Superfruits to the rescue!
‘Superfoods’ feature in magazines more than superheros these days, so what exactly are they; are they really the good guys; and should we kneel before them with our mouths agape?
The term superfoods is used to describe a group of foods that are considered to be exceptionally high in nutritional content (a.k.a.: special powers). Famous by name, these nutrient-dense foods are more than meets the eye. Beneath their sometimes mundane exteriors, they have brightly-coloured lycra… sorry, health benefits, when eaten as a regular part of your diet.
But is there anything behind the hype? Can these superfoods really rescue your health from the narrow ledge of your current diet? Skeptics abound! But have faith that superfoods can contribute to your health and well-being when consumed regularly.
Superfoods amount to the nutritional A-list, and there is much debate as to which foods actually fulfill the criteria, with foods like blueberries, black currents and quinoa making the cut due to their nutrient density. We have selected the most famed ‘superfoods’ for this series, starting with the oh-so-healthy ‘superfruits’:
• Acai Berries
• Camu Camu
• Goji Berries
Native to central and South America, Acai berries are wild-harvested from the Brazilian Amazon. These small richly purple berries have a large seed (making up 80% of the fruit) and are enclosed in a thin fibrous flesh with an oily coating; where the superpowers lie.
The flesh of the acai berry contains protein, fibre and healthy fats including omega 3, 6 and 9. These nutrients ensure a very low glycaemic load of 0.5 (see our article on glycaemic load – Getting to Grips With Glycaemic Load), which makes them a great source of energy. Additionally, acai contains many vitamins (esp. A & E) and minerals, including: iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. But what really makes acai special is its rich anthocyanin content, from which it gets its deep purple colouring. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid, and are also powerful antioxidants. Just 5g of acai berry powder has an ORAC rating (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity – a measure of a foods antioxidant capacity) of over 4,600 which is 25-40 times higher than most berries!
TIP: Acai berries are available in a freeze dried powder that can easily be added to cereal, yoghurt or a smoothie and in capsule form. The frozen pulp is available in some areas and can also be added to a smoothie or breakfast cereal.
This grape-sized reddish/ purple fruit has a yellow pulp and grows on a riverside tree native to the Amazon rainforest of Brazil and Peru. The unripened fresh fruit is very acidic and has an extraordinarily high vitamin C content (approx 2-3% of fresh weight) which is highest in the skin and decreases as the berries ripen.
Camu camu is thought to provide the highest recorded amount of vitamin C of any food on the planet, with about 2 grams of vitamin C for every 100 grams of fruit. Oranges have 500-4,000ppm vitamin C and acerola has 16,000-172,000ppm, but camu camu tops this with 500, 000ppm. That’s up to 50 times more vitamin C than an orange!
Camu camu contains significant amounts of iron, vitamins B2 & B3, phosphorous and potassium, as well as other important nutrients like amino acids and flavonoids. Camu camu is thought to support the immune system, though more research in this area is needed.
TIP: Camu camu is available as a powder which can be added to smoothies, cereals, juices or yoghurt and in capsule form. Suggested daily serving size is based on the vitamin C content of each product.
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are the much sought-after fruit of two closely-related plants: Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. This small oblong bright red fruit grows on a plant native to Southeastern Asia and Europe and is a member of the deadly nightshade family; known for its rich antioxidant and nutrient content.
Goji berries have a high ORAC rating of around 20,300 per 100g, while oranges have an ORAC of only 750 per 100g comparatively. They are thought to contain approximately 18 amino acids, 22 trace minerals and the following macro minerals: potassium, zinc, calcium, copper, selenium. Goji berries also have very high vitamin C, iron and carotenoids, especially zeaxanthin.
Traditional use of goji berries goes back at least 1,700 years, where they were used extensively for infertility, kidney and liver problems, and as a blood tonic. Studies have shown that goji berries have significant antioxidant activity and immune enhancing properties, supporting healthy blood sugar, healthy cholesterol , liver health and visual function. Because of their high antioxidant content they are considered to offer anti-aging benefits as well as to support general health, vitality and longevity.
TIP: Dried goji berries can be eaten alone, added to trail mix, blended into smoothies, added to cereals, boiled as a tea, or added to salads. The berries can also be soaked overnight to bring out their goodness. There are some concerns about the use of pesticides and fungicides with Chinese-sourced goji berries, so it’s best to purchase certified organic goji berries.
The mangosteen is a tropical fruit about the size of a passion fruit that originates from Southeast Asia. Mangosteens have a thick red-purple bitter rind and an edible sweet, white pulp, with segments like an orange inside. This fruit is well known for its delicious taste, but it is the rind which boasts the greatest health benefits.
Traditionally the rind was ground and used for wound healing. But more recent research has found the mangosteen rind to be one of the richest sources in a group of antioxidants called xathones. The reddish-purple rind is also high in proanthocyanidins, which are the antioxidants in grape-seed extract and lend the skin its deep colouring. Another antioxidant which we are familiar with from green tea – catechin – is also contained within the skin of this unique fruit.
Nutritionally mangosteen is very high in fibre, contains vitamins C and the Bs, and a number of key minerals including potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and iron. Antimicrobial activity can also be added to the list of benefits, which explains its traditional use for wounds. Whoever knew that this skin, which usually goes in the bin, could be so super? So whether you choose mangosteen juice, powder or capsules, make sure it includes plenty of rind.
TIP: Add a little powdered mangosteen rind to your smoothie for super-colour along with all the nutrients!
Noni is a green, lumpy fruit, about the size of a potato, with the skin texture of a pineapple. When it ripens it turns yellowish-white and has a pungent, cheese-like smell with a bitter taste. Because of its strong odour it is often called the cheese fruit. Noni fruit grows on the Indian Mulberry tree, which is native to Southeast Asia.
Noni fruit pulp is high in carbohydrates, dietary fibre and protein. It also contains very high levels of vitamin C, iron and potassium as well as lesser amounts of vitamins B3 & A, calcium and sodium. However many noni juices do not contain the fruit pulp so are very low in these nutrients.
Supports the immune system, Healthy blood sugar, healthy blood pressure, joint mobility, and bronchial health
TIP: Noni is usually taken in a juice form and often combined with other fruit juices for palatability, but it can also be found as powder or in capsules. Look for a product using a blend of juice and pulp for the greatest health benefits.
Native to the Iranian Plateau and the Himalayas of northern India, the pomegranate dates back to the Early Bronze Age. The pomegranate grows to about the size of a small apple and is classified as a berry. It has a tough reddish skin and inside it is separated into compartments by a white tissue; each segment being filled with hundreds of ruby-coloured seeds and pulp.
Pomegranate was used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine for dysentery, diarrhea and intestinal parasites, as well as a tonic for the heart and throat.
Rich in antioxidants, pomegranate is a good source of vitamin C, B5, flavonoids, catechins and anthocyanins to combat free radical damage in the body. Its ORAC rating is up to 2860 per 100gms, and it also contains potassium. Supports cardiovascular health, immune system and prostate health.
TIP: Pomegranate juice is the most popular way of consuming this fruit, however it can be found in capsule form and the oil from the seed is also available.
TID-BIT: This fruit is the subject of a famous poem by Evan Boland.
What all these superfruits have in common is their high antioxidant properties, and this is precisely why they have gained such popularity and hero-status. To best experience their nutritional superpowers, consume them in their organic, raw and natural state. Remember to include all the colours of the rainbow daily with your chosen fruits and vegetables; whether they are A-list superfruits or not.
Stay tuned for our next part in this Superfoods Series, Part 2: Super Seeds and Co.