Pick up a Pineapple. History and Health Benefits.
Pineapples were first bought to Europe in 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Caribbean. Some reports say sailers first came across the fruit eaten as an accompaniment to meat by cannibals. Renaissance Europe at the time had very few sweets. Sugar (from cane) was rare and expensive and fresh fruit incredibly seasonal. The New World pineapple, with its bright yellow, ultra sweet flesh, was a truly amazing thing and for a long time was considered the hight of sophistication, luxury and hospitality.
In 1675, King Charles II of England posed for a portrait receiving what is thought to be the first British grown pineapple from his gardener, John Rose but even in the late 17oo’s pineapples were considered a centrepiece, featuring heavily in the decoration of the Royal Pavillion in Brighton.
WHY IS PINEAPPLES HISTORY INTERESTING?
Pineapple fruit and stems contain a substance canned bromelain, a unique mixture of protein-digesting enzymes (cysteine proteinases) only found in pineapples. There has been a huge amount of research into the possible benefits of bromelain, which was first described in 1891 and it has a number of proven medical uses. Even before even bromelain was discovered, pineapple was an important part of tribal medicine, used for the tenderisation of meat, in promoting wound healing and as a digestive aid. In Renaissance Europe pineapple was often given right at the end of banquets or served alongside meats. The presence of protein digesting enzymes in pineapple prevents gelatine from setting, meaning it is not possible to make pineapple jelly.
Pineapples are sweet but actually contain less fructose than most other fruits. ~53% of the sugar in pineapple is sucrose, with ~27% glucose and only ~20% being Fructose. In my post Sugar – what you need to know, I talked about the sweetness of different sugars, showing that although all the sugars contain the same energy content, some taste sweeter than others. Fructose is the sweetest of the common natural sugars but in taste tests people generally prefer the taste and mouth feel of sucrose, which may explain why pineapple seemed so special and luxurious when it was first imported.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF PINEAPPLE
Pineapple like most fruits is a good source of vitamins and minerals, one cup of pineapple contains over 100% of the daily recommended amount of the vitamin C as well as good levels of B vitamins, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese and folate, but the real value of pineapple is due to its content of a number of unique phytonutrients and in particular the bromelain.
There has been a lot of research looking at the medical uses of bromelain and there is good evidence that it:-
- enhances the action of the digestive enzymes trypsin and pepin, aiding digestion. It is used in the treatment of heartburn.
- improves the symptoms of bloating and breaks down undigested food.
- works as a natural anticoagulant breaking down the blood-clotting protein fibrin, improving the symptoms of angina and thrombophlebitis.
- breaks down and thins mucus, improving symptoms of asthma and chronic bronchitis. Also used in the treatment of sinusitis.
- enhances the effect of the antibiotics amoxicillin, erythromycin, penicillamine, and penicillin. Particularly in the treatment of stomach disorders.
- causes beneficial changes in white blood cells, improving immune function. Has been studied in populations with reduced immune function with good results.
- lowers the risk of intestinal tract disorders and improve gut health.
- haves potent anti-inflammatory properties. Promotes the healing of minor muscle injuries such as sprains and studies on pain relief in rheumatoid and osteo arthritis have shown very promising results. Used in treatment of psoriasis and rosacea. Prescribed for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- aids wound healing (topical application).
- test-tube studies have shown that bromelain may inhibit the growth of cancer cells, as well as drive them to apoptosis (cell death) but research is at an early stage.
Initial research was done on high concentration bromelain extracted from the stem as well as flesh of the pineapple but more recently studies have investigated the use of standard pineapple or pineapple juice with some promising results. Bromelain is in greatest concentration in the stem which is not usually eaten but is also present in good concentrations in the core of the fruit. This is removed in most tinned pineapple but tinned fruit has been shown to have significant beneficial effects on immunity and gut health when given to malnourished children and teenagers. Bromelain is partially destroyed by heating but even heat treated juice has some efficacy.
PINEAPPLE IN SPORTS NUTRITION
Interviews with top sports nutrition experts and athletes often includes snippets about the use of pineapple. Diluted pineapple juice is often used as a sports drink particularly for endurance cyclists, a number of athletes and footballers are known to deliberately include fresh pineapple in their daily diets and body builders promote pineapple as of benefit in assimilating more protein.
Actual scientific evidence of sporting benefit is harder to find. Although pineapple also contains anthrocyanins and carotene it is not thought to prevent muscle soreness in the same way as blackcurrants or cherries and the amount of published research is small. This does not mean that pineapple is not being used with great effect though, just that either the studies have not been done or have not been published.
Elite sports athletes would benefit from a number of bromelain’s recorded benefits. Athletes immunity is often low particularly when traveling or during high intensity training or competition, gut health is of definite importance and the ability to digest and assimilate protein for muscle building and repair is also key. There may also be benefit from the breakdown of mucus and clearance of the respiratory tract and its anti-inflammatory effect may be an advantage in coping with minor injuries. Fresh pineapple is also a great source of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre.
There are definite health benefits to including pineapple within a balanced diet. Fresh pineapple, pineapple juice and taking the supplement bromelain has been shown to improve immunity, act as a strong anti-inflammatories and improve protein digestion and gut health. Very few people are allergic to pineapple but its ability to interact with some drugs and antibiotics means there ought to be a note of caution. If you are concerned you should talk to your doctor.
If you are interested in knowing more or in reading the underlying articles or research, please contact me and I will email you a version including references.