It’s been emphasized for many years that fiber, whether soluble or insoluble, is an important component of a person’s diet because of its effects toward overall health. Pectin is a type of beneficial fiber that’s mainly found in apples, although other fruits and vegetables have traces of it too. Pectin is also available as a supplement. If you’re wondering how you can benefit from pectin, read this article to know more about what it is, how much you should be taking and what are its potential side effects.
What Is Pectin?
Pectin, whose name comes from the Greek word "pektos" meaning "curdled" or "gelatinated," is a water-soluble fiber found in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, and is responsible for giving these walls their structure. Once the fruit ripens and becomes softer, pectin is then broken down by enzymes.
Pectin is a mixture of indigestible polysaccharides, so it cannot be digested by the body in its natural form. However, an altered form of pectin called modified citrus pectin (MCP) contains properties that allow it to be digested.1,2,3
Aside from MCP, one of the most common types of pectin is apple pectin, a soluble fiber mainly found in the fruit of the same name, but can also be derived from other fruits too. Apple pectin is usually made into dietary supplements that can be utilized for various benefits.4,5 Meanwhile, other forms of pectin that are available include:6
• Dry or powdered pectin: This comes in multiple forms, and is often tailored to the amount of sugar that may be replaced in a recipe.
• Liquid pectin: It’s similar to dry pectin, but is dissolved first to avoid clumping.
• Pomona’s Pectin: This is a popular brand of a pectin known as low methoxyl pectin. It combines with calcium instead of sugar, and can be used for low- or no-sugar preserves.
What Foods Are High in Pectin?
As mentioned, pectin can be found in different food sources. Pectin content can vary widely among plants, and even within the same plant over time. Two notable pectin sources include:
• Fresh, organically grown and GMO-free apples: Apples contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber per ounce, and pectin accounts for about half this amount. However, even an amount as small as this can lead to powerful health impacts, because pectin can interact with other apple phytonutrients. Furthermore, pectin in apples may help increase your fiber intake.
• Apple cider vinegar: The pectin in this vinegar may assist with soothing intestinal spasms.
Other examples of foods with pectin include:
✓ Bananas: They are a good pectin source provided you don’t let them get too ripe or soft before eating them.
Fresh fruit juice made from fresh, organically grown and GMO-free fruits is also a good source of pectin. Real fruit juice, not sugar-loaded varieties, contains pectin that bind to naturally occurring methanol present in the fruit. When you consume fresh fruit, the pectin in the food takes the methanol and prevents your body from absorbing it. You won’t get this benefit when you drink processed and commercially bottled fruit or fruit juice, because the pectin and the methanol already dissociate.7
Purchase fruits that are fresh, organically grown and GMO-free, in order to reap the benefits of pectin and other nutrients present these foods. Plus, because these fruits contain natural sugars of their own, eat these in moderation to prevent unwanted complications.
Health Benefits of Pectin
While it's said that pectin and other dietary fibers don't often contribute significantly to nutrition because the intestine can't digest them very well, they definitely can contribute to health, specifically through the following benefits:8,9
• Helping alleviate constipation: Fibers like pectin can ease constipation and make stool soft. However, drink lots of fluids when taking pectin or apple pectin, since increasing fiber intake without drinking enough fluids may worsen constipation.
• Improving digestive system function: Pectin draws water from the digestive system and forms a gel, eventually helping slow down digestion. Pectin also has sticky properties that help contribute to health by attaching to cholesterol-rich bile within the intestines and moving it out of the body.
• Helping maintain normal blood sugar levels: When soluble fiber is consumed, it helps slow down digestion and delay stomach emptying. This slows down the rate at which the body absorbs carbohydrates from a meal, and assists in stabilizing blood glucose levels and reducing demand for insulin. Diabetics who are taking insulin may have their dosage adjusted while taking pectin supplements because of the latter’s ability to lower blood sugar levels.
Other possible health benefits of pectin include delivering impacts to blood cholesterol levels and assisting in removal of toxins like lead and mercury from the body.10
What Is Pectin Used For?
Pectin is a type of polysaccharide fiber found in the cell walls of plants, specifically in the leaves, roots and fruits. Its main purpose is to bind plant cells together.11 Pectin is also used in foods to enhance absorption and add fiber to your diet. It’s typically employed as a thickening agent for foods that need to gel or thicken, such as jams and jellies.12 Lastly, pectin can also be utilized as a fat substitute in some baked goods.13
Studies on Pectin
Studies on pectin are quite limited. However, they do highlight and support its potential for improving health:
• A European Journal of Clinical Nutrition article published in 2012 showed that subjects who took pectin from two sources reduced their LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by 7 to 10 percent. A subsequent trial also discovered that taking 6 grams of citrus pectin daily for three weeks led to a 6 to 7 percent decrease in LDL levels.14,15
• According to a 2017 FEMS Microbiology Ecology article, some bacteria strains possess the ability to utilize apple pectin and substances from sugar beet pectin. Plus, results showed that pectin may help promote development of anti-inflammatory cytokines, lead to potential prebiotic effects and help rebalance the microbiota, making it more anti-inflammatory in nature.16
• A 2017 Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A article revealed that the application of a pectin-insulin patch helped limit diabetes-associated kidney damage and improve kidney function.17
What’s the Ideal Dosage for Pectin?
