Juicy, sweet, delicious fruits – who doesn’t like them? Find out what peaches and nectarines have to offer.
Peaches originally come from China but have a long history of cultivation all over the world. Nectarines are the same species as peaches, the only difference being their gene for the fuzzy hair – nectarines are just hairless peaches.
Peach and nectarine nutrients
One fresh peach or nectarine will cover about 10 per cent of your daily vitamin A needs and some 15 per cent of vitamin C requirements. Vitamin A supplied by plant foods as beta-carotene (a molecule that your body turns into vitamin A), is essential for healthy vision, skin and mucous membranes. Vitamin C is crucial for tissue repair, healthy skin and immune system. Peaches and nectarines also nicely contribute to your vitamin E and K intake and offer small amounts of iron, potassium and magnesium. Add to this the fact that they are low in calories and high in antioxidants and you’ll see why these fruits are not just tasty but also great for your health.
Each piece contains around two grams of fibre, which slows down your digestion of the sugars naturally present in the fruit. It also feeds the good bacteria in your gut and keeps your digestive system healthy.
All varieties and shapes of peaches and nectarines, including flat or doughnut ones, have a similar nutrient content. They may vary in colour and size but research shows they are all equally nutritious – just bear in mind that to get the same quantity of nutrients found in one ‘normal’ peach, you may need to eat two doughnut peaches because they’re so small.
According to one study, peaches may be able to reduce allergic reactions as in some people, peach extract reduced the histamine production in response to a trigger. Histamine is a substance released in your body during an allergic reaction and it causes symptoms such as sneezing, coughing or crying.
On the other hand, people with birch pollen allergies may also be allergic or sensitive to peaches and nectarines because the protein in birch pollen is similar to the protein in peaches. Symptoms include an itchy mouth or throat or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue or throat.
An old time favourite, tinned peaches are usually soaked in sugary liquid. While they are delectably sweet and soft, their sugar content, even if you rinse them, is very high. Some companies have replaced the syrup with grape juice concentrate but it’s just a marketing trick to make it sound healthier – both liquids are so sugary it doesn’t make much difference.
Tinned peaches retain their beta-carotene (vitamin A) content but most of the other nutrients are lost in the process of tinning, notably vitamin C and all the antioxidants. Treat them as if they were a piece of cake – as an occasional treat but nothing more.
Both fruits are great sources of antioxidants called polyphenols and carotenoids, some of which also provide the pigments responsible for those yellow, orange and red hues so characteristic for peaches and nectarines apricots. Polyphenols and carotenoids not only protect your body from everyday damage caused by free radicals, they also reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and age-related health issues.
Why are dried nectarines rare but there’s plenty of dried peaches? The answer is simple – the fuzzy skin of peaches makes them less prone to bruising and slightly prolongs their shelf life so they are easier to handle and process. On the other hand, nectarines are usually grown to be sold fresh and because their thin skin and high water content makes them more vulnerable to damage and deterioration, more of them also go to waste.
When peaches are treated with sulfur dioxide (E220) during the drying process, it preserves their orange colour. This sulphite is accepted as safe unless you’re sensitive to it – and many people are! Asthma sufferers are particularly likely to react to sulphur dioxide, which can trigger an attack. In others, it can cause asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and difficulty in breathing. If you’re affected, the only solution is to avoid sulphur dioxide so always check the ingredients!
On the other hand, unsulphured peaches go naturally brown when they’re dried but are safe to eat by everyone, including asthma sufferers.
When fruit is dried, the relative concentration of nutrients is increased, so just four halves of dried peaches provide 10-20 per cent of your daily iron requirement.
Fresh peaches and nectarines make a great snack or smoothie ingredient but they work just as well in salads, finely diced in salsas, or sliced on top of cakes. If you want to enjoy them out of their main season, dice and freeze them to add to your morning cereal or smoothies whenever you fancy.