Fascinating Nutrition Secrets of Exotic Fruit
I love discovering unusual fruits. It’s partly because their exciting new flavors encourage healthy eating. But they often have unexpected health benefits, too.
Of course, some fruits appear on the scene because of their health benefits. Açai berry is a good example. These little antioxidant powerhouses are tasty. But it’s their reputation for fighting fat that brought them to the US.
On the other hand, kiwi fruit was marketed for its flavor. But kiwis are extremely nutritious.
One medium kiwi has only 100 calories. But it provides about 20% of your daily need for fiber. It delivers more than 270% of your vitamin C requirement, too. And kiwis also have reasonable amounts of protein and calcium.
But here’s something the nutrition label doesn’t reveal. Kiwi is a good source of the antioxidant quercetin. And quercetin promotes better blood vessel health.1 so these little fruits pack quite a nutritional punch.
And they’re not alone.
Star fruit – or carambola – began appearing in markets just a few years ago. And they’re still unfamiliar to many shoppers. Star fruit is named for its shape. When cut across the middle, it resembles a five-pointed star.
Star fruit is low in calories, but provides decent nutrition. One serving (125 grams, or 4.4 oz.) has 45% of the adult requirement of vitamin C. It also provides good amounts of vitamin A (15%) and fiber (12%).
You may like the exotic taste – sort of a tart cross between plums and pineapples – but you’ll love star fruit’s secret. It’s a type of plant pigment called proanthocyanidins.
These pigments are what make cranberries so good for urinary tract health. And star fruit is loaded with them.
Proanthocyanidins also support heart health… promote better blood sugar control… and may enhance your body’s ability to fight abnormal cell growth. Plus, they’re powerful antioxidants. 2
All those healthy benefits make star fruit a great addition to your diet.
Another fruit that’s becoming popular – especially in upscale restaurants – is dragon fruit, or pitaya. Dragon fruit comes from a cactus native to Central and South America. Some people compare the flavor to kiwi fruit, though a little more tart.
Next to kiwi and star fruit, dragon fruit doesn’t look very nutritious. It provides about 40% of your daily need for vitamin C… but that’s about it. At least that’s about all you’ll notice on the nutrition label.
But it turns out dragon fruit has a couple of surprises.
In animal studies, dragon fruit extract showed very strong antioxidant activity. It also promoted lower blood pressure, lower levels of blood sugar and less stiffness in arteries. 3 If dragon fruit produces the same effects in people, it will be a real health breakthrough.
Dragon fruit also contains a special kind of carbohydrate – called oligosaccharides. These carbohydrates are a favorite food of the friendly bacteria in your gut. As you probably know, healthy bacteria promote better digestion and immune system health – as well as helping to rid your body of toxins.
Thai researchers fed dragon fruit oligosaccharides to two of the most important of these bacteria – lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Dragon fruit stimulated both of them to grow.4
Who can tell what other benefits we’ll discover in less familiar fruits? But with their delicious flavors, it’s certainly worth giving exotic fruits a try.
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
1 Wai Mun Loke, et al. Pure dietary flavonoids quercetin and (–)-epicatechin augment nitric oxide products and reduce endothelin-1 acutely in healthy men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 88, No. 4, 1018-1025, October 2008.
2 de la Iglesia R, et al. Healthy properties of proanthocyanidins. Biofactors. 2010 May-Jun;36(3):159-68.
3 Kolla RL, et al. Effect of dragon fruit extract on oxidative stress and aortic stiffness in streptozotocin-induced diabetes in rats. Pharmacognosy Research. Volume 2, Issue 1, 2010, Page 31-35.
4 Wichienchota S, et al. Oligosaccharides of pitaya (dragon fruit) flesh and their prebiotic properties. Food Chemistry, Volume 120, Issue 3, 1 June 2010, Pages 850-857.