8 proven passion fruit health benefits

Photo credit: Thidarat Suriyawong / EyeEm
Photo credit: Thidarat Suriyawong / EyeEm

Whether it's baked into puddings, spooned over salads, blended in smoothies, pureed into cocktails – or if you're partial to a Pornstar Martini, floated on top and set alight – there's no mistaking the deliciously sweet, tangy flavour of passion fruit, also known as grenadilla.

Given its tiny size, this zingy egg-shaped tropical fruit might not seem like it could bring much to the table nutritionally, but the pulp is loaded with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds that can help to improve your overall health.

With expertise from Signe Svanfeldt, nutritionist at Lifesum, we delve into all-things passion fruit-related – including health benefits, potential side effects, purchasing tips, preparation advice and serving suggestions:

What is passion fruit?

Passion fruit is the fruit of the passiflora plant; a type of climbing vine with eye-catching flowers. It was named by Christian missionaries, who thought its flowers resembled the crown of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. Passion fruit is native to South and Central America, the West Indies and Australia.

There are more than 550 different species harvested all around the world, although you'll likely be most familiar with purple or yellow variants. Encased within its tough, waxy, inedible rind are dark crunchy seeds suspended in a bright yellow juicy pulp. When shopping for a passion fruit, pick one that appears slightly wrinkled – it's a sign that the fruit is ripe.

Passion fruit nutrition

Passion fruit is extremely nutritious. It's an excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, particularly the antioxidant vitamins C and A. In one 18-gram passion fruit, you'll find:

  • Calories: 17

  • Carbohydrates: 4.2g

  • Fibre: 2g

  • Protein: 0.4g

  • Vitamin C: 6% of the Daily Value (DV)

  • Vitamin A: 5% of the DV

  • Ir0n: 2% of the DV

  • Copper: 2% of the DV

  • Potassium: 1% of the DV

  • Magnesium: 1% of the DV

Those figures might not seem like much to write home about, but considering the fruit's size and calorie content, it's pretty nutrient-dense. Passion fruit is also a rich source of polyphenol antioxidants, containing more than banana, mango, pineapple, lychee and pineapple, a study from the University of Reunion found.

8 passion fruit health benefits

Due to its high fibre and phytochemical content, passion fruit has plenty of health benefits, from warding off disease to promoting optimal health. Let's take a look at some of the tropical fruit's finest attributes, and the plant compounds that provide them:

1. Passion fruit is high in vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, which means your body can't make it on its own, and water-soluble, which means you can't store it – so you need to get plenty through your diet. 'It's needed for various body functions, including growth and reparation of tissues and bones,' says Svanfeldt. 'Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron.' This is important, because your body doesn't usually absorb iron from plants very well.

2. Passion fruit is rich in vitamin A

Passion fruit contains an impressive amount of vitamin A: the generic term for a group of fat-soluble compounds that play a vital role in keeping you healthy. Vitamin A is stored in your body, 'mainly in the liver,' says Svanfeldt. 'Passion fruit also contains beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in our bodies when needed. Vitamin A is needed for vision, skin, bones and cell reproduction.' It also helps to maintain your immune system.

Photo credit: Westend61
Photo credit: Westend61

3. Passion fruit is loaded with fibre

Fibre is crucial for a healthy gut, and yet many people fall short of the 30g per day recommendation. A single passion fruit provides 2g of fibre, most of which is soluble fibre, which turns into a gel-like substance during digestion. This slows down digestion, preventing your blood sugar from spiking. Soluble fibre also reduces the amount of fat your body absorbs, and prevents some dietary cholesterol from being broken down and digested. 'A diet rich in dietary fibre aids digestion and reduces the risk of various diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity,' says Svanfeldt.

4. Passion fruit is a source of antioxidants

Passion fruit contains a variety of antioxidants. Antioxidants defend your cells from free radicals, which are unstable and potentially harmful molecules. When free radicals accumulate, they cause a state known as oxidative stress, which can damage fatty tissue, DNA and proteins in your body. It has been linked to diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. Oxidative stress also contributes to the ageing process.

