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Relatively unknown in North America, where they are not produced, lychee is a tropical fruit very popular in Asian countries, where it thrives. This unique fruit, approximately the size of a walnut, has a roughly textured, reddish-pink outer shell when ripe, housing an inner translucent, juicy, gelatinous pulp, which has a sweet, tart, aromatic taste, reminiscent of grape and rose. This fruit is best enjoyed fresh but is also popular in many different desserts, beverages, and even cocktails – lychee martini, anyone?
The lychee, Litchi chinensis, is an evergreen fruit tree in the soapberry (Sapindaceae) family, along with lesser-known similar fruits like longans, which have yellowish-brown skin and sweet, musky, fragrant, jelly-like white flesh, and rambutans which are distinguishable by their red outer skin covered in soft prickly spikes. Surprisingly, this family also includes chestnut and maple trees too! Lychee is a tropical tree native to China where it still grows wild (in fact, wild lychee trees are one of the dominant tree species of tropical rainforests in Southern China). There are approximately 200 different lychee cultivars and the same cultivar grown in different climates can produce very different fruit! The main distinction among varieties is between those that leak juice when the skin is broken and the more desirable ‘dry and clean’ varieties which do not. The fruit we eat is actually an aril (which is a specialized outer growth from a seed that partially or completely covers it – think pomegranate!) surrounding a dark brown seed which is not edible, consumption of which has been linked to hypoglycemic encephalopathy in undernourished children.
This fruit has a long history where it has been referenced in unofficial Chinese records as far back as 2000 BC, where cultivation began in the region of southern China beginning in 1059AD. It was considered a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court and was so popular that a special courier service with fast horses was implemented to bring the fresh fruit. Not only has it been enjoyed as food, but its medicinal properties have been recognized for centuries as part of traditional Chinese medicine as well. Today lychees are grown in tropical regions of more than 20 countries around the world with China as the main producer. Though they aren’t grown in North America, you can find them at Asian and specialty markets. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest you give them a try – your taste buds will thank you!
Nutrivore Score for Lychee – 319
Lychee has a Nutrivore Score of 319, making it a medium nutrient-dense food! Plus, it is a low-calorie-density food; the calorie count of lychee is 125 calories per cup.
Per serving, lychee is a best source (>50% daily value) of polyphenols and vitamin C; an excellent source (20-50% daily value) of copper and manganese; and a good source (10-20% daily value) of carotenoids, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
Lychee Nutrition Facts
One serving of lychee is standardized to 1 cup or about 190 grams (6.7 ounces). A typical lychee fruit (without refuse) weighs 9.6 grams, which means: one serving of lychee is roughly equivalent to 20 lychee fruit.
|Lychee, raw||Nutrivore Score: 319||Nutrient Density: Medium|
|Serving Size: 1 cup (190 grams)||Protein: 1.6 grams||Net Carbohydrates: 36.7 grams|
|Calories: 125||Total Fat: 0.8 grams||Dietary Fiber: 2.5 grams|
|Vitamin A||0.0 μg RAE||0% DV|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||20.9 μg||2% DV|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||123.5 μg||10% DV|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||1.1 mg||7% DV|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||~||~|
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)||190.0 μg||11% DV|
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)||1.1 mg||4% DV|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||26.6 μg||7% DV|
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)||0.0 μg||0% DV|
|Vitamin C||135.9 mg||151% DV|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||0.0 μg||0% DV|
|Vitamin E||0.1 mg||1% DV|
|Vitamin K||0.8 μg||1% DV|
|Choline||13.5 mg||2% DV|
|Calcium||9.5 mg||1% DV|
|Copper||437.0 μg||49% DV|
|Iron||0.8 mg||5% DV|
|Magnesium||30.8 mg||7% DV|
|Manganese||627.0 μg||27% DV|
|Phosphorus||66.5 mg||5% DV|
|Potassium||345.8 mg||7% DV|
|Selenium||1.1 μg||2% DV|
|Sodium||1.9 mg||0% DV|
|Zinc||0.5 mg||5% DV|
|AMINO ACIDS & PEPTIDES|
Lychee Nutrition Varies With Processing
The Nutrivore Score of lychee varies based on processing. For instance, canned lychee is commonly available at many super markets, which is great if you have limited access to fresh lychee. In addition, dried lychee are conveniently available year-round; in some cultures dried lychee is even used in place of sugar to sweeten tea!
Health Benefits of Lychee Nutrients
Let’s take a closer look at all of the best and excellent source of nutrients found in a 1-cup serving of lychee and see how they benefit our health.
