6 Benefits of Pectin

What do apples, pears, plums, cherries, bananas, and lemons have in common? They’re all fruits that are high in pectin.

Studies have found that pectin may help lower cholesterol levels (1) and counteract intestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea (2, 3), among other benefits. As such, many nutritionally-minded individuals might consider taking pectin supplements. But does pectin actually have a positive impact on nutritional health? And does supplementing with pectin have any risks? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Pectin?

Let’s start with the basics. Pectin is a soluble fiber that occurs naturally in several types of fruit. It is a polysaccharide, which is a type of carbohydrate composed of bonded sugar molecules (4). In its natural form, pectin cannot be fully digested by humans (5). However, because it is soluble, pectin breaks down and gelatinizes when exposed to water. “This is why so many home chefs use pectin when they jar jams and jellies. It’s a natural thickening agent,” explains Emily Pierce, a registered dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition, a Philadelphia-based company that offers weight loss and nutrition counseling.

Pectin’s solubility is key to its suggested benefits. “Fiber is really good for us,” Pierce says. “Insoluble fibers pretty much go out the way that they came in, but because pectin is a soluble fiber, it dissolves in water and can work with our gut osmolality to regulate gastrointestinal (GI) issues.”

6 Benefits of Pectin

According to Pierce, naturally occurring pectin can offer benefits for people with digestive issues. “If you don’t have the right amount of fiber in your system, that could lead to constipation or diarrhea, depending on what else you’re eating. Pectin could help balance things out,” she describes, before adding, “There’s a reason that applesauce is regularly recommended for GI upset—it’s high in pectin.”

Due to its stomach-settling qualities, pectin has also been recommended for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis (6, 7).

Pierce explains that as a fiber, pectin may also be able to help lower cholesterol (1). “If you look at the digestive process, everything that we eat is used, stored, or excreted. If there’s more fiber in the gut, it can help to remove loose lipid—that is, fats—from your system,” she says. “Though, this isn’t a major effect. It helps you excrete a little more fat, and absorb a little less.” There isn’t a lot of clinical research about the fat-absorbing qualities of pectin in humans, but there have been studies on rodents that back up this line of thinking (8).

Beyond intestinal benefits, some research has indicated that pectin can help combat cancer. Animal studies have shown that pectin can help slow the spread of a few different types of cancer, but further research on this subject is required (9, 10).

There has been some research that shows that pectin increases satiety and helps people lose weight (11, 12).

There are also claims that pectin can be used to treat heavy metal toxicity by helping the body excrete elements like lead, mercury, and arsenic (13, 14). However, further scientific research is required to support these claims.

Ways to Use Pectin

There are several ways to add pectin to your diet. The easiest—and the way that Pierce recommends—is to increase your daily fruit intake. “If one of my clients were to say to me, ‘I really want to increase my pectin,’ I would recommend that she have two apples a day and a handful of berries. Ingesting more pectin in its natural form is best.”

If eating more fruit isn’t an option, there are a many types of pectin supplements on the market, including powders and capsules. If you choose to go this route, Pierce strongly suggests keeping to the dosage recommendations of each product, as there hasn’t been a lot of clinical research into proper daily pectin supplementation. It’s also important to be sure that the pectin you’re using is approved for supplementation and isn’t meant to be used as a thickening agent in home cooking.

Side Effects of Pectin

Pierce says that generally speaking, pectin—in both its natural and supplemental forms—won’t cause any harm, but if you overdo it, there can be some unpleasant side effects. “Diarrhea and constipation are definitely possible if you take too much. Those can typically be addressed as they happen, but they can escalate if you ignore them,” she cautions. “For example, people who overdose on fiber supplements may wind up with an intestinal blockage.”

Pierce also notes that fiber supplements can influence your hydration status. “Fiber digestion requires water, which may mean you need to up your water intake or risk dehydration.”

Finally, Pierce says that anyone with a compromised immune system, including those who are pregnant, people with cancer, and diabetics, should avoid pectin supplements. “If you fall into one of these categories, don’t take anything without consulting a doctor or pharmacist,” she concludes.

Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? Let us know in the comments!

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