Of South American fruits that are good for health, and our own local king of fruits, too
ART OF QI: BY DR AMIR FARID ISAHAK
Of the South American jungles, the Amazon Rainforest is the most famous, and is home to more than half of the Earth’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals.
It has sustained the indigenous peoples for eons, providing them with shelter, food, water and medicines. Indeed, it is nature’s medicine chest as it provides remedies for almost all the ailments of the natives.
It is also being tapped by pharmaceutical companies for new and better drugs, as plants have always provided many such ingredients in the past.
It is also the source of about 20% of the earth’s oxygen, which makes it a vital source of life for us all.
Unfortunately, as more of the forests are being cut down for cultivation and settlement, much of the treasures (including the peoples and the animals) are now at risk. And as the forests dwindle, so will our oxygen lifeline.
The fruits of the rainforest enjoyed by the natives as food and for energy and vitality are plentiful in variety. Some have been discovered by the outside world, and others remain a mystery. Among the exotic Amazon fruits that we know are acai berry, bacaba, bacuri and uxi.
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berry is perhaps the crown jewel of the Amazon forests. The fruit is deep purple, resembles a huge grape or blueberry, and tastes like wild raspberry. It is harvested from tall palm trees.
It is consumed by natives to improve circulation, increase energy and vitality, improve eyesight, and provide natural resistance to colds, flu, and disease. It is so vitalising that it is called the “fruit of life”. Every part, including the root, has nutritional or medicinal value.
In the high-tech world of antioxidants and phyto-nutrients, it has been found to have a formidable array of health-enhancing nutrients. It has 10 times the antioxidant power of grapes, and its seeds are also packed with antioxidants. It is rich in essential fatty acids, and has plenty of phytosterols, which help to bring down bad cholesterol. It is also an excellent source of vitamins and fibre.
Berries are the superstars of antioxidant-rich fruits. They contain special antioxidants called anthocyanins. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like ellagic acid, quercetin and catechins.
Many studies have shown that berries have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties. Their anti-cancer effects are so strong that rats injected with carcinogens and then fed a berry-rich diet had 80% fewer cancers compared to those without berries in their diet (study done in Ohio State University, US).
Acai berry, wolfberry and blueberry consistently top the list of antioxidant-rich foods studied. Berries have very high ORAC scores (a measure of antioxidant power), and have very high qi content, especially when taken fresh.
Before Acai berries were studied, it was thought that blueberries had the highest antioxidant content among them. Now it is known that acai berries have double the score! When acai berries are studied in greater detail, I expect more benefits will unfold.
The bacaba palm is another tall palm species unique to the Amazon forest. Its fruit is edible, but has to be skinned and cooked first. It is usually made into a refreshing oil-rich drink for health and medicinal use. That’s another delicious and nutritious drink you probably never heard of. It contains up to 30% of healthy fats, remarkably similar to olive oil, with high oleic acid content. Its protein is better than that found in most grains and legumes. It reminds me of the nutritional content of avocado. And I love avocados.
The bacuri is one of the most popular fruits in northern Brazil, and belongs to the same family as the mangosteen. It grows on very tall trees that are found in the Amazon lowlands.
The pulp or flesh extract is widely used in nectars, fruit purees, jams, jellies and ice creams. The seed is edible and has a good nutty flavour.
Bacuri seed oil has medicinal uses. Its very high oil content (46% to 71%) means it may become an oil crop (like our oil palm) in the future. Even the latex from the fruit and trunk has medicinal properties, and is used to cure skin ailments like eczema and herpes.
It has good nutrition, medicinal use, as well as healthy oil. I will not be surprised if research discovers that the exocarp (thick outer skin) contains vital antioxidants, just like in the mangosteen.
Cupuacu (pronounced coo-pwah-soo) is another delicious and nutritious fruit of the Amazon. It is rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids and polyphenols.
Polyphenols have already been known to contribute to the health benefits of green tea and grape seeds. Cupuacu is claimed to improve the skin and hair texture, enhance the immune system, lower cholesterol levels, and boost energy, stamino and libido. It looks like the Amazonian answer to our Tongkat Ali!
It is called the “Taste of the Amazon” and is often offered to visitors by the natives. It can be served either with wine made from acai berries, or with yerba mate tea.
While acai wine is known as the “Amazonian wine”, yerba mate tea is called the “beverage of the gods” and is the national drink of six South American nations! This unique tea has caffeine-like phytochemicals which have strong antioxidant power. It is widely consumed for general health and vitality, for fat-burning and weight-loss, and for mental alertness.
Like the acai berry, the uxi fruit (pulp) contains high amounts of dietary fibres and phytosterols, as well as vitamin C, vitamin E and minerals. And like the bacaba, it has a high oleic acid content.
The uxi (or uchi) tree is another tall tree native to the Brazilian Amazon forest. Although the fruit has much promise, like many others, it has not been adequately studied, and much of its nutritional value is yet to be discovered.
Durian – the king of fruits
The durian does not come from the Amazon forest, but the “King of Fruits” has finally been recognised as a formidable health food and has joined the others in being marketed as a dietary supplement for better health (in juice extract and puree form).
In the past, we came to know about the goodness of noni (mengkudu), mangosteen and pomegranate through research done elsewhere. So even though we have plenty of these fruits here, we have to buy the imported extracts or juices at exorbitant prices. Now the same has happened to our durian.
The first ever durian-based fruit supplement is made in the US and exported to Malaysia and other durian-rich countries. It is a lesson that without technology, we will not benefit fully from our natural resources. Instead, those with the science can innovate using our resources and then sell the improved products to us for a handsome profit!
The durian supplement is blended with other tropical fruits to enhance the taste and nutritional value. The fusion of durian, papaya, mango, lychee and longan is a tropical treat with phenomenal phytonutrient power. I am sure you are drooling for it already.
The healing power of nature’s plants
In many articles, I have stressed my belief that many remedies for our ailments are found in nature. I believe in God’s promise that for every disease, He has provided the cure.
A sampling of the exotic Amazonian fruits has revealed benefits we never knew existed. With more research, we may even start seeing them used to treat specific diseases. And there are thousands of other fruits, herbs, roots, leaves, barks and even latex, from trees and plants of the Amazon and other uncharted forests that are yet to be tested. Even the durian has produced phytochemicals that have shown anti-cancer properties in lab experiments.
The answers are somewhere out there in the forests. The next time you enjoy the durian, think of the possibility that it may be saving you from diseases. And what a delicious medicine that is!
The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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