Do These Exotic Superfruits Live up to Their Hype?
If you’re into good nutrition, I’m guessing that you’re already eating fruits like blueberries, grapefruit, kiwis, and pomegranates. Maybe you’re adding açaí and goji berries to your shakes, too. But have you checked out some of the really exotic fruits that are turning up these days in health food stores, ethnic markets, and restaurants?
As it turns out, many of these fun fruits are both tasty AND packed with health benefits. Today, I’ll look at the nutritional power of eight superfruits that trendy diners are raving about—and then I’ll tell you which ones you can eat frequently, and which you should eat sparingly.
The jackfruit, which is the biggest fruit in the world, can weigh a colossal 100 pounds. However, the ones you’ll find at Asian markets or health food stores are much smaller—around ten to twenty pounds. The outside of a ripe jackfruit is greenish-yellowish-brown and bumpy.
The flesh inside is yellow, and it tastes—as one aficionado puts it—"like a pineapple, a banana, and a pack of Juicy Fruit gum had a baby.” Cooked, however, it’s a whole different story; with the right spices and sauce, jackfruit actually makes a tasty substitute for pulled pork. Whether you eat jackfruit cooked or raw, it’s nutritional dynamite. It gives you a good dose of protein along with vitamin A, vitamin C, and several B vitamins.
It’s also rich in potassium, magnesium, and iron, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin—nutrients that help keep your eyes healthy. In addition, it’s a very good source of fiber. By the way, don’t toss out the large seeds of the jackfruit, which you can boil and eat (they taste a little like potatoes).
They’re rich in healthy “resistant” starch. If you’re new to jackfruit, here are two tips. First, when picking out a jackfruit, don’t confuse it with a durian—a similar-looking fruit that’s also good for you but has a horrific smell (described as “like a rotting corpse”) that turns most people off. And second, before cutting a jackfruit open, rub your knife and hands with coconut oil. The fruit is very “sappy,” and the oil will help keep the sap from sticking.
These little cuties, which you can eat just like regular cherries, contain chemicals that strongly inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs—compounds that rapidly age your face and body. In addition, they can help prevent high blood sugar levels after a meal. They’re also loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants and supply you with potassium and B vitamins.
What’s more, acerola cherries are richer in vitamin C than almost any other fruit. In addition to boosting your immune function, vitamin C is crucial for the synthesis of skin-smoothing collagen. Acerola cherries are too perishable to ship to stores, but you can find them at farmer’s markets or buy them in powdered or pureed form to add to smoothies. And if you live in a warm place like Texas or Florida, consider planting your own acerola cherry tree!
This Asian fruit sometimes turns up in baskets on Chopped, and for good reason, because it’s a bit challenging. Raw, it tastes… well, bitter. However, adding it to stir-fries tames its mouth-puckering flavor. If the melon itself is too much for you, look for bitter melon tea in Asian markets.
While it’s definitely an acquired taste, bitter melon truly deserves its reputation as a superfruit because it contains chemicals that can reduce insulin resistance. (In fact, if you’re diabetic, you ‘ll want to introduce it to your diet carefully to make sure it doesn’t make you hypoglycemic.) In addition, bitter melon is a powerful protector against the AGEs I talked about earlier. Want still more? It also contains chemicals that help fight obesity.
This big greenish-yellow fruit looks like a grapefruit on steroids, tipping the scales at up to four pounds. It’s actually an ancestor of the grapefruit (which is a cross between a pomelo and a sweet orange), and its scientific name is Citrus maxima because it’s the biggest citrus fruit on the planet.
A pomelo has a sweeter, milder flavor than a grapefruit, so it’s a great choice if you find grapefruit a little too assertive for your taste buds. But be prepared: It takes a little work to eat a pomelo, because it has a much thicker rind than other citrus fruits. Like other citrus fruits, pomelos are rich in vitamin C and fiber. And like grapefruit, they contain fat-burning nootkatone—a remarkable waist-slimming nutrient that I love.
This purple, plum-sized fruit packs a big punch of nutrition, because its rind is rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients called xanthones. Unfortunately, the rind tastes pretty nasty if you bite into it—but you can buy it in supplement form as mangosteen pericarp, and it’s added to some mangosteen juices (check the labels to see if the whole fruit is included—and remember to use fruit juices only in very small amounts).
The fruit inside the mangosteen provides you with a good dose of fiber, vitamin C, and minerals, and it’s delicious; in fact, legend has it that Queen Victoria once offered a reward of 100 pounds sterling to anyone who could bring her a fresh mangosteen. Mangosteens are fun to eat; you just score the shell and twist its sides with your palms, and it pops right open to reveal the white flesh. Fans compare the taste of mangosteens to peaches, citrus, grapes, and apples.
This gorgeous fruit—a beautiful red, with spiky leaf-like projections—is actually the fruit of a cactus. (You may also come across a yellow variety with a bumpy surface.) Underneath the dragon fruit’s exotic exterior, you’ll find sweet, mild white or red flesh studded with black seeds. Dragon fruit is rich in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamin C, carotene, B vitamins, iron, calcium, and phosphorus—and those tiny seeds are packed with healthy fatty acids, which constitute 50% of the content of the seeds.
I love this crazy golf-ball-sized fruit, which is bright red and covered all over with red-and-green spikes that make it look like it’s having a really bad hair day. Once you get past the rambutan’s wild hairdo, you’ll find a sweet white flesh that tastes a little like a lychee. It’s tasty raw, or you can incorporate it into curries or ice creams. While rambutan isn’t as rich in nutrients as many other fruits billed as superfruits, it’s a good source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Interestingly, scientists report that the hull of this fruit may have impressive cancer-fighting and weight-loss properties.
This round fruit, typically purple or yellow (although there are hundreds of varieties), is fabulously good for you. It’s rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A and C, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper. In addition, passion fruit has a surprising property that makes it popular with many people at bedtime. No, it doesn’t make you more passionate! Instead, it actually can make you sleep more restfully. That’s because it contains phytochemicals called harmala alkaloids that have sedative and anti-anxiety effects. It’s not always easy to find these tasty fruits. If you can’t get them fresh, look for them in pureed form.
Reminder: Keep carbs in mind
All of these fruits are nutritious enough to deserve a spot on your menu. However, here’s a caution: All fruits have carbs, and some have lots of carbs. The more carbs a fruit has, the more cautious you need to be about keeping your serving sizes small. Here’s how these eight superfruits stack up on the carb scale:
- Bitter melon is very low in carbs, so you can eat it whenever you want. (And seriously, it’s not a fruit you’ll want to overdo—a little goes a very long way!)
- Pomelos, acerola cherries, and dragon fruit are fairly low in carbs compared to most fruits. Once you’re on a maintenance plan, you can enjoy them once or twice a day. Stick to half a pomelo, half a dragon fruit, or a small serving of acerola cherry puree or powder.
- Mangosteens and rambutans are pretty high on the carb scale—so they should be a rare (and very small) treat.
- Jackfruit and passion fruit are super-high in carbs. Save them for days when you really, really need some extra fuel—for instance, heavy workout days.
Follow these guidelines, and you can enjoy all the taste and nutritional power of these trendy superfruits—and, at the same time, keep your blood sugar low and your waistline slim!
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!