With the exploding popularity of low-carb and ketogenic diets fruit has been getting a bad rap. And tropical fruits in particular have been getting a really bad rap. While the low glycemic load of berries makes them the go-to choice for individuals who still want to enjoy fruit occasionally on these types of diets bananas mangoes papaya and pineapple have acquired the unfortunate stigma of being “too high in sugar” for regular consumption. And while indeed it may be that people with insulin resistance or blood sugar imbalances may be best served by limiting or avoiding tropical fruit this category of delicious and nutritious food need not be off the menu for everyone. Pineapple in particular has some properties that may justify bringing it back to the table or school lunch box.
Pineapples are sweet but they’re not without their positive aspects. And “high in sugar” is a relative term anyway. Pineapple is a good source of vitamin C and manganese and a 100-gram serving of pineapple (approximately 3.5 ounces) provides just 12 grams of carbohydrate (8 grams of sugar) with an overall very low glycemic load. Plus the sugar in pineapple comes along with small amounts of thiamin B6 and other nutrients so even with their sugar content pineapples are a far cry from the empty calories of snack cakes soft drinks and other sources of nutritionally void concentrated sugar. (Obviously pineapple canned in heavy syrup should be avoided. Pineapple is best consumed either fresh or frozen with no added sugar in the frozen variety. If buying canned be sure to seek out brands that use pineapple juice rather than syrup.)
Thanks to frozen and canned versions pineapples can be enjoyed year-round but they really shine best in summer when they are off-the-charts refreshing. A spicy pineapple salsa can jazz up any gathering and you can even add pineapple to guacamole for an interesting twist. Grilled balsamic pineapple makes a delicious treat for outdoor grilling and using pineapple can be as simple as topping a burger with a slice. For other savory dishes consider chicken pineapple stir-fry or pineapple pork. Pineapple is especially nice to pair with meat dishes because pineapple contains bromelain an enzyme that may help aid in the digestion of proteins. (For this reason bromelain is sometimes included in plant-sourced digestive enzyme supplements usually along with papain a similar enzyme that comes from papaya. In fact papain is so effective that “meat tenderizer” powder is often made from papain.) To indulge a sweet tooth with pineapple there’s coconut pineapple popsicles carrot pineapple muffins and even pineapple upside-down cake—all gluten and dairy free!
The benefits of bromelain don’t stop at breaking down protein. Bromelain has been shown to be helpful in boosting the immune system particularly when it comes to illnesses of the respiratory tract. Through supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the airway it may be beneficial in fighting bronchitis sinusitis and rhinitis. These respiratory-supporting properties also make pineapple juice a natural cough remedy particularly when combined with raw honey and ginger to soothe the throat.
Research indicates that bromelain’s “pharmacological properties depend on the proteolytic activity only partly suggesting the presence of nonprotein factors in bromelain.” As the natural source of bromelain the same is likely true for pineapple fruit and juice as well. There may be synergistic effects among multiple compounds in pineapple that go beyond the properties of bromelain itself.
And lest you think the skin of a pineapple has only one of two fates—either the garbage can or the compost bin—unpeeled pineapple chunks can be used to make homemade pineapple vinegar a delicious south-of-the-border tradition that shares many of the same health-boosting effects as other types of vinegar.
For these reasons and more pineapple need not be banned from the kitchen. It’s delicious nutritious and can be enjoyed year-round if used frozen or canned. No luau required!