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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Superfruits - The Exotics

Welcome back superfriends to part two of superfruits. When I said superfruits in the last post, the first thing that came to mind was probably exotic, strangely named and odd looking fruits, not cherries and blueberries. So in an effort not to disappoint, this week I'm going to tell you about some of the exotic superfruits that are getting a lot of buzz these days.

Açai - goodness, you can't turn around in the grocery store or watch a TV commercial these days with out hearing about this superfruit. Açai fruit comes from the açai palm, the same palm that hearts of palm (a gourmet salad ingredient) comes from, and is native to Central and South America. The berries (really drupes) are about the size of a large grape and is rarely the form in which it is seen or used (food processors use the dried powder usually). 100 grams of the açai powder has 534 calories (yikes!), 44 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and 32 grams of fat - this is some really nutrient dense stuff.

What is also interesting is the breakdown of the fat in the açai berry; it is full of fatty acids. 56% is the monounsaturated oleic acid, 24% is the saturate palmitic acid and 12% is the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (also known as omega-6). It also contains a plant phytosterol called beta-sitosterol which is being studied to see how well it competes in the body with cholesterol thereby having the potential to reduce cholesterol levels.

Goji - the goji berry is also known as the wolfberry, but that doesn't sound nearly as exiting or exotic does it? It is a bright red-orange berry with tiny yellow seeds and is part of the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and chili peppers. While it can grow in lots of places, the commerical production of this fruit is happening in China where it has been used in their traditional medicine for around 2000 years. They believe that it is good for the yin, improving eyesight, and improving circulation.

Again, you are unlikely to see these as fresh fruits - they are usually found dried or in powder form. 100 grams of the powder has 370 calories, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber and 10 grams of fat. It also has some essential fatty acids like linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), which are great for cardiovascular health. In addition, goji berries are high in carotenoids like beta-carotene & cryptoxanthin (pro-vitamin A) and lutein & zeaxanthin (found in the retina of your eyes).

Noni - One of the newer fruits being studied, it is also known as the "vomit fruit" due to its pungent odor when ripening - ick! It is a yellow-green fruit with many little brown seeds and a cream colored pulp. It has a strong smell and bitter taste and is again usually found as a powder. It is native to southeast Asia, but also grown in Hawaii. 100 grams of noni powder has 100% of the RDI for fiber (25 grams), 12 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat. It is also high in vitamins C & A, niacin, potassium, calcium and sodium. It has oligo and polysaccharides which are prebiotic dietary fibers and are great for digestive health. And interesting (and potentially disturbing), it contains anthraquinone which has laxative properties.

So, now you've got the scoop on some of the newest superfruits being used and researched in food products today. There will be much more information coming out about their properties in the prevention, and potentially treatment, of health issues as they are proven out by testing. In the meantime, remember that no single food, fruit, or ingredient is a magic pill, and as variety is the spice of life these superfruits certainly will help you add variety to your diet!

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