We keep hearing about amazing health benefits of "superfruits." What's the appeal? Superfruits demand super prices — sometimes 20 times higher than "traditional" fruit.
Are they worth it? Here's a rundown from Barbara Quinn, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator in California:
Agave nectar is the juice from agave, a fruit native to Mexico. Agave nectar is a "natural sweetener," as are the juices of other fruits. Its benefit, say promoters, is that it is high in fructose, which is absorbed slowly into the body. Agave nectar thus has a low glycemic index, which means it causes lower rises in blood sugars. But it's worth realizing that the high fructose content of agave nectar is seen as a benefit while the same fructose in high-fructose corn syrup is viewed by some as the plague. In fact, agave juice is higher in fructose (85 percent) than apple or pear juice (66 percent) or high-fructose corn syrup (55 percent), according to food chemist Julie Miller-Jones.
Goji berries (pronounced go-gee) are delicate red-orange berries related to tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. A native fruit of China, goji berries are rich in vitamin C and beta carotene, potent antioxidants that help keep our body cells intact and healthy. And like other brightly colored fruits and vegetables, goji berries are said to rank high in "Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity," or ORAC. This measurement was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quantify the antioxidant capacity of certain foods. Problem is, I couldn't find goji berries listed on the latest USDA ORAC list of foods.
Acai (ah-sigh-ee) is a small purple berry native to the Amazon rainforest. Acai berries are especially rich in vitamins and minerals and are reported to be extremely high in antioxidant properties that protect cells from oxidation damage. Because the acai berry is so delicate, it is mostly marketed as a juice.
Mangosteen is not related to the mango. It is a purple-skinned tropical fruit with a white pulp. It is the bright-colored skin of the mangosteen that contains most of its phytochemicals, natural plant substances with health benefits. Studies on animals show that mangosteen may help relieve inflammation, a condition related to chronic diseases like arthritis and heart disease.
So, are these foods really super foods? Or are they just other fruits in our arsenal of plant foods known to have beneficial effects on our health? Unfortunately, human research is lacking and anecdotal information is rampant.
If you can afford them, go for it. But locally grown, brightly pigmented produce is always the healthiest choice.