With their honeyed scent and dulcet flesh, peaches are the darlings of summer stone fruit. Peaches' natural sweetness lends itself to seasonal desserts like peach cobbler, peach pie, or even just simple peaches and cream. Perhaps because of its association with dessert, the fuzzy fruit is often overlooked as a nutritional powerhouse. Like a Southern belle, the sun-kissed peach has historically gotten more attention for looking and smelling pretty than for the substance it has to offer.
More Than Just Pretty
But the beauty pageant is over. Twenty years ago, the emphasis in breeding peaches was on big and pretty. Now, according to the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, researchers have identified peaches' wide-ranging health benefits, and the new emphasis is on developing varieties that exploit the fruit's health potential. They've found that peaches rank high in some types of phytochemicals and have good to excellent antioxidant activity.
Peaches' phytonutrients have shown cancer-fighting possibilities. These substances have demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors. A study in China found that men and women who ate peaches more than two times per week had less risk of developing cancers of the mouth than those who did not eat peaches. Considering that peaches are native to China and a sacred symbol of longevity there, science is confirming what ancient Chinese wisdom has long espoused.
Though low in calories—one cup of sliced peaches has only 60 calories—and composed of 80 percent water, peaches are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. The dose of fiber in peaches acts as a gentle laxative, aids digestion, and may also help combat cancer. The fruit is rich in cancer-fighting vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, as well as the immune-boosting vitamin C, which also protects against heart disease. Rich in iron and potassium, peaches help ensure proper functioning of cells, the balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body, and nerve signaling. Lutein and zeaxanthin—two carotenoids found in peaches—help guard against blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration.
All in the Skin
For some, peaches' fuzzy skin may be a put-off. Yet like most fruits and vegetables, the vitamins are found in the skin, so it would be wise to enjoy peaches skin and all. Another option would be to eat the peach's close relative, the nectarine, which boasts smooth skin. Either way, avoid the pit—peach pits contain a toxic substance known as hydrocyanic acid or cyanide, and ingestion of large quantities can be fatal. Nothing's more disappointing than a mealy peach, so select peaches at the peak of the season—May through the middle of October—and everything will be peachy keen.