Lychees, the sweet tropical fruit with an ambrosia-like fragrant taste, are one of my favorites. Since they are in season I’ve been eating them a lot lately. So I wondered what, if any, were the health benefits of lychees? Turns out there are a lot and I wanted to share! If you’re thinking “Lych- WHAT?” or aren’t familiar with lychee fruit (“lie-chee”, sometimes spelled “litchi fruit”), you’re in for a big treat!
In Mexico, lychee season is May through June so keep your eye out when you’re grocery shopping. An exotic fruit, Lychee is a member of the soapberry family. Originating in China, Lychees are now grown throughout Southeast Asia and in other tropical locales. Fresh lychees are often found in US grocery stores, and even at Costco.
In China, these heart-shaped lychee fruits have traditionally been a symbol of love and romance. The fruits are about the size of a small walnut with very thin, rough, red, bumpy skin. The skins can be easily peeled back with your fingernails. Inside, the delicious sweet fruit has the texture and consistency of a peeled grape. They also have a pit about the size of a date pit.
Lychees have been in the limelight recently. Thai and Vietnamese restaurants now serve them in fancy cocktails, and in lychee water, lychee ice creams, and other desserts. But besides being an interesting-looking and delicious-tasting fruit, the health benefits of lychees are numerous, so let’s take a look.
Health benefits of lychees
1. High in Vitamins, Minerals, & Phytonutrients
According to the USDA’s website (1), the average lychee fruit weighs about 10 grams (without skin and seed.) 8 grams of that is water, with the rest containing about 6 calories.
Lychees are also packed full of nutrients like copper, folate, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. In fact, a handful of lychee fruits give you as much vitamin C as an orange or about 85% of your daily requirement of vitamin C.
They are also an excellent source of fiber and protein, and a good source of phytonutrients including antioxidants, flavonoids like quercetin, proanthocyanidins, and a host of polyphenolic compounds like rutin.
A list of known health benefits of lychees includes everything from:
- aiding digestion
- anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer
- cardiovascular health
- immune boosting
- skin boosting and aging well
So let’s break down these health benefits of lychees in more detail…
2. Aiding Digestion
The high water content as well as the high fiber and pectin content found in lychees all aid in healthy digestion. These nutrients also help protect against constipation, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids as well. So enjoy these health benefits of lychees and eat up, so much more fun and tasty than prunes!
3. Anti-inflammatory & Anti Cancer
With their high levels of vitamin C, flavonoids, and antioxidants, lychees help to reduce inflammation and protect against various types of cancers. (2)(3) Vitamin C is an important anti-inflammatory antioxidant, helping to eliminate oxidative stress from free radicals that can cause inflammation and cancer. In fact, studies by Pharmacognosy and Pharmaceutical Chemistry at a University in Saudia Arabia confirm lychee to be a “useful medicinal and nutritional agent for treating a wide range of human disorders and ailments.” (4)
Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has shown (5) the proanthocyanidins found in lychee seeds have antiviral properties. These antiviral properties can prevent the spread of viruses including flu, herpes simplex virus, mono, and the virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease. While studies were done on the seeds, and big pharma may soon be making pharmaceuticals out of lychee seed compounds, it’s not generally recommended to eat the seeds. Of course, the best ways to avoid the spread of viruses are regular hand-washing and not touching your face. But eating a few lychees couldn’t hurt either.
5. Cardiovascular Health
Lychees contain a number of cardiovascular-boosting nutrients: from potassium that helps to regulate sodium levels, balance electrolytes, regulate blood pressure, and reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke; the high amounts of vitamin C and fiber that also help support heart health; to magnesium, copper, iron, vitamin C, manganese and folate, which support blood circulation and formation; to the polyphenol rutin, which helps to strengthen blood vessels, prevent bruising, and protecting against heart disease. So as you can see, eating these lovely fruits are a great way to ward off heart issues.
6. Immune Boosting
With their high vitamin C content and a host of antioxidants and other phytonutrients, lychees are a super source of immune-boosting goodness. According to Dr. Josh Axe, “Vitamin C works by protecting the immune system, reducing the severity of allergic reactions, and fighting off illness and infection. Interestingly enough, a 2006 study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism found that meeting the daily recommended intake of vitamin C was effective at reducing symptoms and shortening the duration of certain respiratory infections like the common cold.” (6) Again, the health benefits of lychees to the rescue!
