Health Benefits of Pineapple That Make the Prep Work Worthwhile

Learn about the benefits of eating pineapple then discover new ways to use the fruit in recipes.

Person Cutting Pineapple
Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to summer produce, you can't go wrong with pineapple. Between its showy look and sweet-tart flavor, the tropical fruit has has plenty going for it. But that's not all — pineapple happens be incredibly healthy. Need proof? Read on to learn about various pineapple benefits, plus ideas for how to use the fruit in dishes.

What Is Pineapple?

The pineapple is a tropical fruit that's native to the Caribbean and Central and South America, according to the University of Florida. It's part of the bromeliad family of plants, which includes Spanish moss and tillandsia, also known as air plants. The pineapple plant, which can reach up to six feet, grows sword-shaped leaves and a head of small red or purple flowers, according to Pennsylvania State University. Over time, these flowers fuse together to create an oval-shaped fruit, which is what you know as a pineapple. This fruit has a juicy edible yellow flesh, a hard inedible rind, and a "crown" of spiky leaves.

Pineapple Nutrition Facts

You can credit the benefits of eating pineapple to its nutritional content. The summer fruit offers myriad essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Pineapple also contains powerful antioxidants and gut-friendly fiber. However, if the juicy fruit has a claim to fame, it would be its bromelain content. Bromelain is a group of enzymes that's found in bromeliad plants (including pineapple) which boasts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and digestive-supporting properties, according to a 2021 review article in the journal Life.

Here's the nutritional profile of one cup pineapple (~165 grams), according to the USDA:

  • 83 calories
  • < 1 gram protein
  • < 1 gram fat
  • 22 grams carbohydrates
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 16 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Pineapple

Thanks to its rich cocktail of important nutrients, the health benefits of pineapple are pretty sweet (pun intended). Read on to discover the most compelling pineapple benefits, according to dietitians and research.

Lowers Risk of Chronic Disease

Pineapple is rich in antioxidants, aka beneficial compounds that play a critical role in disease prevention, according to registered dietitian Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D.N. Essentially, antioxidants neutralize free radicals, aka unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress (and therefore, cell damage) when present in excess. This is a BFD, as prolonged oxidative stress can contribute to the development of chronic conditions including cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and heart disease. Specifically, pineapple contains antioxidants such as phenolic compounds, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, according to Pasquariello.

Supports Immune Function

Nosh on a cup of fresh pineapple, and you'll score 79 milligrams of vitamin C, according to data from the USDA. That's nearly 90 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult men (90 milligrams) and it surpasses the RDA for adult women (75 milligrams). This is great news for your immune system, as your immune cells rely on vitamin C to fight disease-causing germs, according to a 2020 review in Frontiers in Immunology. The nutrient also plays a role in the growth and repair of healthy tissue, including your skin. This "promotes healthy immunity by supporting the body's structural barriers against [harmful] pathogens," says Pasquariello. And don't forget about the antioxidant actions of vitamin C, which further bolster the immune system by fighting free radicals and decreasing inflammation, adds Pasquariello.

Promotes Healthy Digestion

In case you missed it above, pineapple contains bromelain, a group of enzymes found in bromeliad plants. Bromelain enzymes are proteolytic, meaning they aid in protein digestion, according to registered dietitian Diana Rodriguez, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.. (In fact, for this reason, bromelain can be found in digestive enzyme supplements, notes Pasquariello.) Additionally, the juicy fruit contains soluble and insoluble fibers, according to Brenna O'Malley, R.D., registered dietitian and founder of The Wellful. Both types of fiber can support a healthy GI tract, though in different ways. Check it out: In your gut, soluble fiber dissolves water and forms a gel-like substance, as indicated by the Mayo Clinic. This can help firm up your stool, potentially easing diarrhea. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve in water. This has a bulking effect on your stool, thus promoting regularity and decreasing constipation, says O'Malley. So, if your gut could use some TLC, pineapple can lend a hand.

Supports Heart Health

The benefits of pineapple consumption also extend to your heart. Pineapple antioxidants — including vitamin C and phenolic compounds — protect your heart by easing oxidative stress, which is a major contributor to heart-related diseases, as noted by a 2021 review article in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology. The soluble fiber in pineapple can also help, as it can lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the body, shares Rodriguez. Here's how: Soluble fiber binds to LDL cholesterol in the gut, according to the National Lipid Association. When the fiber leaves your body via stool, it brings the cholesterol along with it. This prevents excess LDL cholesterol from being absorbed by your body. This is key because "high LDL cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke," says Rodriguez.

But wait, there's more: Pineapple is rich in potassium, a mineral that's necessary for healthy blood pressure, says Rodriguez. Potassium eases tension of your blood vessel walls, allowing blood to flow more easily. It may prevent the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels (i.e. atherosclerosis), which would otherwise reduce blood flow and increase blood pressure. Needless to say, these cardiovascular benefits of pineapple are yet another reason to heart the fruit.

