The Benefits of Sweet Tamarind

Sweet tamarind is a fruit, a condiment and a spice. The pulp of the fruit is a rich source of many essential nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants that all play a role in keeping you healthy. Among its many benefits, the sweet tamarind can help lower your blood pressure, manage glucose levels, relieve digestive disorders and keep your bones strong.

Sweet but tart, the pulp of sweet tamarind fruit can be eaten raw or used in cooking to mellow the strong flavor. (Image: Narong KHUEANKAEW/iStock/GettyImages)

What Is Sweet Tamarind?

A tropical fruit native to Africa, the sweet tamarind comes from the evergreen tamarind tree, scientifically known as Tamarindus indica L. from the Fabaceae family of plants.

The tamarind tree produces long, curved brown pods that resemble large over-mature green beans. Each pod has 12 small brown seeds surrounded by fibrous reddish-brown pulp that can taste acidic or sweet, according to its growing season.

As the pods of the sweet tamarind matures, the pulp dehydrates into a sticky paste, which can be eaten raw or used as seasoning in sauces, soups, relishes, curries and to make candy. In addition to the pulp, sweet tamarind flowers and leaves can also be consumed as a vegetable. The seeds can be roasted, boiled or made into flour for baking. Unripe tamarind pods make a good flavoring for fish, rice and meat.

Medicinal Uses of Tamarind

Sweet tamarind, also known as tamarindo, has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Every part of tamarind, including the root, body, pulp of the fruit and leaves, has a rich nutritional and medicinal value. According to the report published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine in September 2014, some of the tamarind benefits may help with:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea and dysentery
  • Some bacterial infections
  • Parasitic infestations
  • Wound healing
  • Constipation
  • Inflammation

Macro Nutritional Content

Sweet tamarind is fairly high in calories, with 287 per cup of raw pulp. Most of those calories — 94 percent — come from carbohydrates. Your body needs carbs to fuel your brain, heart, kidneys and nervous system_._ Dietary Guidelines recommends you consume at least 130 grams of carbohydrates every day, and sweet tamarind offers 75 grams of carbohydrates per cup.

Tamarind contains very little fat, with 0.7 grams per cup. The fruit does not contain cholesterol. Tamarinds are so sweet because they are high in sugar content with 68.9 grams per cup. Being a natural sugar in fructose form_,_ it is easily metabolized by your body. Consuming the amount of sugar in a cup of tamarind pulp would not cause the potential harm that added refined sugar does.

You don't need to worry about eating tamarind if you are on a salt-restricted diet because sweet tamarind is very low in sodium. Tamarind has a protein content of 3.4 grams per cup; that's 7 percent of your daily value (DV). For optimal health, 10 to 30 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from protein, which is needed to build tissue including bones, skin and muscles.

Benefits From Essential Minerals

Packed with nutrients, sweet tamarind fruit offers essential minerals that your body needs to perform many different functions. Per cup, taramind provides:

  • Iron: 3.4 milligrams or 19 percent DV, to ensure you have healthy red blood cells
  • Magnesium: 110 milligrams or 28 percent DV, for cell signalling and protein synthesis
  • Potassium: 753 milligrams or 22 percent DV, for muscle control and regulating fluids
  • Phosphorus: 136 milligrams or 14 percent DV, needed bone mineralization, and cell signaling
  • Calcium: 6 milligrams or 9 percent DV, for healthy bones and teeth
  • Copper: 0.1 milligram of 5 percent DV, for healthy connective tissue and neurotransmission
  • Selenium: 1.6 micrograms of 2 percent DV, for maintaining your immune system

B Vitamins for Your Brain

Sweet tamarind fruit is a good source of B vitamins, important for maintaining the proper functioning of your heart, cells, muscles and brain_._

Vitamin B is essential for every aspect of brain function_,_ including DNA/RNA synthesis and repair, regulation of genes and synthesis of numerous signaling molecules. According to a review published in Nutrients in January 2016, vitamin B's active role in brain health is demonstrated by its ability to be transported across the blood brain barrier, where it carries out neurochemical synthesis_._

Each 1-cup serving of sweet tamarind contains these B vitamins:

  • Folate: 16.8 micrograms or 4 percent DV
  • Niacin: 2.3 milligram or 12 percent DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 0.2 milligrams or 2 percent DV
  • Riboflavin: 0.09 milligrams or 5 percent DV
  • Thiamine: 0.2 milligrams or 11 percent DV
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1 milligrams or 4 percent DV

Boosts Your Immune System

In addition to the B vitamins, the nutritional benefits of sweet tamarind highlight some important antioxidant vitamins that may help reduce your risk of chronic disease. Antioxidants protect your body from damaging free radicals, which are byproducts formed by normal body metabolism, such as digestion, and from environmental factors, such as pollutants.

