With an appearance somewhat like a large, leathery raspberry, a texture akin to grapes, and a lightly citrusy flavor with notes of rosewater, there’s much to love about lychee even before you learn the answer to the question: what are the benefits of lychee fruit?
What Is Lychee?
Lychee trees, which belong to the soapberry family, can reach heights as tall as 100 feet. These evergreens bear lychee, a small tropical fruit closely related to rambutans and longans.
Their trademark skin—which is easily peeled—has a bumpy texture and ranges from deep pink to reddish-orange to dark red. Inside the tough, inedible, salmon-pink skin of the lychee fruit, you’ll find glistening, nutrient-rich white flesh wrapped around a sleek brown seed.
When left in a cool, non-humid environment, lychees quickly dry out. The luscious, creamy flesh shrivels while the outside turns brown and brittle. At some point, this transformation caused someone to mistake this fruit for a nut, giving rise to the misnomer “lychee nut.”
Fast Facts About Lychee Fruit
The lychee fruit (Litchi chinensis) originated in China but is now grown in practically every country located in Southeast Asia as well as other subtropical climates.
Many people living in the United States may be wondering: “What does lychee taste like?” This delightful exotic fruit has not yet achieved the popularity it deserves! Lychee has a sweet, flowery flavor with hints of tartness. It pairs beautifully with jasmine, rose, lime (especially kaffir lime), ginger, oolong tea, and coconut.
Lychee are typically eaten fresh. When left to sit too long in a wet basket, they can develop a far stronger and less pleasant flavor that’s sure to cause your mouth to pucker. Fresh lychee, once peeled and seeded, makes a delightful addition to smoothies, bubble tea, ice cream, sherbet, and more.
Key Lychee Nutrition Facts
The vast majority of the lychee fruit is made of water (82%!), making it a super-hydrating beauty fruit. Lychee also provides plenty of vitamins and minerals and is particularly high in vitamin C.
The amount of vitamin C in a 100-gram serving of lychee accounts for 119% of your daily recommended allowance (RDA). Don’t worry—your RDA represents the minimum intake you need for the nutrient in question, so exceeding it is a good thing. And since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, there’s no recommended maximum intake.
A 1-cup serving of lychees (about 10 of the small fruits) contains just 125 calories and satisfies 10% of your dietary fiber needs, making lychees a perfectly acceptable weight-loss fruit. Oh, and let's not forget the wealth of compounds in lychee that promise to enhance your health.
Health Benefits of Lychee Fruit
Given that the word “lychee” comes from the Chinese word “lìzhī,” which means “gift for loyal life,” it’s hardly surprising that it has been linked to a variety of impressive health benefits. The top nutrients found in lychee—vitamin C, water, potassium, copper, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and antioxidants like epicatechin and rutin—can help lower your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Here’s what you should know about lychee fruit health benefits.
1. Lower Your Risk of Cancer
A study published in Cancer Letters, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that an extract of lychee fruit showed potential anti-cancer activity. The authors noted that lychee contains polyphenolic compounds that exhibit potent antioxidant properties. Lychee was shown to have an “inhibitory effect on cancer cell growth.” Specifically, it inhibited tumor growth, stopped cancer cells from spreading, and spurred the self-destruction of cancer cells (a process called apoptosis).
2. Quell Inflammation
Research has shown that lychee contains at least six individual phenolic compounds: gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, catechin, caffeic acid, epicatechin, and rutin. Because phenolic acids can be easily absorbed through the walls of your intestinal tract, they can bring about rapid health improvements.
Phenolic acids function as antioxidants inside your body, meaning they help to prevent cellular damage caused by a state of chronic inflammation called excessive oxidative stress. When oxidative stress rises unchecked, a number of conditions linked to inflammation can arise.
Eating fruits like lychee that are rich in anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds can ensure your body has the ability to lower inflammation levels.
3. Treat Chronic Disease
Scientists have found that rutin, one of the polyphenolic flavonoids found in lychee, has a “wide range of pharmacological applications due to its significant antioxidant properties.”
Rutin has been used successfully as an antimicrobial agent, antifungal agent, and antiallergic agent. Research has also indicated that it can be used to treat a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and clinically high cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia).
