But even if you haven’t heard of this variety of fiber before, it’s more than likely that it’s a prevalent part of your everyday life without you even realizing it. This is due to both its frequent addition to a variety of food products and its natural occurrence in some of the most consumed (and beloved) fruits and veggies in America.
Ahead: What is pectin, exactly, and why is it added to so many food products? Plus: Why fruit pectin is great for fighting inflammation and balancing your microbiome, and how to eat more of it.
What is pectin?
When it comes to fiber, this kind of carbohydrate is broken down into two main groups: soluble and insoluble fiber. Within these two groups you’ll find many different types of fibers, including pectin. “Pectin is a type of soluble fiber found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It’s often used as an additive to thicken foods and create a more gel-like texture,” explains Bianca Tamburello, RDN at FRESH Communications. This bulking effect occurs because all soluble fibers (including pectin) dissolve in water to form a gel—whether that be in our body once we’ve consumed it or in culinary applications.
“Pectin is a type of soluble fiber found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It’s often used as an additive to thicken foods and create a more gel-like texture.”—Bianca Tamburello, RDN
This gel formed by pectin makes it the ideal additive and stabilizer for “jellies, jams, frozen foods, and candies,” says Tamburello. It’s even included in certain milk and yogurt products to improve their texture. “If you’re aiming to use pectin in this way, you can find it in liquid and powder forms in the baking aisle,” she adds. These products are typically constructed from either citrus peels or apple cores and skins.
With this information, you may be thinking, isn’t that what gelatin is for? Indeed, pectin and gelatin do carry out very similar jobs in the kitchen. However, the biggest difference between these two baker’s secrets is that pectin is derived from plants (and thus vegan) whereas gelatin is usually created using collagen from animal-based sources.
Health benefits of pectin
Beyond being a commonly typecast processed baking ingredient featured in some less-than-nutrient-dense dishes (like desserts, which we love), pectin is actually naturally found in most fruits and veggies—and is associated with an impressive amount of health benefits.
It’s great for your gut
As a soluble fiber, pectin serves as a prebiotic, or food for our healthy bacteria, in the gut microbiome. Found in our large intestine, the microbiome is not only influential over our digestive health but our immune health, brain health, and more. Plus, the gel pectin forms in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract helps to support digestive regularity, preventing or treating common complaints like diarrhea and constipation.
Plus cardiovascular perks
There are also heart health benefits associated with pectin. This is primarily due to its ability to bind to cholesterol in the small intestine—ridding it from the body through waste as opposed to being absorbed into the blood. High amounts of cholesterol circulating in our body over long periods of time can increase the risk of negative heart health outcomes, like plaque build-up in our veins and arteries—and we definitely want to avoid that.
Blood sugar-balancing benefits
From a metabolic health perspective, pectin also delivers. This fiber slows down digestion, which not only helps us to feel fuller longer but helps to regulate the blood sugar response. So, when we eat pectin-rich foods, it’s less likely that we’ll experience a spike (and subsequent crash) in blood sugar levels after eating, helping to prevent that afternoon energy slump after lunch. This benefit is especially helpful for those with metabolic concerns like type 2 diabetes, however, as it can aid in better management of the disease. One animal study even linked pectin consumption to reduced insulin resistance, further illustrating how it can support those with metabolic disorders.
Pectin’s immune perks
Finally, evidence shows that pectin can boost our immune health. Studies have found this common baking ingredient to have anti-tumor properties, particularly against colon cancer. Plus, a report examining five case studies linked pectin supplementation to heavy metal detoxification. These metals can seriously impact our immune health, among many other body systems, so this potential benefit is definitely worth noting.
Because of all these health perks, you’ll find pectin in a whole host of medications and supplements—especially those geared at addressing GI, heart health, and metabolic concerns.
8 foods high in pectin that are great for your gut
Pro tip: You don’t need to turn to a supplement to get your daily dose of this fiber. “The best way to eat more pectin is through natural sources like fruits and vegetables,” says Tamburello. There are so many delicious plant-based foods that are chock full of the stuff. And while there isn’t an official recommendation on how much pectin we should be consuming, therapeutic benefits have been found with 10 to 20 grams per day. Enjoying a couple servings of some of these top food sources of pectin can help you easily reach this goal:
It may come as no surprise based on what we’ve learned about this culinary staple so far that apples top the list of high-pectin foods—you know, given that pectin products are often derived from this snack time favorite and all. But be sure to keep the skin on your apples as this is where you’ll find most of the pectin in the popular fruit.
Citrus fruits, including grapefruit, lemon, and orange, are also super sources of pectin. While these acidic go-to’s are often the key to a perfectly balanced dish, they typically aren’t thought of as thickening agents. This is partly due to the fact that most of the fiber in these tangy fruits is found in the skin. However, you will get some of this important fiber from the flesh of these fruits as well as in the zest—all the more reason to always zest your citrus!
While oft-forgotten, apricots not only offer an irresistibly sweet flavor, but they are packed with nutrition. These golden stone fruits typically found dried outside of harvest season are full of plant compounds, vitamins C and E, and (of course) pectin. No need to reach for the store-bought pectin when whipping up apricot jam at home.
There’s a reason your mother’s famous cranberry sauce recipe thickens up in no time without any additional gelling agents—and (unsurprisingly) it’s the pectin that these berries contain. So, not only will these tart holiday favorites cut through the richness of a holiday dinner, but they will also help you to better digest that epic meal.
Whether fresh haricots vert or dried kidney beans, all varieties of these plant-based proteins will offer you notable amounts of pectin. That means that beyond the incredible benefits these fiber-rich legumes will offer you, they will also help to naturally thicken soups, stews, dips, and more without the need to add dairy or other creamy ingredients.
Pectin may very well be why grapes are such a satisfying snack. Whether frozen or fresh, popping grapes while enjoying your favorite show or finishing off the work day will not only curb your sweet tooth but offer you so many incredible health benefits. This is thanks to pectin and all the vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds (like resveratrol) they contain.
Yet another great snack option, carrots are perfect for dipping in hummus, babaganoush, and guacamole. Plus, they are also just so dang good for you, loaded with not only pectin but the plant pigment beta carotene, which is excellent for eye health.
Possibly as popular of a baking ingredient as pectin, bananas are also rich in this impressive fiber. Whether it’s bread, muffins, cookies, pudding, or cakes, bananas naturally thicken desserts while imparting moisture and a subtly sweet flavor that is simply chef’s kiss.
So, regardless of whether you opt for a food, supplement, or baking ingredient pectin option (though food-based is always best), it’s undeniable that this fiber is more than worthy of a place in your daily routine. This gelling agent’s ability to boost overall health will help both you and your loved ones feel their best in the most delicious way.
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
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- McRorie, Johnson W Jr, and Nicola M McKeown. “Understanding the Physics of Functional Fibers in the Gastrointestinal Tract: An Evidence-Based Approach to Resolving Enduring Misconceptions about Insoluble and Soluble Fiber.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vol. 117,2 (2017): 251-264. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.021
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- Prado, Samira Bernardino Ramos do et al. “Chelate-soluble pectin fraction from papaya pulp interacts with galectin-3 and inhibits colon cancer cell proliferation.” International journal of biological macromolecules vol. 126 (2019): 170-178. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.12.191
- Eliaz, Isaac et al. “Integrative medicine and the role of modified citrus pectin/alginates in heavy metal chelation and detoxification–five case reports.” Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006) vol. 14,6 (2007): 358-64. doi:10.1159/000109829