The legend has it that Maria de Medici, who moved to France following her marriage to Henry IV, began to suffer from a lack of vitamins. Men of the court were immediately sent to Sicily to pick up citrus fruits, considered among the finest of the time. However, the road was long and the citrus fruits would not arrive intact. Thus, the men of the court had the idea of heating the citrus pulps by mixing them with sugar. On the boxes containing this fruit and sugar cream was written, Per Maria Ammalata, that means in English for Maria ill. But when the court cooks tasted that delight, it became simply marmalade for everyone. Beyond this legend, however, the jam has very ancient origins. In fact, the ancient Greeks already used to boil quinces together with honey to obtain a sweet mixture that can be preserved, since the fruits were not available all year round. Nowadays, jam is one of the most readily available products in homes, an essential ingredient for breakfasts and snacks, the extra touch in the preparation of desserts and sometimes even an accompanying sauce for delicious main courses. However, jam is only considered a voluptuary product, a high calorie food that may cause overweight without bringing benefits. But is it really so? Let's try to understand better.
Jam and antioxidants
Studies have observed that the main phenolic compounds of berries, such as ellagic and caffeic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin and morine, substances with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral action, do not undergo significant changes following the process put in place to obtain the jam (Amakura et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2000). As for strawberry jam, the process to obtain jam determines to the loss of a part of the antioxidants, while the ellagic acid remains stable, with a very low loss, around 20%, and less in the case of jam made at home compared to industrial jam (Flores et al, Cancers, 2016). It is important to emphasize that ellagic acid is a powerful antioxidant, with anticancer and antiproliferative properties (Flores et al, Cancers, 2016). Jams obtained from fruits such as orange, mango, tamarind, banana and guava were also analyzed, as these fruits are particularly rich in antioxidants. What emerged is that the jam obtained from these fruits remains a precious source of anti-aging, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory substances. For example, orange marmalade is rich in cinnamic acid, an antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory substance, while mango marmalade contains catechins, powerful antioxidants capable of protecting the heart, liver and brain (Donno et al, Molecules, 2018). Even storage does not appear to significantly alter the antioxidant content of jams. In fact, experiments on a type of black currant jam showed, after a year of storage, the stable presence of beta carotene and a 40% reduction in vitamin C. The anthocyanins were significantly reduced, by about 70%, but they were still present (Viberg et al, Int J Food Sci Nutr, 1997).
Jam, the sugar problem
Jams are often rich in sugar. We are talking about added sugar, usually refined sugar. Sugar increases the risk of obesity, of visceral fat accumulation and, in the long run, also of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cellular degeneration (Malik et al, Am J Clin Nutr, 2013). But the sugar added to jams can even modify their properties. In fact, the studies that showed that the jam is able to preserve important amounts of antioxidants were performed on jams that contained little sugar or were even prepared without sugar. Instead, it has been observed that the reduction of antioxidants, following the jam preparation process, is greater in the case of jam prepared with high amounts of sugar (Howard et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2010). However, attention should also be paid to jams made with sugar alternatives. For example, nowadays it is possible to find jams on the market in which agave syrup appears among the ingredients. Agave syrup contains high amounts of fructose that, in large quantities and in the long term, can increase the cardiovascular risk and the risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer (Santhekadur et al, Genes Dis, 2020).
Jam and energy, the breakfast that gives the sprint
Therefore, the jam, when chosen without or with little sugar, even better if prepared at home, can be a precious source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances, as well as energy ready to use. Therefore, an excellent breakfast is certainly given by a slice of lightly toasted wholegrain bread and a little jam, perhaps raspberry or orange jams, which are easy to find or to make at home. In this way there is a balanced supply of slow-release carbohydrates and vegetable proteins thanks to the bread and of antioxidants and simple sugars of immediate use, very important after an overnight fast, thanks to the jam (Aufiero, the nutritional and therapeutic role of foods). For an extra touch, you can also add a little butter, as long as it is of excellent quality, which provides calcium, proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D and which reduces the glycemic index of the combination given by bread and jam. In any case, it is good to pay attention and limit the use of jam in case of blood sugar alterations. In allergic people it is good to limit or avoid strawberry jam as well.