4. Increase Your Brawn and Brain Power
Lychee also contains high concentrations of a kind of antioxidant called proanthocyanidins. Testing reveals that lychee contains at least 32 proanthocyanidins.
The proanthocyanidin lychee provides the most of is called epicatechin, which has been shown to significantly improve your overall health. Two of the most exciting benefits of epicatechins are that they encourage muscle growth and enhance cognition, meaning they can make you both stronger and smarter.
5. Prevent Depression
Since your body can’t produce vitamin B6, it’s important to eat foods rich in this essential nutrient. Including lychee in your diet ensures you’ll get a sizeable dose of vitamin B6.
One of the most important roles vitamin B6 plays in the human body is regulating your moods. Your body needs vitamin B6 to produce crucial neurotransmitters that influence your emotional stability, such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
A number of high-quality studies have uncovered a connection between blood levels and dietary intake of vitamin B6 and depression, especially for older adults.
According to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that drew on health data from 3,503 individuals, a higher intake of vitamin B6 leads to fewer and less severe symptoms of depression. The authors note that this link holds true even when factors including smoking, alcohol use, widowhood, caregiving status, cognitive function, physical disability, and other medical conditions are accounted for.
6. Keep Your Joints Healthy and Functional
Copper, an essential trace mineral, assists the body in carrying out several important functions, like producing red blood cells and maintaining the health of your nerve cells and immune system.
Copper also helps your body produce collagen and elastin, two of the primary structural components in the body that form your bones, muscles, soft tissues, skin, and more. If you don’t provide your body with an adequate supply of copper from dietary sources like lychee, it will be unable to repair damage to your connective tissues and bones. This can result in a number of problems, including severe joint dysfunction.
7. Regulate Blood Pressure Levels
Lychee delivers a surprising amount of potassium, especially given the fruits’ small size. Eating an adequate amount of potassium improves your health in a number of ways.
Not only does this key mineral (which acts as an electrolyte inside the body) help to prevent your blood pressure from reaching dangerously high levels by relaxing blood vessels, but it also boosts blood circulation, reduces your risk of stroke, prevents the formation of kidney stones, and reduces demineralization of bones, which helps ward off osteoporosis.
8. Enhance the Health and Appearance of Your Skin
When it comes to lychee beauty benefits, its sky-high water content delivers impressive results. Because lychee yields such a concentrated quantity of water per serving, this delicious little fruit can help you meet your hydration goals.
What you put into your body can impact the health of your skin just as much as the products you use topically. If your skin doesn’t receive a sufficient amount of water, it can become dehydrated. This causes unwanted changes to its appearance such as dryness and flaking. Dehydrated skin is also less resilient and more prone to wrinkling.
Research has shown that increasing your water intake can improve both superficial as well as deep skin hydration for fresh and glowing skin long term.
9. Improve Endurance
Lychee is loaded with vitamin C, which can absolutely supercharge your health. One of the health benefits of vitamin C that’s less frequently discussed is its remarkable effect on endurance capacity during physical exercise.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, lychee fruit extract can significantly increase your endurance. To measure endurance, researchers used a submaximal treadmill test during which participants ran until they felt exhausted and were unable to continue. At the study’s conclusion, participants in the group who received lychee extract increased their running times by an average of 3.3 minutes!
Is There Oligonol in Lychee Fruit?
You might have heard about a dietary supplement called oligonol that is said to help with conditions such as insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, influenza, and overall inflammation. It's an extract of lychee skin and green tea polyphenols that's patented by the Amino Up Chemical Corporation in Japan.
While there has been some evidence validating oligonol's purported benefits, oligonol is not found in fresh lychee.
Lose the Lychees If...
Although quite rare, eating lychee has been linked to allergic reactions, so go slow if you're new to the fruit or have allergies to latex, birch, sunflower seeds and other plants from the same family, and mugwort.
It appears that lychee also has a stimulating effect on the immune system, and may not be the most appropriate fruit for those with autoimmune conditions. In South and Southeast Asia, lychees have been implicated in brain inflammation possibly due to the toxin hypoglycin A. But, again, adverse reactions are rare, so if you are otherwise healthy then eat lots of lychees for the amazing health benefits!