Health Benefits of Subtropical and Tropical Fruit
Some of the tastiest fruits around are those that grow in the in the hot, humid regions near the earth’s equator (tropical fruits) or in the subtropical regions adjacent to them (subtropical fruits). The plants bearing these fruits can be woody (like mangoes), herbaceous (like bananas), or vining (like passionfruit), and typically can’t grow at temperatures below 50°F (10°C).
Tropical fruits can be extremely health promoting!
For example, mangos contain a wide variety of antioxidant polyphenols that protect against free radical damage, such as gallic acid, mangiferin, gallotannins, quercetin and isoquercetin, beta-glucogallin, and ellagic acid; they also contain about 25 different carotenoids, including lutein, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene. The mangiferin in mango, in particular, is an incredibly powerful antioxidant (even more potent than vitamin C or vitamin E), and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti-atherosclerotic, pain-relieving, blood lipid lowering, immunomodulatory, anti-diabetic (by inhibiting glucose absorption in the intestine), and antiallergenic properties. Mangiferin also chelates iron, and may have benefits for reducing oxidative damage from iron overload disorders (such as hereditary hemochromatosis).
Meanwhile, pineapple juice and extract has demonstrated anti-cancer activity against a number of human cancer cell lines, including ovarian, breast, and colon cancer; this may be due to its content of the enzyme bromelain, which has been shown to act directly upon cancer cells as well as modulate the immune, hemostatic, and inflammatory systems in the body. Papaya, too, has been shown to have significant antiproliferative effects, suggesting potential cancer-fighting properties.
Some of the harder-to-find tropical fruits have also been studied for their health properties.
In rats fed high cholesterol diets, durian has been shown to have liver- and cardio-protective effects, including lowering total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. An in vitro study using human breast cancer cells also found that durian extract was able to inhibit cell proliferation.
In mice, fiber derived from star fruit was shown to significantly lower blood lipids and prevent the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, while star fruit extract protected against chemically-induced liver cancer. Galacturonan (a sugar) derived from star fruit was likewise able to reduce inflammation and reduce the perception of pain in animal models.
A study of obese female patients with insulin resistance found that mangosteen extract supplementation was able to significantly improve insulin sensitivity, with no recorded side effects, over the course of the 26-week study. Xanthones from mangosteen (including alpha-mangostin) have also been shown to exert anti-obesity, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-dyslipidemia, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects in experimental studies, with several human trials showing benefit of mangosteen fruit and juice on weight loss.
Various phytonutrients in jackfruit (including lignans, isoflavones, and saponins) in jackfruit have demonstrated anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, anti-ulcer, and anti-aging properties in a variety of studies; jackfruit has even been shown to contain compounds that exert chemoprotective properties that reduce the mutagenicity of the carcinogen alfatoxin B1, and may also contain compounds that help fight lymphoma.
Examples of Subtropical and Tropical Fruit
- African moringa
- coco plum
- custard apple
- fig, many varieties
- guava, many varieties
- mamey sapote
- passion fruit
- peanut butter fruit
- rose apple
- star apple
- star fruit (carambola)
- sugar apple
- vanilla bean
Nutrients in Subtropical and Tropical Fruit
Expand to see all scientific references for this article.
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