Along with many enzymes with antioxidant properties, some vitamins that are known to act as antioxidants in sweet tamarind are:

  • Vitamin C: 4.2 milligram per cup
  • Beta carotene (precursor of retinol, the active form of vitamin A): 21.6 micrograms per cup
  • Vitamin E: 0.1 milligrams per cup

Tamarind fruit also contains polyphenols, which are plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties that help decrease oxidative stress and may have the potential of lowering the risk of certain conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative disease. In addition, antimicrobial properties of tamarind contribute to a strong immune system and may help protect you against viral infections and parasites.

Improves Your Digestion

A 1-cup serving of sweet tamarind pulp is an excellent source of fiber. It offers 6.1 grams, or 24 percent of your DV for dietary fiber. Fiber is beneficial to digestive health and tamarind is commonly used as a laxative in tropical countries.

Fiber is the part of plant food that your body can't absorb or digest. It passes through your body intact, adding bulk and absorbing water to help digested food move through your stomach and intestines. By softening your stool, fiber helps prevent diverticulitis, constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal disorders.

A January 2019 study concluded that fiber has a role in helping to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by increasing the volume and weight of the stool. From the results, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers suggested that adding 7 grams of fiber to your diet each day could reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by 8 percent.

Tamarind to Lower Cholesterol

Tamarind benefits your heart by helping to rid your arteries of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A study published in Electrophoresis in October 2018 found tamarind pulp lowered total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in hamsters with high cholesterol. Findings suggested that the reduction in cholesterol was due to changes in proteins in the blood that metabolize fat and help protect the heart.

In addition, the high fiber content in the tamarind fruit can play a potential role in the reduction of cholesterol, since fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.

Tamarind to Manage Diabetes

Diabetes Canada recommends people with Type 1, Type 2 or pre-diabetes consume lower glycemic index foods to help control blood sugar levels. The glycemic index is a ranking of the effect a carbohydrate-based food has on your blood sugar after being eaten.

Food with a low rating — 55 or less — is digested and absorbed slowly and translates to less fluctuation in blood sugar. Sweet tamarind has a low glycemic index so is an excellent food for diabetics. A study published in Food and Science Technology in January/March 2015 examined the glycemic index of tropical fruits, including tamarind, and the association with chronic disease.

Researchers observed that the glucose levels in tamarind are low and remain constant over time, showing this fruit has a minimal effect on blood glucose levels. The conclusion was tamarind can be one of the best options for patients with unregulated glucose levels because blood glucose levels remain stable without major peaks or variations.

Helps Keep Your Heart Healthy

Tamarind contains 3 minerals that are helpful for maintaining the proper functioning of your heart, including the management of blood pressure: calcium, magnesium and potassium.

  • Calcium helps blood vessels tighten and relax as required. Tamarinds are a better source of calcium than most fruits. The role of calcium in the prevention of hypertension was the topic of a study published in Cochrane Hypertension in June 2015. Findings determined an intake of calcium reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, particularly in young people.

  • Magnesium in tamarind fruit not only helps regulate hundreds of body systems, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and muscle and nerve function, you need magnesium to help blood vessels relax. Your heart has the highest magnesium requirement of any organ; with insufficient amounts, your heart cannot function properly.

  • Potassium in tamarind helps maintain normal fluid balance in your body, which controls blood pressure. It's also needed for muscle function, including relaxing blood vessel walls. In addition, potassium is also important for conducting electrical signals in the nervous system and in the heart, which prevents irregular heartbeat.

Improves Bone Density

Eating tamarind is good for your bones because it contains nutrients that contribute to increasing your bone density and keeping your whole skeletal system strong. Magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron and zinc — all provided by tamarind — help build the structural platform for bone formation and growth, according to American Bone Health.

  • Magnesium in tamarind contributes to increasing bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause, according to the National Institutes of Health. Your bones contain about 50 to 60 percent of the magnesium that resides in your body.

  • Potassium in tamarind pulp is also important for maintaining bone health. By neutralizing metabolic acids in your body, potassium conserves calcium and reduces urinary loss of the mineral. A potassium deficiency can cause a depletion of calcium in your bones.

  • Phosphorus in the sweet fruit is another element essential for bone growth. Since 85 percent of your body's phosphorus resides in your bones in the form of calcium phosphate, not getting enough phosphorus can cause weak and soft bones.
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