I’m a fruit lover. I could almost live off of fruits alone (which would make me, what, a frutarian?). The problem was that I used to live in a place where winter lasted from November to April, and needless to say the fruit scene was dominated by apples and oranges. In those days, I had never even heard of a passionfruit, let alone tasted one.
When I moved to Brazil, though, it all changed. Walking down the block on a Thursday in São Paulo I could find more fruit vendors than all the fruits in my old grocery store, and more varieties than people that lived on my old street. There were so many different kinds that I didn’t know where to start.
So I researched. Turns out Brazilian fruits are delicious AND highly nutritious, which just adds to their already luscious and juicy appeal. I’m already making excuses to sneak down to the fruit market and snag a couple gems.
Known by the Amazon tribes for centuries, this small purple berry has just recently gained center stage in the Western world for its wide array of health benefits. Although many of the health claims are skeptical, there is some truth in this superfruit’s nutritional value. Açai contains high levels of anthocyanins, antioxidants that eliminate free radicals in the body and reduce blood cholesterol by removing some harmful LDL cholesterol from artery walls. It is also rich in plant sterols which help in the relaxation of blood vessels and lowering of blood pressure.
Overall it is praised for having strong detoxifying effects on the body as a whole, most likely due to the high level of antioxidants and fiber.
In Brazil açai is sold as frozen treat and can be found everywhere, especially on the beach. In the US it is slightly more difficult to find the frozen pulp, but the juice is much more common. For the healthiest, most nutrient-packed option, try organic açai powder which can be mixed into smoothies, yogurt, or other fruit juices.
This round fruit grows on a climbing vine and is also referred to as maracuja. It is rich in trace minerals such as magnesium, copper, iron and phosphorus, which are vital in the development of healthy bone density and strength. It also contains medicinal alkaloids, such as harman, which function as sedatives and can be used to treat insomnia. The presence of potassium in addition to copper and iron promote healthy blood pressure and improved circulation.
Due to the pulpy nature of the fruit, it is commonly made into juice or used as flavoring for ice cream or other desserts. The fresh fruits can be somewhat difficult to find at the supermarket, but may be found at a specialty fruit store. The flower, known as passionflower, can also be used as a natural sleep aid. The dried organic flowers can be used as a tea or in a relaxing bath, or can be taken in capsule form.
Once called the “fruit of the angels” by Columbus, this soft, sweet tropical fruit is now quite common in grocery stores around the world. Papayas have a variety of health benefits, especially in the stomach, as the presence of the enzyme papain aids in digestion and reduces constipation. It’s rich in carotenes, Vitamin C, Vitamin B and fiber. It also promotes good cardiovascular health.
The leaves, bark and roots of the tree also have medicinal properties. A tea made from papaya leaf has been observed to have anti-carcinogen effects against tumors in the laboratory, and the fruit itself is believed to be effective against breast and pancreatic cancers when consumed regularly.
Papayas are pretty easy to find at the supermarket, but if you’re not a fan of the flavor or for some reason you can’t find them, chewable papaya enzyme tablets can be taken after meals to prevent heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems. You can also make a tea from organic papaya leaves, which retains most of the same nutritional value as the fruit.
This fruit is also called the cashew apple, as it is the fruit that surrounds the popular cashew nut. The fruit itself is highly astringent, and is often used to make juice. It contains five times the Vitamin C of an orange, as well as many Vitamin B complexes, calcium and iron. It has been used to sooth sore throats, strengthen the immune system, and detoxify the body. The astringent properties also help to refresh and tighten the skin.
It can be very difficult to find this fruit fresh in the US, but with a little searching you can find the juice sold by the bottle, or just enjoy eating the nuts which are also full of yummy nutrients.
This berry is small and looks like an orange eyeball, historically used by the native tribes to stay alert for long periods of time and currently used in natural energy drinks. One berry contains more than twice as much caffeine as a coffee bean.
Due to the presence of molecules called tannins, the energy release is much slower, therefore producing more long-term energy boosts rather than the burst and crash associated with most caffeinated drinks.
It is usually made into juice or soda, or mixed with açai, but you can also find organic guarana powder which can be incorporated into your smoothie or juice as a daily energy supplement for coffee, or taken in capsule form.
Although highly popular in Asia and South America, guava hasn’t yet reached primetime in the US. It’s a rich source of dietary fiber, which helps clean out the digestive system and regulate bowel movement, as well as regulates the absorption of sugar for those with diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that regular consumption of this tropical fruit can aid the prevention of type-2 diabetes.
The fruit, as well as the leaves, have been tested in various studies of cancer prevention, and have been noted to have measurable effects against prostate, breast and oral cancers. This is due to the presence of the antioxidant lypocene. They also contain high levels of Vitamin A, which has been known to improve eyesight.
In Brazil, they make a delicious sweet called goiabada (can be found as guava paste in the US) from the fruits, but for a healthier option look for dried guava. If you live in a more tropical area you may even be able to find them fresh.
Probably the most Vitamin C-rich fruit on this list, one cup of these cherries is equal to 2740% of the recommended daily dose. As a result, this fruit is high in antioxidants as well as the compound anthocyanin, which lowers the risk of heart disease, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, regulates blood sugar and enhances memory function. The high Vitamin C content also helps form collagen, which is the building block of healthy, youthful skin.
Acerola is most commonly sold as a powder or as part of other vitamins or daily supplements. A couple teaspoons of organic acerola powder in your smoothie every day provides more than enough Vitamin C to keep you healthy and happy.