Supports Iron Absorption

Vitamin C, which is found in pineapple, is required for iron absorption. Specifically, your body needs vitamin C to absorb non-heme iron, which is found in both plant and animal sources. (Heme iron, on the other hand, is only found in animal foods.) Compared to heme iron, non-heme iron is less bioavailable — meaning it's less readily absorbed by your body — but getting enough vitamin C can support optimal iron absorption. This is key because iron is needed for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the component that carries oxygen, thus allowing your blood to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, says O'Malley. Thus, by eating plenty of vitamin C-rich foods such as pineapple, you can help support your body's iron absorption.

Potential Risks of Pineapple

According to Pasquariello, pineapple allergies are uncommon. However, they're possible, so watch out for common food allergy symptoms after eating pineapple. Examples include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, and stomach cramps, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Use caution if you're allergic to latex, as it has similar allergy-causing proteins to pineapple, according to a 2021 review article in the American Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences.

Although bromelain is responsible for some pineapple health benefits, it's not for everyone. "Bromelain can cause irritation to the tongue or inside of your cheeks," explains O'Malley. If this occurs, "you might experience a tingling or [sensitivity] after eating pineapple," she adds. This is especially likely if you eat a large quantity of pineapple, according to North Carolina State University. Similarly, it's possible to develop contact dermatitis — i.e. skin irritation caused by touching a certain substance — after handling pineapple, so use caution if it's your first time trying it. Finally, "pineapple and pineapple juice can interact with certain medications, such as benzodiazepines [e.g. anti-seizure and anti-anxiety drugs] and antibiotics," notes Pasquariello. So, if you're taking any prescription meds, be sure to touch base with your doc before trying the fruit.

How to Buy and Eat Pineapple

Ready to enjoy the benefits of pineapples? Head to the supermarket, where you can likely find pineapple fresh (whole or cubed), canned, and frozen, according to Pasquariello. Overall, whole pineapple is the most nutritionally dense choice, she adds. Your next best bet would be pre-chopped fresh pineapple — which is sold in the refrigerated area of the produce section. The other catch: "It may have been sitting on the shelf for a while, [and this can deterioriate] its flavor and texture," explains Pasquariello. As for canned and frozen pineapple? Both options are budget-friendly and convenient, notes Rodriguez. The frozen variety is especially useful for enjoying pineapple when it's not in season, as the fruit is picked at its peak and frozen right after, she says. Finally, if buying canned pineapple, "look for pineapple canned in water or natural fruit juice rather than syrup, if you're [being] conscious of sugar content," suggests Pasquariello.

When choosing whole pineapple, look for one that feels heavy, smells fruity, and has healthy dark green leaves. Skip any pineapples with discolored, soft spots or dry leaves, which might indicate spoilage, according to the University of Minnesota. At home, store your pineapple at room temp for up to two days. Once you've cut the fruit, you can keep it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator for up to seven days, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Some supermarkets also offer dried pineapple rings or chunks, which are great for snacking or adding to homemade trail mix, says Pasquariello. Additionally, the tropical fruit may be found as juice or as an ingredient in packaged items, e.g. ice pops or bottled smoothies. All of these products may contain added salt or sugar, so check the label if you're looking to limit either ingredient.

Pineapple Recipe Ideas

If you're a pineapple newbie, you're in for a treat. The fruit is "sweet and acidic but refreshing, especially on a hot summer day," says O'Malley. And while pineapple tastes delicious on its own, it's also *chef's kiss* in recipes. Need inspo? Here are a few delicious ways to take advantage of the benefits of pineapple at home:

In smoothies. Brighten up your next smoothie by adding chunks of pineapple. It works especially well with other summer fruits, e.g. strawberries or mango. You can also try it in a non-alcoholic piña colada smoothie for tropical vibes.

Grilled. When pineapple is grilled, it becomes delightfully smoky and sweet. Enjoy it in grilled turkey kebabs, with coconut sherbet, or as a delicious topping for burgers.

On pizza. It's controversial, but don't knock the salty-sweet combo of pineapple on pizza until you try it. Try topping a vegan barbecue-style pizza with pineapple for a mouthwatering meal.

In salsa. Take a break from your usual salsa by swapping tomatoes for pineapple. "Simply dice up pineapple, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeño, [then] top with freshly squeezed lime juice, salt, and pepper," explains Rodriguez. Enjoy your pineapple salsa with tortilla chips, on top of protein (like fish or chicken), or with tacos, she says.

In salads. Give your salad a summery touch with cubed pineapple. It pairs especially well with fresh herbs and leafy greens, such as in a poached shrimp and watercress salad.

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