood cholesterol profiles. 

Another analysis of 20 previously published studies with over 760,00 participants found that a higher fruit intake reduced stroke risk by 32%. All of this data supports the role of fruit, including nectarines, in heart protection.

High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the U.S. An analysis of three large, long-term studies with over 187,00 participants found that fruit intake was tied to an 8% lower risk of high blood pressure.

Another review of several large studies found that every additional 80-g serving of fruit per day equated to a 2-3% reduction in risk for high blood pressure.

Another study tracked over 28,000 health professionals for 13 years. The researchers found that women who ate a high amount of fruit in their diets had a significantly lower risk of high blood pressure, regardless of vegetable intake, compared to women with low fruit and vegetable intake.

Researchers say fruit may have a positive impact on blood pressure due to the other ways fruit consumption impacts health, which include:

  • Aiding in weight management
  • Improving insulin function, which affects blood vessel health and, consequently, blood pressure
  • Improving cholesterol regulation, which slows the rate of plaque build-up in arteries, which relates to blood pressure
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Inducing positive changes to the gut microbiota

Nectarines contain antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, which play unique roles in eye health. Two tissues of the eye that impact the vision process are the macula (part of the retina) and the lens. Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in these two important tissues, and research has shown these compounds protect the retina and lens from age-related changes.

Maintaining macular health is necessary for supporting normal visual and protecting against age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD, which involves a breakdown of the central part of the retina, including the macula, is the leading cause of blindness in older people. Incorporating more nectarines into your diet can help supply your body with eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin.

One serving (140 g) of nectarine provides:

  • Calories: 60
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 18.5 milligrams (mg)
  • Carbohydrates: 13 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 1.5 g
  • Copper: 0.12 mg, or 13% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Niacin: 1.57 mg, or 10% of the DV

Copper is a mineral the body needs to maintain nerves, immune cells, connective tissue, and blood vessels. It’s also involved with energy production.

Niacin, also called vitamin B3, helps convert food into energy. The body also needs niacin for the formation and function of cells.

Nectarines supply smaller amounts of vitamins A, C, and E, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc.

While rare, it is possible to be allergic to nectarines, with symptoms that may include itching and hives. People who are allergic to peaches may also be allergic to nectarines.

Also, nectarines are a high FODMAP fruit. FOPDMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharide, and Polyols) are a group of sugars that your body does not completely digest or absorb from your gastrointestinal tract into your bloodstream. FODMAPs move slowly through the small intestine and draw in water. Then, in the large intestine, the gut bacteria ferment the sugars, producing gas.

High-FODMAP foods are not necessarily a health risk, but they may not be suitable for everyone’s diet. People with certain health conditions or food intolerances may benefit from a low-FODMAP diet.

Research has shown that up to 86% of participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experienced improvements in overall digestive symptoms after following a low-FODMAP diet. They reported having less abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal distention, and flatulence (gas).

You can consume nectarines solo or add them to dishes raw or cooked. Some healthful ways to enjoy nectarines include:

  • Mince and add the fruit to oatmeal or overnight oats.
  • Layer diced or sliced nectarines parfait style with yogurt, granola, and nuts.
  • Slice and enjoy as a snack alongside nuts, seeds, or nut butter.
  • Chop and add to garden salads, slaws, salsa, or vegetable stir-fries.
  • Chop, skewer, and grill nectarines and drizzle with balsamic glaze.
  • Sauté sliced nectarines in lemon juice and honey or maple syrup to use as a topping for lean protein, like tofu, fish, or lentils. 
  • Toss nectarines in honey or maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon. Then, oven-roast the fruit and serve as a warm dessert; garnish with chopped nuts or a drizzle of melted dark chocolate. 
  • Enjoy the fruit raw or cooked as a topping for chia pudding.

Nectarines are rich in fiber and antioxidants and may offer protection against certain chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The fruit is a good source of copper and niacin (B3) and provides smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals.

Avoid nectarines if you think you may be allergic to them and see your healthcare provider for proper testing. If you have IBS, talk to your provider or a dietitian about how nectarines fit into a low-FODMAP diet. There are many ways to enjoy nectarines raw or cooked in both sweet and savory dishes.

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