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Super Fruits (for Super Health)

By H.K. Jones

Looking for a way to meet your body's quota of healthy fruits but tired of the standard apples, bananas, and oranges? Then have we got some good news for you, in the form of 10 lesser-known super fruits that you should consider adding to your daily diet.

What are super fruits? Praised for their nutrient richness, antioxidant properties, and potential healing and medicinal properties, these fruits have been used as both food and medicine in their native areas for centuries but have only recently started to move to the global stage. From the now-familiar papaya to the lesser known noni, each provides a wealth of health benefits that are causing specialty grocers and even some of the larger supermarkets to start stocking them. Some you can find just about anywhere; others you'll have to search for. Check out our short list of some of the potential rising stars of the fruit world:

Super Fruit: Acai
This powerful purple berry from the Brazilian Amazon is packed with healthy antioxidants, essential amino acids, and heart-healthy fats and phytosterols. Acai, a densely nutritious food, is also a great source of fiber, and ongoing research reveals potential anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-reducing benefits. Where to find it: The berries and juice can be found in specialty health-food stores and online at stores, such as Mona Vie. How to use it: Add the juice or pulp to smoothies, whisk into salad dressing, or combine with sparkling water.

Super Fruit: Mangosteen
This exotic fruit native to Southeast Asia has become known for its naturally occurring xanthones—chemical substances that may possess potent antioxidative properties including anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-histamine activities. Known romantically as the “queen of fruits,” the mangosteen is not only tasty (it has been described as something like a cross between a strawberry and an orange, only with more acidity), it's also a natural remedy for skin conditions, dysentery, and diarrhea. Where to find it: Hard to come by in the United States due to import regulations, you may be able to find fresh mangosteens in small Asian grocers. Canned mangosteens may be found in specialty health-food stores or Asian grocers. How to use it: Combine the fruit puree with sparkling water and crushed mint for a healthy and refreshing cocktail, or add to fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Super Fruit: Noni
Found in the South Pacific region, noni is best known for its ability to strengthen the immune system, reduce fevers, and ease digestion problems. The juiced fruit contains a slew of antioxidants, and it is also being studied for its possible cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties. Where to find it: Noni juice can be found in specialty health-food stores. How to use it: Toss the fruit puree in a blender with some ice and soymilk.

Super Fruit: Lychee
Packed with vitamin C, the lychee has been valued for centuries in southern China where it was first cultivated nearly 2,000 years ago. Where to find it: Dried lychees (or lychee nuts), as well as fresh and canned lychees, are available at specialty food stores, Asian food markets, and increasingly at many supermarkets. How to use it: Dried lychees can be eaten as a snack (much in the same way as nuts or candy), whereas fresh lychees need to be shelled and seeded before they are eaten plain or as part of a fruit salad or dessert. Eat the fruit but do not eat the inner seed; it is slightly poisonous.

Super Fruit: Guava
This vitamin-rich tropical fruit native to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America, is loaded with antioxidants including cancer-fighting lycopene. It is high in vitamins A, B, and C, and also contains high amounts of calcium. Where to find it: Guava is now widely available in most markets and health-food stores. How to use it: Peel and eat the fiber-rich whole fruit raw (many people scoop out the seeds, although you don't have to), or slice and eat in a fruit salad. Fresh guava juice is also a delicious snack; just don't drink too much of it or you'll risk an upset stomach.

Super Fruit: Goji Berries
Called wolfberries in China, the goji berry is a small, sweet-tart berry native to Southeast Europe and Southwest Asia that contains an abundance of minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. The Chinese have used Goji berries in traditional medicine for at least 2,000 years. Several Chinese-published studies suggest it may help stave off some of the effects of aging, erase fatigue, bolster the immune system, and even enhance sperm production, although none of these effects have been yet accepted by Western science. Where to find it: Asian grocers and some health-food stores carry dried goji berries. How to use it: Sprinkle onto cereal or combine with nuts and dried fruit for a healthy trail mix.

Super Fruit: Papaya
Papayas, native to the tropics of the Americas, offer not only a delicious taste, but are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients. Once considered quite exotic and difficult to find, they are now grown and eaten around the world. Where to find it: Most markets and health-food stores. How to use it: Ripe papaya is best eaten raw, but slightly green fruit can be cooked and eaten in salads, curries, and other dishes.

Super Fruit: Passion Fruit
This tropical fruit native to Brazil is loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as potassium. Where to find it: The fiber-rich fruit is becoming widely available in grocery stores and Latin markets. How to use it: The super in this fruit is its super-sweet flavor. Passion fruit can be served plain as a dessert or used to flavor a variety of foods such as sauces and beverages.

Super Fruit: Star Fruit
Loaded with vitamin C, this tropical treat has been cultivated for hundreds of years throughout Southeast Asia. Now flourishing in the warm climates of Florida and Hawaii, it's become a staple in mainstream supermarkets. Where to find it: Most markets and health-food stores. How to use it: Star fruit does not require peeling and is delicious—if a bit tart—eaten out of hand, or used in salads and desserts.

Super Fruit: Pomegranate
The Mediterranean fruit is chock full of antioxidants as well as other good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The easy-serve juices (such as the POM brand of pomegranate juices) and hard-to-peel whole fruit are both readily available. Where to find it: Most markets and health-food stores now carry pomegranate juice, as well as the whole fruit. How to use it: Cut the pomegranate in half and pry out the pulp-encased seeds; eat as is, or use the seeds as a garnish on sweet and savory dishes. Be careful when prying out the seeds; pomegranate juice can stain clothing.

About H.K. Jones: H. K. Jones is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and nutrition professional based in Washington, D.C