Super Fruits: Can One a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

You know that fruit is good for you. It’s full of vitamins and fiber, low in calories, and sweet and refreshing. And, probably, when you think of fruit, what comes to mind is the average, garden-variety assortment: apples, oranges, blueberries, bananas, etc. Now there’s a whole new category of fruits called "super fruits."

Super fruits are lesser-known, more exotic fruits that have a high antioxidant content—higher than “regular” fruits—and, therefore, supposedly offer greater health benefits. Many of these fruits and their juices are touted as being able to fight cancer and treat diabetes. We’ll take a look at some of these over the next two weeks.

This fruit has really taken the food industry by storm. Everywhere you look, you’ll see products that contain pomegranate—even pomegranate martinis! Pomegranates are large, red fruits that, when cut open, yield many small, juicy seeds. If you eat a pomegranate, you eat the seeds, not the flesh of the fruit.

This fruit truly does contain a large number of antioxidants, including polyphenols. Pomegranates actually contain more antioxidants than green tea and red wine. Health benefits attributed to pomegranates include prevention of heart disease (by reducing plaque build-up on artery walls). In fact, a study published last year in the journal Atherosclerosis looked at 20 adults—10 with Type 2 diabetes and 10 without diabetes. These folks drank six ounces of concentrated pomegranate juice every day for three months. After three months, the researchers found less hardening of the arteries and a smaller uptake of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol into cells in both groups. Surprisingly, even though pomegranate juice contains carbohydrate, overall blood glucose levels did not increase in the diabetes group.

Pomegranate juice may even help people who already have heart disease, as evidenced by research by Dean Ornish, M.D. Men with heart disease who drank a cup of pomegranate juice every day had improved artery blood flow compared to men who drank a placebo juice. Pomegranates have also been shown to help slow the growth of prostate cancer, although it’s too early to recommend drinking pomegranate juice for prostate cancer prevention.

Curious about trying pomegranates? One pomegranate (remember to eat only the seeds), contains 105 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrate. If you want to try pomegranate juice, such as POM Wonderful, just keep in mind that one serving, which is eight ounces, contains 140 calories and 35 grams of carbohydrate. One way to cut the carbs is to drink four ounces of juice diluted with water or seltzer water.

Pronounced “as-sah-ee,” this deep purple fruit is the size of a blueberry, and it grows on palmberry plants in the Amazon rainforest. Açaí berries have been used in Brazilian medicine to treat diarrhea, fever, and skin ulcers. Açaí juice is also popular in South America, where it’s used as an ingredient in ice cream, other desserts and alcoholic beverages. Açaí berries contain anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant, as well as amino acids, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Açaí contains more antioxidants than red wine and blueberries; therefore, one of its major attributes is that it may help prevent heart disease. Açaí is also touted as having antiaging properties, and this fruit is listed as one of the “10 Super Foods” by Nicholas Perricone, MD, as part of his antiaging program called The Perricone Promise.

You may not find açaí in your local supermarket just yet, but natural foods markets may carry dried berries, teas, sorbets, juices, and even granola that contain açaí. (Apparently the fresh fruit itself is quite perishable and needs a little bit of sweetening before eating). And, of course, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to buy açaí juice and extract on the Internet!

More “super fruits” next week!

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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