Lychee Provides 151% DV Vitamin C
Lychee is a fantastic source of vitamin C, providing 151% of the daily value per 1-cup serving!
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that has powerful antioxidant properties (meaning it can help combat oxidative damage from free radicals and reactive oxygen species) and that serves as an enzyme cofactor (meaning it’s needed for enzymes to do their job, for example vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis, which is essential for bones, joints, teeth, blood vessels, skin and eyes) and playing important roles in immune system and skin health. Higher intakes of vitamin C are linked to reduced risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and gout. Vitamin C can also help regulate the stress response and reduce anxiety, and there’s preliminary evidence that it may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more about vitamin C here.
Lychee Provides 492.4 mg of Polyphenols
Lychee is also a best source of polyphenols, providing 492.4 mg of polyphenols per 1-cup serving!
Polyphenols play a huge role in protecting against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions associated with oxidative stress. In fact, a major reason foods like red wine and olive oil (as well as diets rich in both, such as the Mediterranean diet) show up as so beneficial may be due to their high polyphenol content! Along with chronic diseases, supplementing with polyphenols has been shown to protect against infections and reduce the signs of aging. Polyphenols exert their most potent effects by acting as antioxidants—preventing cellular damage by neutralizing hazardous oxygen radicals and improving cellular health as a result (which, in turn, benefits virtually every system in the body). As a result of their antioxidant properties, polyphenols also boost the immune system and protect against both chronic and acute diseases. In addition, polyphenols can help regulate enzyme function, stimulate cell receptors, modulate the functions of inflammatory cells (including T and B lymphocytes, macrophages, platelets, and natural killer cells), alter adhesion molecule expression, affect nerve cells and cardiac muscle cells, and exert antiviral effects. Learn more about polyphenols here.
Lychee Provides 49% DV Copper
Lychee is an excellent source of copper, providing 49% of the daily value per 1-cup serving!
Copper is a trace mineral that’s essential for all living organisms. Copper serves as a component of numerous enzymes and proteins in the body, giving it diverse roles in the growth, development, and maintenance of various organs (including the heart and brain), bone, and connective tissue. Copper is also involved in glucose and cholesterol metabolism, helps regulate gene expression, can scavenge free radicals, and is needed for the production of red blood cells. Learn more about copper here.
Lychee Provides 27% DV Manganese
Lychee is also an excellent source of manganese, providing 27% of the daily value per 1-cup serving!
Manganese is an essential mineral that serves as a cofactor and component of numerous enzymes. Through these roles, it’s involved in carbohydrate metabolism, amino acid synthesis, gluconeogenesis, detoxification, lipid processing, free radical defense, bone and collagen formation, and wound healing. Although the research so far is limited, some evidence suggests that manganese can protect against osteoporosis and diabetes, and may even be involved in seizure disorders. Learn more about manganese here.
How Much Lychee Should We Eat Per Day?
Vilified for its higher sugar content, tropical fruit sometimes gets a bad rap even though these tasty fruits provide plenty of health benefits!
Consuming 800 grams of vegetables and fruits daily reduces all-cause mortality by 31% compared to eating less than 40 grams daily. A 2017 systemic review and meta-analysis looked at how all-cause mortality was impacted by varying intakes of 12 different food groups: whole grains and cereals, refined grains and cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy products, fish, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. This analysis revealed non-linear relationships between how much of a particular food group we eat and how it impacts our health. While the results revealed no upper limit to the benefits of vegetable intake, the sweet spot for fruit intake was 300 grams daily. Intakes of fruit over 400 grams per day were not as beneficial as 300 grams, but the good news is that even intakes of 600 grams of fruits per day was superior to no fruit at all! This sweet spot for fruit intake translates to 2 to 3 servings of fruit daily.
Thus, a good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 500 to 600 grams of vegetables (5 to 8 servings, depending on the vegetable, and as much as you want above that) and about 300 grams of fruit (2 to 3 servings, depending on the fruit) per day. Fruit makes a convenient snack, a healthy dessert, a whimsical addition to salads, and a sophisticated flavoring agent in the form of salsas, jams, and chutneys. A serving is standardized to 1 cup chopped for raw vegetables and fruits (typically translates to 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup once cooked). Learn more in Importance of Vegetables and Fruit
It’s always best to mix up the fruit and veggies you eat day to day (aiming for a wide variety of different vegetables and fruits throughout the week), and lychee definitely has a place at the table.
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USDA Food Central Database: Litchis, raw
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