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 Foods: Fruits 

Guavas. A common tree fruit in tropical areas such as Hawaii, guavas taste similar to soft pears and have big seeds. Guavas are very high in vitamin C, with one medium-sized fruit having close to 200 mg. They are also good in fiber, are high in vitamin A and potassium, and have modest amounts of phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Though fairly popular in the tropics, they are not commonly imported.

Mangoes. Mangoes are a very tasty and juicy fruit that I first learned to eat in Mexico, peeled and eaten like a popsicle, using a fork stuck in the pit as a holder. Mangoes are fairly high in vitamin C and have some vitamin E but are extremely rich in vitamin A, with a high concentration of beta-carotene. One mango may have nearly 10,000 IUs of vitamin A. Mangoes are also fairly rich in many minerals, including zinc, magnesium, and potassium.

Papayas. Papayas are best known for their digestive support, as they contain the enzyme papain. Their taste is delicious, rather like that of a melon. Papayas also may have a disinfectant property when used to clean wounds and skin or mouth sores. Papayas are rich in beta-carotene (and thus vitamin A activity) and vitamin C as well as potassium and other minerals. This is probably one fruit that can be used as an appetizer or dessert because of the digestive enzyme, papain, contained in it.

Pineapples. An interesting bush fruit most commonly grown in Hawaii, pineapples are very juicy and mildly acidic, more like a citrus fruit. They contain a digestive enzyme, bromelain, that allows for their easy digestion. Because of this, pineapples (a small amount) are one of the few fruits, papayas are another, that can be eaten following a meal. Bromelain may also have an antiinflammatory action in the body. Pineapples contain some vitamins A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and the trace minerals manganese and selenium. Manganese levels are in fact quite good; one cup of pineapple will supply our minimum daily needs, about 2.5 mg.

There is a concern that pineapples more easily accumulate chemicals from the fertilizers and pesticides commonly used in their cultivation, due to their very porous skins, whereas fruits such as oranges are more protected. For this reason, it is unwise to consume a great deal of pineapple or its juice unless organic fruits can be found. However, it is more difficult to find organic tropical fruits from Hawaii or Mexico, for example, than it is the more locally cultivated ones, such as apples or oranges, possibly because of the higher amounts of insects and germs that also thrive in those climates.

Unusual and Special Fruits

Avocados Persimmons
Kiwis Pomegranates

These fruits—foods that grow on trees and that contain inner seeds, do not clearly fit into the other categories I have discussed. None of these are eaten commonly, other than olives possibly by some people. Olives, however, are unusual because they cannot be eaten fresh and also contain a high amount of oil, much like avocados. They are really more like a nut than a fruit. Kiwis have recently become more popular due to their unique taste, visual appeal, and modest caloric count. They are probably closest to grapes or the tropical guava; however, kiwis grow in more temperate climates including Northern California and New Zealand. Persimmons and pomegranates are also unusual in taste and appearance as well as in the adventure of eating them. These festive and seasonal bright orange or red fruits can be seen dangling from near-naked trees in autumn and early winter in the temperate climates in which they grow.

Avocados. Avocados are unique among the fruits in that they are a very concentrated food, more like a nut than a fruit. They are high in calories—one average avocado has about 300 calories and about 30 grams of fat, as well as 12 grams of carbohydrate and 4–5 grams of protein. They are fairly high in most of the B vitamins except B12, being particularly good in folic acid, niacin, and pantothenic acid. They also have some vitamin C, good amounts of vitamin A, and contain a bit of vitamin E. Avocados are very rich in potassium and are also particularly good in many other minerals, including magnesium, iron, and manganese.

For vegetarians who do not eat a lot of fatty foods, avocados may be a good source of needed oils, but for those who consume more fat and calories, these fruits may add excess fat and weight. Avocados are commonly used in salads, dips such as guacamole, in sandwiches, or stuffed with seafood.

Kiwis. Little fruits with a tiny name, kiwis reveal a beautiful pattern when the green juicy fruit with furry skin is sliced. Kiwis are another fruit high in vitamin C and potassium and may contain an enzyme that helps reduce cholesterol and improve circulation.

Olives. Horticulturally, olives are considered a fruit, but in their nutritional makeup they are more like nuts, with a high oil content. In the fruit family, they are most like avocados. Olives grow in large quantities on small trees. They are most widely cultivated in the Mediterranean countries of Italy and Spain, though they are now being grown more in the United States, mainly in California.