Pectin commonly is found as a coarse, odorless white or yellow powder with gelatin-like properties. Apple and grapefruit pectin capsules are made from what's usually considered the "waste" peels of fruits.
Before buying or taking a pectin supplement, consult your doctor first, since pectin is linked to different side effects (see below). There is no specific dosage of pectin that's been concluded, so you may want to check how much pectin you must be taking based on your condition. Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements like pectin.18
When taking pectin supplements, always follow the package instructions. Drink enough water too. Hydration is crucial if you’re taking pectin or other fiber supplements, because both soluble and insoluble fibers need water to pass through the digestive system effectively.19
Side Effects of Pectin to Know About
Take note of the following side effects that have been linked to pectin:20
• Bloating and gas in the intestinal tract: Pectin is known to cause these complications, which may lead to discomfort and abdominal pain. Fiber in pectin can’t be digested and absorbed easily due to the natural absence of the necessary enzymes that break down fiber in the small intestine. Fiber buildup in the small and large intestines can lead to the formation of hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases, and cause bloating and abdominal pain that you may feel when you need to pass gas.
• Reduced appetite and even unintended weight loss: The fiber found in pectin can be dense and may expand inside the stomach. When it does, it places light pressure on the stomach’s walls and triggers receptors along the digestive tract to signal the brain that you are full.
• Diarrhea: Since it’s a fiber supplement, pectin may have some sort of “cleaner effect” for the intestinal tract. This can lead to diarrhea, especially if pectin intake is high. Plus, large amounts of fiber in the diet can block the absorption of some nutrients in the intestinal tract. Diarrhea can also occur because of malabsorption of nutrients in the intestines.
• Mineral depletion: As the fiber from pectin moves through the digestive system, it can block the absorption of minerals into the bloodstream. It’s reported that calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and beta-carotene21 uptake may be reduced because these can be trapped among the fiber particles in the intestinal tract and fail to pass through the walls of the intestine and into the blood. It’s recommended to take pectin and mineral vitamins separately to ensure mineral absorption.
Pectin supplements also may interact with the following medicines, so be cautious and inform your doctor if you are taking any of these:22
• Tetracycline antibiotics such as demeclocycline (Declomycin), minocycline (Minocin) and tetracycline (Achromycin): Pectin may reduce both the absorption and effectiveness of these drugs.
• Digoxin (Lanoxin): Because pectin is rich in fiber, it may also reduce the absorption and effectiveness of this medicine, which is often used to treat heart failure.23
• Lovastatin (Mevacor): Pectin may decrease the amount of lovastatin that the body absorbs.
Should You Take a Chance on Pectin Today?
Because it’s a soluble fiber that can assist with digestive bodily functions, pectin may be useful for some people who need help in regulating their bowel habits. Others may want to supplement their dietary efforts at improving their cholesterol LDL levels.24 However, since studies are quite limited on this substance, there’s no clinical evidence that it can work for everyone.
Before taking pectin, talk with your doctor about why you want to take it. You may also want to discuss the dosages of any medications you currently may be taking. This way, your doctor not only will be able to determine whether a pectin supplement will interfere with those medications, but also to recommend an amount that’s just right for you, thus preventing unwanted side effects and complications.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pectin
Q: What is pectin made of?
A: Pectin is a water-soluble fiber found in different fruits and vegetables. London South Bank University highlights that pectin is a heterogeneous group of acidic structural polysaccharides.25
Q: Where does pectin come from?
Q: What does pectin do?
A: Pectin is able to deliver health benefits to the body, such as:
• Addressing concerns of people suffering from constipation
• Enhancing digestive system function
• Helping maintain healthy blood sugar levels
• Possibly helping balance LDL cholesterol levels
Q: How should you use pectin?
A: In plants, pectin's main purpose is to bind plant cells together. However, when pectin is derived from food sources, it's added to other foods to help improve absorption and increase the fiber in your diet. Pectin can also be used as a thickening agent for jams, jellies or other foods that need to gel or thicken. In some cases, pectin may be used as a fat substitute in some baked goods.
Q: Is pectin bad for you?
A: Pectin isn't “bad” for you; however, there are caveats to consider before using it. For instance, taking pectin to address constipation requires drinking lots of fluids. Constipation can worsen if fluids and pectin aren't balanced in the body. Other side effects linked to pectin include bloating and gas in the intestinal tract, reduced appetite, unintended weight loss, diarrhea and mineral depletion.
Q: Is pectin gluten-free?
A: Pectin, particularly liquid leptin, may be useful in gluten-free baking because of its ability to turn into a stretchy gel that keeps things moist. Powdered pectin may also be another alternative.26
Q: Is pectin vegan?
A: Yes. Pectin is allowed for anyone following a vegan or a vegetarian diet because this substance is derived from fruits and has no added ingredients.27
Q: How much pectin should you use?
A: Unfortunately, there are no clinical studies showing specific dosages of pectin that are best for whatever purpose you’re taking it. If you’re planning to take a pectin supplement, consult with your doctor to determine a dosage that’s ideal for your needs.
Q: Where can you buy pectin?
A: You can find pectin powder or pectin supplements in different health food stores and websites. You can also make your own pectin powder at home. This Leaf TV recipe is a step-by-step guide providing you with instructions on how to make pectin powder from apples.28