Pectin is a soluble fiber that occurs in the cell walls of plants. It is found not only in apples (1-1.5%), but also in oranges (0.5..3.5%), carrots (1.4%), apricots (1%) and especially in citrus peels (30%). A medium apple (180g) contains about 4 grams of fiber, that is 17% DV (Daily Value). [SELF Nutrition Data], and roughly half of that consists as the water-soluble apple pectin. In the food industry, pectin is used as a thickener to make jams and jellies, and is also used in many processed foods.
Research has shown that eating foods containing high amounts of pectin is highly beneficial for maintaining good health. But it is important to consume pectin in its naturally occurring form (whole fruits or vegetables) so that it is ingested along with other phytonutrients which contribute significantly to pectin’s health-promoting properties.
The Health Benefits of Pectin
Pectin Promotes Good Digestion
The human gut contains “good” and “bad” bacteria. The good bacteria facilitate digestion of food and nutrient absorption and fight bad bacteria and viruses. A study by the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo tested bacteria content of fecal matter of subjects eating two apples per day for two weeks before and after the two week trial period. The results showed an increase in good bacteria and a decrease in bad bacteria, indicating that eating apples improves intestinal health.
However, according to an article by Kok-Yang Tan and Francis Seow-Choen titled “Fiber and colorectal diseases: Separating fact from ﬁction“, excessive soluble fiber in the diet may inhibit pancreatic enzyme activity and protein digestion in the gut, leading to an anti-nutritive effect.
Pectin Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
Soluble fiber reduces the risk of heart disease according to the AHA and many other studies. Results of a comprehensive study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) with a focus on water-soluble fiber like apple pectin were published in 2003 and demonstrated that consuming apples on a regular basis significantly reduces the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Almost 10000 subjects participated in this study with an average of 19 years of follow-up. Participants in the highest quartile of water-soluble fiber intake (consuming about 21g per day) had a 15% lower risk of heart disease compared to those in the lowest quartile consuming only 6g per day.
Pectin lowers Cholesterol Levels
Pectin lowers the amount of dietary cholesterol that is absorbed in the gut, thus lowering the overall cholesterol levels. A research study by the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain showed that when rats are fed a diet containing apple pectin, they exhibited remarkably lower cholesterol levels. Furthermore, the rats had lower blood sugar and triglycerides, and they also lost weight. Any of these factors alone help in normalizing high blood pressure.
Pectin lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Soluble fiber like apple pectin may help diabetics. It has been proven that the intake of extra dietary fiber reduces hyperglycemia. A 2008 study of the University of Davis in California demonstrated that apple pectin improves the health of the digestive tract and normalizes blood sugar levels. Apple pectin was also shown to be an antioxidant in this study, to lower cholesterol and to reduce or prevent gallstones.
Pectin may be used to Prevent and Treat Cancer
The June 2010 issue of the “Integrative Cancer Therapies” journal described a study on prostate cancer tissue cultures as well as prostatic hypertrophy tissue cultures. The researchers studied the effects of citrus pectin on these cell cultures and found that it inhibited cell reproduction and induced cell death. Therefore, pectin may be useful for the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer and enlargement of the prostate.
Pectin in Combination with a High-Fat Diet can Lower Stress Hormones
The Winter 2007 edition of “Nutrition Research and Practice” published the results of a study where rats were fed a diet high in fat and pectin. Interestingly, the results showed that the levels of the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine in the right portion of the midbrain were remarkably lower than in control groups eating diets with lower levels of fat or pectin or high levels of fat alone.
If pectin is so good for you, why not just consume it as a supplement?
Research has shown that apple pectin by itself actually has a much smaller blood fat lowering effect than eating whole apples. The many phytonutrients contained in apples interact with the pectin to produce a much greater effect. This is a good example of why identifying and extracting certain key compounds in foods and concentrating them in pill form may not always be such a good idea. The concept of bioavailability of nutrients comes to mind: in most cases taking mineral and vitamin supplements is less effective than ingesting them in the form of whole foods. We’re only beginning to understand the complex interactions of nutrients within our bodies.
Here’s another example of nature’s wisdom: Aspartame has been shown to be fully absorbed by the body, and one of its breakdown products is methanol which can spontaneously turn into formaldehyde, a powerful poison. In nature however, methanol is bound by pectin which safely transports it out of the body.
As Wendell Berry said: “I’d rather rely on mother nature’s wisdom than man’s cleverness.”
A Note if you like to juice Apples
To get the health benefits of apple pectin the whole apple should be consumed since pectin occurs mostly in the peel. When apples are juiced, most of the pectin will end up in the pulp that is left behind. If you do juice your apples and want to extract the pectin from the leftover pulp, you can follow this Instructables article to extract it to make your own jam and jellies.