Food Group Superfoods: Fruit (Part 3)

Over the last couple of weeks (in "Food Group Superfoods [Part 1]" and "Food Group Superfoods [Part 2]"), we’ve explored foods from the "starch" group, including grains, beans, and starchy vegetables. This week, we’ll begin our "fruit" journey. Suffice it to say that I won’t be getting into some of the more exotic fruits that have been labeled "super fruits" by the media; these include açaí, mangosteen, and goji berries. While they may be the current fruit darlings, there are plenty of other "old standbys" that are just as nutritious (plus, I already wrote about the super fruits in September 2007!).

Most fruits have lots to offer in terms of nutrition, so in some ways, all fruits could be considered “superfoods.” However, as with most anything, there are a few that stand out from the rest.

Advertisement

Blueberries
What they offer: Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. I can’t seem to stop eating them! Blueberries are native to North America and were a staple of the early Americans’ diets. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, there are more than 450 varieties, but in general, the two major types in this country are the wild blueberries, or lowbush, and the cultivated blueberries, or highbush.

In terms of nutrients, blueberries are rich in vitamin C, manganese, and fiber. But where they really shine is in their antioxidant content. They contain phenolic acid, anthocyanins (which makes them blue), and ellagic acid. These phytonutrients provide many health benefits, including protection from heart disease (maybe even more so than grapes) and a decreased risk for macular degeneration.

More good news: Animal studies indicate that eating blueberries may slow the effects of aging, improving balance, coordination, and memory, and reducing the chances of dementia and Alzheimer disease. Blueberries are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. But there’s more: The antioxidants in blueberries are thought to reduce the risk of cancer. And if you tend to get urinary tract infections, add some blueberries to your diet; certain substances in these berries can prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

Nutrition info: One cup of blueberries contains about 80 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrate, 0.4 grams of fat, and 3.5 grams of fiber. Their glycemic index is around 50, so they’re on the lower end of the GI spectrum.

What to look for/how to use: Pick or buy blueberries that are firm, deep blue, and have a whitish cast to them. Make sure the berries aren’t “mushy,” soft, or dull in color. Refrigerate them, but don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. If you pick more than you can eat at one time, freeze them in plastic bags. Obviously, blueberries are great in fruit salads and cereal, but try them in a garden salad, stirred into yogurt, and mixed into pancake batter. Freeze some blueberries into ice cubes and add them to beverages.

Plums What they offer: I always think of plums as a summer fruit, along with blueberries, but just like most produce these days, you can get them pretty much year round. Plums are related to peaches, nectarines, apricots, and almonds. In the U.S., there are about 100 varieties of plums, and they come in different colors, ranging from dark blue/purple to red to green to yellow. Dried plums are, as you might guess, prunes.

As far as nutrients go, plums are a great source of fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron. They, too, contain antioxidants, mostly in the form of substances called phenols. Because of their fiber content, plums can help promote a healthy cholesterol level and a healthy digestive tract (they also contain sorbitol, which helps laxation). Plums may help prevent colon cancer and macular degeneration, too. The more plums are allowed to ripen, the higher their antioxidant content. And, good news for you prune lovers: Prunes have a higher antioxidant content than plums.

Nutrition info: One medium (3.5-ounce) plum has 45 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrate, 1.4 grams of fiber, pretty much no fat, and a low glycemic index of 39. One prune, by the way, contains 20 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrate, 0.6 grams fiber, and 0 grams fat.

What to look for/how to use: Choose plums that are slightly soft, but still firm with a whitish bloom. You can keep them in the refrigerator, but they’re best eaten at room temperature. As with blueberries, plums are best eaten “as is,” but they can be sliced up and added to cereal or fruit salad. Prunes can be stewed or chopped up and added to cereal or to a trail mix. (Go easy with prune juice: 4 ounces has about 90 calories and 22 grams of carb.)

More superfood fruits next week!

  • Harold Byram

    I have read about this web site but have not found out what the price of Blood Glucose Test Strips 50’s is or how to get them? Embrace sent me a free meter about a month ago,now I am about to run out of test strips. Please email instructions on how to get strips.

  • acampbell

    Hi Harold,
    I’m not completely familiar with the Embrace meter. However, was this a meter recommended to your by your physician or diabetes educator? If you have diabetes, Medicare or your insurance companies will cover the cost of your test strips but you need a prescription from your physician. You can then get that prescription filled at your pharmacy or through a mail order pharmacy supply house. Since I don’t know anything about your insurance coverage, I’d suggest you speak with your physician or your health plan for more specific details.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear Amy.

    I still remember picking blueberries as a child in the wilderness north of Montreal. There was a black bear a few hundred yards away happily picking too. these were low bush blueberries.

    The modern blueberries that you get in the store are unbelievably expensive and taste horrible. Frozen ones are also quite tasteless.

    My wife spent $25 and planted 2 bushes in our backyard. I told her they would die because blueberries need acid soil like in the canadian shield not alkaline prairie dirt. They did die.

    As a kid in Montreal we used to get Southern Ontario plums that were very tasty but I think the fruit farms are ancient history.

    No wonder we eat meat only it is the cheapest and best tasting food.

  • acampbell

    Hi CalgaryDiabetic,

    Alas, it’s unfortunate that “store-bought” blueberries can be quite expensive, especially out of season. Going to a “pick your own” blueberry farm or a farmer’s market to get blueberries may save you some money. Another reason that produce tends to be expensive: farmers in the U.S. are subsidized by the government to grow more economical crops, such as wheat, corn and soy, so there are fewer and fewer farmers growing fruit.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear Amy.

    Why can’t the Govt subsidize healthy foods like blueberries?

  • acampbell

    Hi,

    I wish the government WOULD subsidize more fruit and vegetable growers. However, my understanding is that it’s more economical to subsidize the other crops because they’re cheap and food manufacturers need a lot of them (think corn for high-fructose corn syrup, for example). It’s too bad, though.

  • David Spero RN

    I guess we could say it’s “too bad” that the government subsidizes corn, soy, and sugar, while doing nothing for fruit and vegetables. Actually, it’s an assault on public health by agribusiness corporations.

    Corporate control of our food supply is a major reason the food here is so unhealthy. Because of corn, wheat, and soy subsidies, we have high-fructose corn syrup and high-fat meats. Subsidies keep these relatively cheap. Even if they’re bad for your health, people buy them because they are cheap. Meanwhile, healthy produce is hard to afford.

    Agro companies buy politicians’ support for these subsidies. It’s a racket. I explain more about this in Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis. Many other books do a more thorough explanation. Food Fight by Kelly Brownell or Food Politics by Marion Nestle are good places to start.

  • Norma Jean

    Harold if the cost of test strips and meters are not covered by your insurance, Walmart* is doing what they can to help out. They offer the ReliOn meter for $9.00, 50 test strips for $20.00 and 300 lancets for $11.82 (3 boxes of 100). These can be purchased at the store or on Walmart.com