Add Variety to Your Diet with Tropical Fruits

There’s something about the tropical climate that grows foods that are especially delicious and nutritious. Given that so many medicinal herbs come from the tropical rain forest, it’s no surprise that tropical fruits bring their own uniquely healthful benefits, different from more northern fruits such as apples, pears and peaches. Now that the weather is warm, why don’t you set the table to dine outdoors, put on some island music and treat yourself to the bounty of the tropics? There are some very healthy tropical fruits that I bet you’ve never tried!

Fruits That Help Fight Cancer, Lower Stress

To learn more about the unique benefits of these fruits, I called nutritionist Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Of course you know that fruits like pineapple and mango are tasty and healthy, but there are many other tropical fruits that are less well-known and equally delicious. Sandon shared some of her favorites…


There’s a reason you may have seen ads for mangosteen on the Internet. This fruit contains calcium and phosphorous (important to the health of your heart, kidneys and nerves) as well as high levels of antioxidants including xanthones. One of the xanthones, called mangostin, was found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer effects in animal studies. A few laboratory studies suggest xanthones might be helpful in preventing cancer as well as stopping tumor growth.

Grown in Southeast Asia, the mangosteen is about two to three inches in diameter and dark purple with a hard skin. Picture a round eggplant with a soft white interior, which is the only part you should eat. Fresh mangosteens taste a bit like pineapple or peaches. They’re not available fresh in the continental US (you can find them in Hawaii) — so try the juice instead, available in many grocery stores and online.

Longan Berry

This small yellowish-brown or reddish-brown fruit, native to China, has a thin, brittle skin and a musky, sweet taste. Like other berries, it has a high antioxidant content, particularly vitamins A and C. Traditionally, longan berries have been used to reduce stress and for stomachache. Laboratory research suggests that these berries have particular anticancer properties, stopping the growth of tumors. You can find dried or canned longan berries in Asian food markets and in some supermarkets — but if you buy the canned ones, it’s best to rinse off some or all of the sweet syrup. If you prefer fresh fruit (as I always do), you can find longan berries in Asian markets during the summertime.


Papayas are fairly common in the US already, but I include them here because men would do well to develop a taste for this fruit. Papayas contain lycopene, a carotenoid related to beta-carotene that may help prevent prostate cancer. For instance, a study reported in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who consumed the most lycopene-rich foods, such as papaya, were 82% less likely to develop prostate cancer. This pear-shaped fruit has a sweet, slightly musky taste and a soft, butterlike texture — it is high in vitamin C and a good source of vitamins A and E, all powerful antioxidants. Last but not least, papayas contain the enzyme papain, which aids digestion.


A white fruit about the size of a walnut and native to China, lychees often are served as dessert in Chinese restaurants and, likely because people are embracing global cuisine, they have been getting more attention lately. They’re delicious when eaten fresh, with a taste that has been described as somewhere between a grape and a pear with a delicate texture. Your local supermarket is likely to sell lychees dried or canned in their own juice — look in the canned-fruit section. Or you can find them fresh from May or June through summer at Oriental food markets. Lychees are healthy in that they are even higher in vitamin C than oranges and lemons. As an extra punch, they’re also loaded with potassium, helpful for maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Dare To Be Different

When it comes to nutrition, variety is critical. Sandon suggests considering tropical fruits as something of a gastronomical adventure, bringing you great healthy benefits in all new ways.

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