Are there really any unhealthy fruits? After all, the food pyramid suggests two to four servings of fruit per day as part of a healthy diet. All fruits provide nutrients our bodies need, but what are the healthiest fruits, the ‘superfruits’? Read on to find out.
What is a Superfruit?
The term superfruit is more for marketing purposes than identifying a fruit as exceptional. However, these fruits when eaten whole, are the best mix of nutrients and phytochemicals. They’ve been through the clinical research process and have been identified for their potential to improve your health and lower the risk of disease. The best way to incorporate superfruits into your diet is to choose a variety of different colored fruits which will contain a diverse number of nutrients. Some research has shown that eating a variety of colors of fruits results in reduced rates of DNA oxidation versus eating the same few fruits over and over.
Of the fruits coined superfruits, the following fruits meet the criteria mentioned above. While these fruits have many positive effects on your health, here I look at the most significant health effect of each.
Mangoes are a rich source of polyphenols, antioxidants that protect human cells from damage. However, mangoes have a special polyphenol with a high antioxidant activity called mangiferin. Mangiferin has the potential to fight degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Mangoes also contain the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which filters out harmful blue light rays (both from the sun, and artificial sources like digital screens and electronic devices). This may protect against damage caused by age-related macular degeneration.
Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits all have important nutrients like vitamin C, folate, and fiber, but what makes citrus fruits unique is the high level of the phytochemical known as limonoid, which is effective against tumor growth. Limonoid is considered a good candidate for human trial in chemoprevention and a metabolite of limonene, perillyl alcohol, is currently undergoing Phase I clinical trials in patients with advanced malignancies (Ripple et. al.).
Berries are rich in phytochemicals that are responsible for its red, purple and blue colors. These phytochemicals have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell regulatory effects that may help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer. Anthocyanin, a natural antioxidant found in berries has demonstrated the ability to fight against inflammatory responses and some degenerative diseases. They also help improve cognitive brain function and ocular health. Some berries contain antibacterial properties. Raspberries and blackcurrants inhibited twelve different strains of bacteria along with C. Albicans, a fungus that lives in our intestinal tract, but when out of balance leads to many seemingly unrelated illnesses.
The high phenolic content in grapes helps prevent oxidation of LDL (considered ‘bad’ cholesterol), which is a critical event in the process of atherogenesis. Red grapes are also a source of resveratrol which has received a lot of attention lately, as it’s been shown to play a role in a healthy heart. In addition, certain compounds found in grape seed extracts have shown promise in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and has made strides in the treatment of head and neck cancers.
Along with its good source of antioxidants, kiwifruit helps lower blood lipid levels, and alleviate some skin conditions. The fruit’s phytochemicals have generated interest in its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Kiwi has also been shown to help with digestive issues due to its high fiber content, and prebiotic complex carbohydrates.
The papaya has medicinal uses ranging from relieving symptoms of asthma to the healing of burns from its anti-inflammatory properties contained in the enzyme papain, which also helps with digestion. Papaya is also rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, responsible for its anti-tumor properties.
Cherries, especially dark cherries, contain large amounts of phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticarcinogenic agents. Their unique reputation for providing anti-gout benefits make cherries a good addition to your diet if you suffer from this condition. They provoke a significant decrease in plasma urate, which is a key component of gout.
The first thing that probably comes to mind when you think of dates, is a laxative. While dates do aid in relieving constipation, they help balance your digestive system relieving constipation due to their fiber content, and diarrhea and upset stomach due to their potassium content. Dates are also a good source of iron to help treat anemia and fiber and selenium that may help prevent colon cancer.
Scientists have identified certain components in pomegranates that inhibit the movement of cancer cells, specifically those causing prostate cancer. In addition to their anticarcinogenic properties, pomegranates have anti-inflammatory properties and contain antioxidants that help improve cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol.
Dried plums are often used to treat constipation; however, their fiber content also improves glucose tolerance and lipid metabolism, playing a role in preventing heart disease. Dried plums have the highest antioxidant activity among common plant foods in the United States, which help prevent certain cancers.
These fruits all have something in common. They all combat oxidative stress which leads to inflammation, DNA damage, and can result in cancer. If you incorporate a diverse group of fruits, including superfruits into your diet, your body will have more tools to fight off disease.
An average strawberry has approximately 200 seeds!