Blueberries could be facing some serious competition for the attention of health nuts and smoothie lovers as a new crop of exotic berries and fruits starts to gain popularity worldwide.
At least Lindsay Duncan certainly thinks so. The Austin, Texas–based naturopath and nutritionist extolled the virtues of goji, acai, mangosteen, and noni at the recent Canadian Health Food Association's Expo West, held in Vancouver April 19 to 22. Duncan has a vested interest in promoting the fruits' supposed health benefits: he's the founder of Genesis Today, which he said is the fastest-growing nutritional-supplement company in North America. During his April 20 seminar, he called himself a "healer", rather than a "marketer".
"These products don't cure cancer," Duncan said. "No product cures cancer. That's not how healing works. The body heals cancer.”¦These plants provide the body with what the body needs to heal itself."
Here's a look at the trendiest "super foods" on offer today.
GOJI Grown in the Himalayas as well as China, Mongolia, and Tibet, the goji (Lycium barbarum) is a small red berry resembling a cranberry that's loaded with vitamins B and C, beta-carotene, and iron. According to Duncan, the goji supports the function of the liver, immune system, and endocrine glands; helps memory, libido, and kidney and cardiovascular health; and improves sleep. It has also been used in China, he claimed, to enhance mood, balance blood-sugar levels, and boost energy.
Last fall, Dynamic Chiropractic magazine dubbed the berry possibly "the most nutritionally dense food ever discovered on the planet". According to the publication, the goji contains "19 amino acids, the building blocks of protein, including all eight essential for life; 21 trace minerals, including germanium, an anti-cancer mineral rarely found in foods; more protein than whole wheat; a complete spectrum of antioxidant carotenoids, including beta carotene (a better source than even carrots) and zeaxanthin (protects the eyes)".
NONI The fruit of the bitter-tasting noni, or Morinda citrifolia–an evergreen shrub grown mainly in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and Australia–has antifungal, antiviral, anti?tumour, and antihistamine properties, according to Duncan. Plus, the noni is said to stimulate the digestive process, reduce high blood pressure, and protect against infectious bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella.
A brochure handed out by Duncan claimed that the noni helps with everything from nervous-system disorders and obesity to emotional disorders and physical pain. "It sounds like a miracle tonic!" the pamphlet says. "We have to understand that Noni itself is not a 'cure-all', but rather, the powerful properties of Noni (when combined with a complete nutritional building program that includes proper diet and lifestyle choices) help to support and stimulate the miraculous human body's self healing process."
According to Phytochemicals (www.phytochemicals.info/), the medicinal properties of noni were discovered more than 2,000 years ago in Polynesia. People who recovered from illness after eating noni–also known as Indian mulberry, cheese fruit, or, rather unappealingly, vomit fruit–called it "the fruit of God".
According to the American Cancer Society, animal and laboratory studies have shown noni to have some promising effects, although the food's effectiveness at treating cancer in humans hasn't been extensively investigated or proven. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is studying noni's alleged cancer-fighting properties.
However, health problems have been associated with the fruit. The American Journal of Kidney Diseases published a warning in its February 2000 issue saying that noni juice contains potassium, which people with kidney disease have trouble excreting. High levels of potassium in the blood can result in irregular heart rhythm and heart attacks.
The August 2005 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology reported that two people experienced liver intoxication after drinking noni juice. One, who had previous liver damage, had to have a transplant after consuming nearly two litres of the juice, while another recovered after ceasing to drink the liquid. Following the bad publicity, most juice producers started to recommend a maximum daily intake of 30 millilitres.
MANGOSTEEN Garcinia mangostana originates in the Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia. The fruit, which has juicy white flesh and sweet juice, is harvested today in Vietnam, China, and Taiwan.
According to the Phytochemicals site, the phytonutrient-rich mangosteen, also known as mangis or mangu, appears to have anti-inflammatory properties. The dried rind is used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and gonorrhea, and powder from the dried rind can alleviate the symptoms of eczema. Furthermore, certain phytochemicals found in the "queen of tropical fruits" could have antioxidant properties and possibly antitumour effects. A type of potent flavonoid found in green tea is even more abundant in mangosteen. The fruit may also ease allergy symptoms by inhibiting the release of histamines.
For proof of mangosteen's surging popularity, look no further than Hilary Duff's new perfume, With Love, which promoters describe as having top notes of mangosteen fruit, while the scent's "heart" features the mangosteen blossom.
ACAI Euterpe oleracea is a tall palm tree that grows in swampy areas of South America and produces small, deep-purple berries that taste like a cross between blackberries and chocolate. According to Natural Health Care (naturalhealthcare.ca/), a Canadian Web site with a glossary called Herbology 101, the fruit contains the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, as well as oleic acid (omega-9), which helps lower low-density-lipoprotein levels. Acai (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee") berries are also said to contain calcium, vitamin E, and phosphorus. And acai is up to 25 times higher in anthocyanin–a phytochemical with potent antioxidant properties–than red wine.
Acai is in the same family as saw palmetto, commonly used as an herbal treatment for prostate enlargement. And researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro have discovered that acai extract can be used to fight Staphylococcus aureus infections.