The best use of olives is in the form of the clear, sweet oil pressed from their pulp. After the olives are harvested and cleaned, the first amounts of the oil are pressed out as “virgin” olive oil. This can be bright yellow to green-yellow in color and varies subtly in flavor. Fresh olive oil is used classically in salads and can be drunk in small amounts as a nutritive lubricant to the intestinal tract. Olive oil is one of our best oils for cooking, as it is mainly a monounsaturated fat, which is more stable to heat degradation than the common polyunsaturated oils. Olive oil also helps lower LDL cholesterol, which is implicated in heart disease.

Olives cannot be consumed just off the tree or even after ripening. They must be “pickled” or cooked in vinegar in order to be eaten. Stuffed (with pimento) green olives are familiar to the bartender for drinks. Black olives are more often used in cooking. Most table or dinner olives are much larger than the oil olives.

Olives are rich in oil (and calories) and the essential fatty acids, and generally have a good variety of vitamins and minerals, along with some protein. They contain vitamin E, vitamin A, and many of the B vitamins. They further contain many minerals, such as zinc, copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. However, people avoiding salt or vinegar, or those on a low-fat, low-calorie diet, would best minimize their olive intake.

Persimmons. A seasonal (late autumn/winter) fruit, persimmons are common in the Orient, where they are associated with celebration. They also grow in the United States in temperate climates and are harvested here in the autumn/winter as well. A fully fruited persimmon tree that has lost its leaves and is left with many bright orange fruits is a beautiful sight. Persimmons must be eaten when very ripe. It is the cold weather or frost that aids the ripening process. If you buy them hard, you can freeze them overnight and they will ripen as they thaw. Persimmons have a unique, slightly acidic taste and are very messy to eat. They have some beta-carotene, as do most orange fruits and vegetables, and some vitamin C, as well as a little potassium, iron, and calcium. The fuju persimmon from Japan is ripe when still hard and has a texture more like an apple.

Pomegranates. Another autumn celebration fruit in our culture, pomegranates are eaten around Halloween on through the winter holiDay s. Parents may dread pomegranate season because they are not very easy to eat and the bright-red juice contained in their hundreds of little seed fruits stains clothes and skin. Pomegranates have some vitamin C and potassium but overall are not very nutrient rich.

Dried Fruits

Apples Figs
Apricots Prunes
Currants Raisins

Just about any fruit can be dried, but some are more typically eaten in their dried form. Drying fruits allows them greater longevity and shelf life. However, some of the vitamins, such as C, and minerals may be reduced with time. Also, many dried fruits may be preserved with sulfur dioxide, to which some people, particularly those with asthma or allergies, may be sensitive. Generally, sulfur dioxide in small amounts is not too big a problem and may help maintain higher levels of vitamin C.

Since dried fruit has lost its water content, eating too much of it can make the intestinal matter drier, which may cause or worsen constipation. Rehydrating some of these dried fruits in filtered or spring water will make them juicy and more flavorful and prevent the problem of constipation.

Apples. Dried apples have only recently become popular commercially. Many of the trace minerals are lost in the drying process, but potassium and the apple pectin, which helps intestinal detoxification, are more concentrated in dried apples.

Apricots. Apricots are very tasty in their dried form. They usually have sulfur dioxide added to preserve their color, but organic, untreated dried apricots are also available. Dried apricots are very rich in vitamin A from beta-carotene and also contain a high concentration of potassium.

Currants. Black currants are tasty raisin-like fruits that contain very good amounts of vitamin C and decent levels of vitamin A, niacin, pantothenic acid, and biotin. They also contain good amounts of iron and potassium, as well as some calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese. Dried currants can be eaten alone or used on cereal or in baking. Recently, the seeds of the black currant have been used for their concentrated oil, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), also found in evening primrose.

Dates. A very sweet, high-carbohydrate fruit harvested from the date palm trees, dates are found naturally in the “dried” state, though fresh dates may have a little more moisture. Date sugar extracted from dates is used as a sweetener. Dates are fairly rich in niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They are surprisingly concentrated in iron; about ten medium dates contain 3 mg. iron.

Figs. Figs can be eaten in the fresh or dried form, though packaged, dried figs are most common. Fresh figs, especially fresh picked, can be an exotic taste treat and great for cleansing the intestines. Dried figs in general are fairly rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They are good energy foods, support blood formation, and, when soaked and rehydrated, figs are helpful to intestinal function.

Prunes. Prunes are best known for their laxative effect. A few prunes a Day , especially soaked, rehydrated prunes, can keep us regular, and the elderly population favors them for this purpose. Prunes are essentially dried plums and are very rich in iron, with the highest amount of all the fruits. One cup of prunes may have 4–6 mg. of iron, and one cup of prune juice, the most common way prunes are used medicinally, contains nearly 10 mg. of iron. Prunes are also high in vitamin A, niacin, potassium, and phosphorus and have some calcium, magnesium, and copper as well.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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