Are you getting bored with eating the same foods over and over? Why not add the amazingly versatile food that is almost impossible to get bored of – chayote!
What is chayote?
Chayote is a bright green squash originally native to Mexico and throughout Central America, that can now be found all around the world. Some other names for chayote include Mexican cucumber, vegetable pear, mirliton, choko, or chou chou.
Typically, chayotes are large, pear-shaped, and have wrinkly, bright green skin. The flesh of the chayote is lime green, and it has a large white pit in the center. Overall, it has a bland flavor, which actually gives it tons of diversity in the ways in which you can use it.
Chayote has been consumed for centuries, and is even used for some medical treatments by the tribes native to Mesoamerica due to its many health benefits.
1 cup of chayote contains:
- 25 calories
- 1 gram of protein
- 6 grams of carbs
- 0.1 grams of fat
- 2 grams of fiber
- 2 grams of sugar
As you can see, chayote is low in calories and is composed of mostly complex carbs. Chayote also is rich in nutrients including vitamin C, B vitamins (especially folate), calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
As you can see, chayote is nutrient dense and a good source of antioxidants. So what are the health benefits? Let’s dig into the science and find out.
Protects against chronic disease
The high antioxidant content of chayote may help to protect your cells from free radicals, which can cause cellular damage and eventually lead to the progression of chronic disease.
Some of the antioxidants in chayote include vitamin C, myricetin, quercetin, and more.
Chayote is an excellent source of vitamin C, which is important for many functions in the body including immunity, collagen synthesis, and scavenging free radicals.
Myricetin is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic properties.
Another compound in chayote, quercetin, is also considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antiviral.
Eating foods with high amounts of antioxidants may help prevent the development of chronic disease, and chayote definitely one of them!
Another benefit of eating antioxidant-rich chayote is that these antioxidants may contribute to improved cardiovascular health.
The compounds in chayote have been shown to help reduce blood pressure. Myricetin and fiber together help to lower cholesterol levels, which also reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
Foods that are high in vitamin C and antioxidants are also considered to be anti-aging. This is because the high antioxidant content protects your skin cells from sun damage that can promote the aging process.
Additionally, vitamin C is necessary for collagen production in the body. Collagen helps keep your skin firm and youthful.
Consuming antioxidant and vitamin C-rich foods like chayote can help you to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful for longer.
Fertility and healthy pregnancy
Chayote is also an excellent source of folate. Folate is a B vitamin (B9) that is essential for fertility and healthy fetal development.
Inadequate intake of folate before and during pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects and preterm births.
While most people associate folate with female reproductive health, it is also essential for male fertility. This is because folate is needed for sperm formation, which is the foundation of male fertility.
With 40% of the daily value of folate in just one chayote, this food is an great addition for anybody thinking about starting a family – both male and female.
Another benefit of the high folate content of chayote is that low folate levels are associated with depression.
Supplementing with folic acid has been shown to impact serotonin receptors in the brain, which implies that folate may play a key role in brain neurochemistry that prevents depression.
Through this mechanism, it is quite possible that consuming chayote can help improve or even prevent depression.
Chayote is low in calories at 25 calories per cup, but high in nutrients and fiber. Eating foods with lower calories but higher fiber content helps you feel fuller without consuming more energy.
Not only does fiber make you feel fuller, you also feel fuller for longer. Fiber helps slow down digestion, which promotes satiation for longer periods of time.
When you feel full for longer periods of time, you’re less likely to over-consume food which can ultimately lead to weight gain. This means you may end up consuming fewer calories over the course of the day, which can support any weight loss goals you may have.
The fiber content of chayote is also extremely beneficial for your gut health, promoting regularity, intestinal function, and microbiome diversity.
In addition to the fiber content, chayote is also high in flavonoids that have been connected to enhanced gut barrier function. This means that flavonoids can help your digestive system better absorb the nutrients you need and keep everything else out.
This is important because a healthy gut allows you to digest and absorb the nutrients you consume through your foods to fuel your busy life. A healthy gut is also the foundation of your overall health, so keeping your gut happy can help you maintain good health for longer.
Is chayote good for people with diabetes?
If you’re wondering if chayote is suitable for diabetes, the answer is yes! The lower calorie and carb content makes it an easy addition into your meal plan for diabetes.
In addition, the higher fiber can even support healthy weight loss efforts if you need to lose weight to help control your diabetes.
On top of all of that, chayote might even help you better control your blood sugar.
Chayote and blood sugar
Even further, chayote may even help improve insulin sensitivity which helps prevent prolonged high blood sugar levels (aka hyperglycemia).
All of this gets even better when you realize that chayote’s antioxidant content also helps protect your cells from damage, protecting you from diabetic complications like neuropathy and heart disease.
Where to find it
You can find chayote in most specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods or in your local Hispanic markets. Sometimes, you may even be lucky enough to find some in your local grocery store, especially if you live in the southern United States
Look for one that is not too light or dark in color and does not have any brown spots signaling decay. If it is firm to the touch, you’ve found a ripe one!
How to add chayote into your meal plan
Since the flavor of chayote is fairly bland, it can be used in a variety of ways and in many dishes, making it quite a versatile food.
Most people cook chayote, but you can also utilize it in its raw form. However, some people are not fans of raw chayote because it can be extremely tough to eat. But in general, you should be able to treat raw chayote in the same way as celery or cucumber.
The proper way of cooking chayote is similar to the ways you would cook other types of summer squash or cauliflower. The most common ways to prepare chayote are steaming, roasting, and frying.
Some simple ideas for using chayote include:
- Cut into thin slices and add to a salad for some crunch
- Chop it up and add it to soup or stew
- Roasted or sauteed with other veggies, some olive oil, and your favorite seasonings
- Add to a smoothie for extra fiber, folate, and vitamin C
- Julienne it and add it to a fresh slaw
- Try it in your favorite pasta or lasagna recipe
While most people eat just the flesh of the chayote, the entire plant is edible, including the roots, seeds, stem, and leaves. So, feel free to experiment. The options are truly endless for this versatile food.
The bottom line
Chayote is a versatile food that has been consumed for centuries and touted for its medicinal benefits.
This food is low in calories, but loaded with fiber, folate, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
Consuming chayote can yield many health benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic disease, enhanced fertility, anti-aging characteristics, and better blood sugar control.
Chayote is an easy addition to any diet and can be consumed in a multitude of ways, both sweet and savory. A little experimentation and you may just find your new favorite superfood!