The term “superfruits” might make you think of cape-clad produce ready to leap to your nutritional rescue. In fact, many marketers want you to believe that mysterious fruits like mangosteens and goji berries have magical health-boosting properties. However, most superfruits are more like Clark Kent than his alter ego: We walk past them—oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries, to name a few—in the produce department every day and never suspect their powers. But whether they’re exotic or mundane, research shows that all superfruits may help fight cancer, ward off cardiovascular disease, aid digestion, and combat inflammation.
To earn the “superfruit” designation, a fruit must have an exceptionally high amount of nutrients such as antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; B vitamins; essential minerals; amino acids and protein; dietary fiber; omega fats; and phytosterols—as well as chemicals such as polyphenols and carotenoids, which give fruits their natural coloring—says Paul M. Gross, PhD, author of Superfruits (McGraw-Hill, 2009). Here are five that’ll add some variety to your fruit bowl. And to tempt you further, we asked Kristin Hoppe, a certified nutrition consultant and chef in San Francisco, for inspired ideas on how to make these holistic heroes a part of your daily menu.
With almost 9 grams of fiber per cup, 28 percent of your daily recommended folate, one-fifth of your daily vitamin A, and a whopping 500 percent of vitamin C, this Central American native packs a powerful antioxidant punch. Although they’re easiest to find canned, you can buy fresh guavas in Latin American markets. The sweet fruit is entirely edible, from rind to seeds.
Try It: Make a coulis to spoon over grilled chicken: Cube 2 guavas and boil in 1/4 cup water until soft. Allow the mixture to cool, then puree and strain the seeds. Reheat the sauce, and add a little agave (if needed) and salt.
This sweet and juicy melon-like fruit has black seeds that can be ground and used instead of pepper. The seeds provide plenty of micronutrients, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and phytochemicals. Along with vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, and other minerals, papayas pack prebiotic fiber, which helps support the healthy bacteria in the gut and aids digestion. Papaya has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer.
Try It: Make a salsa by dicing papaya flesh and mixing it with cilantro, avocado, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and lime juice. Serve over fish.
Native to China, these antioxidant-rich red berries don’t often show up fresh in the US, but you can get them dried. Also known as wolfberries, gojis have almost three times as much vitamin C as fresh blueberries, says Gross. You may need to acquire a taste for gojis’ tomato-nut-cranberry flavor, but it’s worth it for all the copper, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and beta-carotene they provide.
Try It: Add gojis to your favorite trail mix, or soften them in water for a few hours and add to your oatmeal with nuts and seeds.
Pronounced ah-sigh-ee, this Brazilian berry is only available in the US in juice and powder form. Tart and oily açai berries provide protein, vitamin E, and cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and also have the highest fiber content of all plants. But scientists are most excited about the cancer-fighting possibilities of the highly antioxidant, dark-purple polyphenols that give açai berries their rich pigment.
Try It: Açai powders are on the sour side, so mix with strawberries, blueberries, or banana to make a tasty smoothie. Gross blends 1 cup açai juice with 1 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt, 1 cup mango chunks, and 2 whole strawberries.
This fruit tops Gross’ list because of its worldwide appeal—mango makes up almost half of all the tropical fruits grown globally. Because of its high levels of prebiotic dietary fiber, vitamin C (more than three-quarters of the daily recommended value), polyphenols, and carotenoids, mango is often used to support nutrition in impoverished parts of the world. This sweet and fragrant fruit may also help improve memory, boost oral hygiene, and ward off inflammation, arthritis, malaria, and cancer.
Try It: Toss mangos in Indian-spiced red lentil soup to add sweetness. Or cook them with raisins, fresh ginger, onion, cinnamon, and a little olive oil, and use as a marinade for chicken.
Molly Lyons is a freelance writer and literary agent in New York City.
Superfruits in Disguise
Be careful when buying juices or other products that tout “superfruits” as their main ingredient. Gross says most of the time, the fruit has been so processed that the nutrients have been stripped out, sugar has been added to enhance flavor, and the dietary fiber that makes many of these fruits “super” in the first place is eliminated. Check the label to make sure you’re getting 100 percent juice. Better yet, if you can’t eat the whole fruit, choose a product that is as close to the natural form (like açai pulp or powder) as possible.