Every time you read an article about “superfoods,” experts always seem to trot out the same ones—such as blueberries, beans and leafy green vegetables. How much kale can one person eat?
If you crave something new and want to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, try these “weird” fruits. They often are available at natural-foods markets such as Whole Foods—and even at some “regular” supermarkets. These fruits may look a little strange—and the flavors definitely will be unfamiliar. But they have some remarkable health benefits—and you will discover some fascinating flavors that you never knew existed.
Don’t let a little mouth-pucker put you off. The chokeberry has more antioxidant activity than any of the regular “superberries,” including cranberries (see below), blueberries and strawberries. Research suggests that chokeberries may lower blood sugar and increase the body’s production of insulin—helpful even for people who don’t have diabetes because stabilizing blood sugar reduces the tendency for weight gain. Compounds in the berries have been linked to tumor inhibition, including tumors of the breast, colon and skin.
Chokeberries also are high in catechins, one of the high-powered substances in green tea. Catechins and related compounds have been shown to be very good for cardiovascular health, in part because they reduce arterial inflammation and the risk for clots.
The berries sometimes are available fresh but most often are frozen. Add them to yogurt or smoothies. If you wish, you can sweeten them with a touch of sugar, honey or agave nectar. The sugar offsets the tartness—it “opens up” the flavor and makes it more satisfying.
This fruit is harvested from Amazonian palm trees that can tower more than 100 feet. Buriti can be peeled and eaten raw, although the firm flesh is somewhat similar to a sweet potato. It is tastier and softer when soaked in water and then put in a food processor or blender with a little water and sugar to make a creamy drink.
Buriti provides high levels of carotenoids that transform to vitamin A in the body, along with tocopherols, forms of vitamin E. Research has shown that people who get plenty of vitamin E from foods (not from supplements) tend to have lower rates of heart disease and some cancers.
You might recoil the first time you see this exotic-looking fruit (pictured above). It looks like a cross between a pomegranate and an iguana. Once you slice through the fleshy protrusions on the skin, you will see that the ugliness is on the surface. The flesh inside might be white, yellow or blue, freckled with generous amounts of what appear to be poppy seeds. It has a delicate taste that some compare to kiwifruit or some melons and can be eaten raw. Dragon fruit is a rich source of antioxidants, including catechins and lycopene. Lycopene is especially important for men because it reduces risk for prostate cancer.
Gac, which is native to Vietnam, is a mango-size fruit with deep reddish-orange flesh. The color indicates very high levels of beta-carotene, the same potent antioxidant that you get from carrots—except that gac has about 10 times more. The zeaxanthin (another antioxidant) in gac has been linked to a reduced risk for macular degeneration, a serious eye disease. The fruit is loaded with lycopene, with about 70 times more than that in a tomato.
The flavor of the raw fruit has been compared to that of a slightly sweet cucumber. In Vietnam and other Asian countries, the pulp and seeds usually are cooked with a gelatinous form of rice and served during special events.
You can make the same dish with glutinous rice (available in Asian markets), gac fruit, coconut milk, sugar and a dash of red wine. For a recipe, search for “xoi gac” at TheRavenousCouple.com.
You may have heard of this one, but it is so good for you that it bears repeating. The most common form of açaí is the juice. But in Brazil, its home country, açaí (ah-sa-yee) is eaten fresh. The fruits are mashed to separate the seeds from the flesh. The mashed fruit is mixed with the Brazilian equivalent of granola, sweetened with a little sugar and served with banana slices.
Açaí is rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants that help reduce premature cell aging and may reduce the intestinal inflammation that accompanies inflammatory bowel disease. Anthocyanins are common in fruits with red and purple colors such as grapes and berries, but açaí has far more than any other food.
You might find fresh or frozen açaí berries in specialty stores, but if all you can find is the juice, look for one where açaí is the first ingredient on the label.
Not So Weird But Super-Good for You: Cranberries
Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), compounds that help prevent infection-causing bacteria from adhering to tissues in the urinary tract, thus helping to prevent urinary-tract infections.
Men, take note: Cranberries can make life a little easier if you have benign prostatic hyperplasia, enlargement of the prostate gland that can make urination difficult—and way too frequent.
A study of men in their 60s found that those who were given a cranberry extract had improved urinary symptoms, including improvements in their flow rate. The men also had lower levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), an enzyme associated with prostate cancer.
Regarding drinking cranberry juice, I feel that there is not enough good data to support that the juice works for urinary tract problems or for prostate disorders. It’s better to eat whole cranberries. Simmer the cranberries in a little water…add a little sugar to subdue the tartness…and continue cooking until the berries burst.
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