The most prominent antioxidants in passion fruit are:

  • Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by 39.5 per cent, one Japanese study found.

  • Beta carotene: Part of the carotenoid family. As a type of provitamin A, it can be converted into retinol in the liver.

  • Polyphenols: Anti-inflammatory plant compounds. Passion fruit seeds are rich in piceatannol, which has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in overweight men.

5. Passion fruit is rich in potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral that your body can't make on its own, so dietary sources like passion fruit are key. 'It's needed for your nerve and muscle functions, as well as your blood pressure,' Svanfeldt says. As an electrolyte – a mineral with an electric charge – potassium conducts electrical impulses that control important bodily functions, for example, the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing.

6. Passion fruit is high in magnesium

Every cell in your body relies on magnesium to function, so it's hard to understate the importance of this mineral. It's involved in more than 300 crucial chemical reactions, from turning food into energy to repairing DNA, and low levels are associated with a number of chronic diseases. Unfortunately, along with zinc, it's the most frequent mineral deficiency in the UK. Munch through 100g of passion fruit and you'll ingest seven per cent of your daily magnesium needs.

7. Passion fruit has a low glycemic index score

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a certain food raises your blood sugar level. Foods are classified as low, medium, or high glycemic foods and ranked on a scale of 0 to 100. Passion fruit has a value of 30, well within the 'low' range, which means its carbohydrates are absorbed slowly. As a result, your blood sugar rises slowly, rather than spiking. Over time, extreme blood sugar spikes and crashes can damage organs, nerves, and blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

8. Passion fruit fights inflammation

When taken as a supplement, passion fruit peels appear to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects due to their high antioxidant content. In a study by McMaster University, people with knee osteoarthritis who took purple passion fruit peel extract reported substantially less pain and stiffness in their joints and better physical function than the control group, whose symptoms actually increased in severity over the 60-day trial. More research is required, but it's certainly promising.

Passion fruit side effects

While passion fruit is generally safe to eat, it can cause an allergic reaction among some people. Those who suffer from a latex allergy are most at risk of experiencing a reaction to passion fruit, because some of the plant's proteins have a structure similar to that of latex proteins.

Photo credit: Tina Agnesh Lusiana / EyeEm
Photo credit: Tina Agnesh Lusiana / EyeEm

Additionally, passion fruit contains small amounts of a toxin called cyanogenic glycoside. It's most concentrated in certain varieties of passion fruit skin, as well as unripe passion fruit pulp. Cyanogenic glycoside can cause cyanide poisoning in high amounts, so avoid eating a lot of the unripe fruit and don't consume the peel other than in supplement form.

How to eat passion fruit

Passion fruit is extremely versatile, so it's easy to add to your diet. Start by washing the fruit thoroughly, before slicing it in half and scooping out the inner pulp and juice. The seeds are edible, as is the white pith – although it tastes bitter, so is best avoided.

You can enjoy passion fruit:

  • Raw, straight out of the rind

  • As a porridge or smoothie bowl topping

  • Stirred into yoghurt

  • As a salad dressing or over grain bowls

  • Poured through a fine strainer to make juice

  • Made into a jam

  • Frozen into sorbet or popsicles

  • Blitzed into a smoothie

  • Boiled into a coulis for dessert dressings

  • Baked into tarts and cakes

  • Cooked into a compote or curd

  • Muddled into a Margarita cocktail

You can even use passion fruit to liven up your H2O. 'Spice up your water with passion fruit – it will make your water taste delicious and help you stay hydrated during the day,' says Svanfeldt. However you choose to consume it, passion fruit is a healthful addition to any balanced diet.

'A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has shown to reduce the risk of various diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,' Svanfeldt continues. 'No food alone will have a magical impact on your health, it's all about the whole picture of a healthy and balanced diet that's key.'

Last updated: 21-03-2021

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