7. Skin Boosting & Aging Well
The high levels of antioxidants, in particular Vitamin C, combined with the high water content found in lychees are skin-boosting, helping our bodies to age well. The water content in lychees helps keep your skin well hydrated and flushes out impurities from your body, while antioxidants bind to free radicals to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Yay, eating lychees can help give your skin a radiant glow too!
So with all these awesome health benefits of lychees, are there any downsides? Turns out when it comes to eating lychees, there are two things that could affect specific groups of people.
Are lychees high in sugar?
Lychees are fairly high in naturally occurring sugar, so as with any fruit, diabetics should be careful about eating them. But, if you’re not diabetic and don’t have blood sugar issues, then you shouldn’t have a problem eating lychees. Their health benefits far outweigh the bit of sugar you’ll be ingesting. Plus the high fiber will help to regulate blood sugar in healthy adults.
Are lychees harmful to children?
You may have seen in the news a few years back about a “lychee virus” affecting children in India. It was only during lychee season then it would mysteriously disappear until the next season. Many kids were getting sick from eating lychees, and some even tragically died. But, when researchers finally got to the root of what was happening it cleared things up a lot. In general, lychees are NOT toxic or harmful to children, or anyone. It turns out, these particular Indian children were from poor rural areas and were very malnourished, sometimes not eating all day. So during lychee season, they would stuff themselves with often unripe lychee fruits. And the combination of unripe lychees on empty stomachs caused severe gastric distress. So as long as you eat ripe lychees and not on an empty stomach, you should be fine.
Lychees in history
Here’s a fun little historical story about the Lychee, courtesy of Wen-Hsun-Chen, (University of Florida Gainesville), and Dr. Mercola. ” When Emperor Wu Ti of the Han Dynasty conquered the Nan Yueh, he transplanted hundreds of lychee trees to Chang An in the province of Shensi. Because of his love of the fruit, he built a palace called the ‘Exalted Lychee Palace.’ In the fifth century, the favorite concubine of Emperor Teng Pao loved lychees so much that fast runners were stationed for the sole reason of carrying fresh lychees each year, traveling over 800 miles for the fruits.” (7)
Where can you find lychees?
During lychee season (May-June) you may be able to find fresh lychees at your grocery store. They grow in some US tropical locals like Hawaii and Florida and are also imported from Mexico and Asia.
If you can’t find fresh lychees, you can definitely find canned lychees in the Asian aisle of your grocery store, or at any Asian market. However, be aware that canned Lychees are usually preserved in sugar water, making them much sweeter and increasing their already high sugar content. If you’re using canned lychees it’s a good idea to rinse them in cold water to wash off as much of the sugar water as possible before serving them.
Here are a couple of quick and easy recipes to help you get started exploring the delectable health benefits of lychees!
- 2 cans lychees* rinsed, pitted and peeled (or 2 cups fresh lychees, pitted and peeled)
- 2 large lemons juiced
- 1-2 tsp organic honey to taste
- 2 cups filtered water chilled
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Fresh mint leaves for garnish
- Place lychees in a Vitamix, cover and blend on medium-high until well blended.
- Add lemon juice, honey, and water and blend thoroughly.
- Fill 4 tall glasses with ice cubes, and pour Lychee Lemonade over ice.
- Garnish with lemon slices and fresh mint.
- 2 cans lychees* rinsed, pitted and peeled (or 2 cups fresh lychees, pitted and peeled)
- 2 Roma tomatoes chopped
- 1 large bulb crushed garlic
- 1 TBSP minced fresh cilantro
- 3 tsp olive oil
- 1 TBSP fresh-squeezed lime juice
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- Salt and pepper to taste
- With a large knife, dice lychees and tomatoes into ¼ inch pieces.
- Combine with garlic, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Please share with your friends and family who might like to try lychees too! Then leave a comment and let us know which recipe you tried, and how you like lychees. Or do you have another fav lychee recipe to share?