Mango: The fruit that heals

MangoBy Henrylito D. Tacio

Many fruits grown in Asia are getting the thumbs up from nutritional researchers. Take the case of mango (known in the science world as Mangifera indica), one of the most celebrated tropical fruits. Mango aficionados are no longer surprise to know that luscious fruit is an important source of beta carotene and vitamin A, which “influence the susceptibility of a host of infectious diseases and the course and outcome of such diseases,” to quote the words of a 2002 review of medical studies by the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, India.A study from the Institute of Nutritional Science at the University of Potsdam in Germany in 2003 found that infant mice whose diets were supplemented with beta carotene and vitamin A had higher levels of proteins that make up the immune system.

Eating foods rich in beta carotene may be a powerful weapon in the fight against heart disease. In one study in the United States, a large group of male doctors with heart trouble took 50 milligrams of beta carotene every other day. Compared with men who took nothing, they had almost half the number of heart attacks and strokes.

Vitamin A can also be found in such foods as carrots, sweet potatoes, liver and eggs, but none is considered as healthy as fruits such as mangoes. “Mangoes are a safe source of vitamin A and beta carotene,” says Ennata Avena, a research specialist in the food analytical service laboratory of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in the Philippines. As it ripens, the amount of beta carotene also increases.

When the fruit is still green, the amount of vitamin C found in mango is higher. Vitamin C, along with other vitamins found in fruits and vegetables, seems to protect people against cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, and breast. One study has shown that taking an extra 60 milligrams of vitamin C each day can help lower heart disease. Vitamin C has also been found to protect against declining mental ability and stroke.

But mangoes have several other medicinal uses. Julia F. Morton, author of Fruits of Warm Climates, reports: “Dried mango flowers, containing 15% tannin, serve as astringents in cases of diarrhea, chronic dysentery, catarrh of the bladder and chronic urethritis resulting from gonorrhea.”

In India, the bark is employed against rheumatism and diphtheria. The resinous gum from the trunk is applied on cracks in the skin of the feet and on scabies, and is believed helpful in cases of syphilis.

According to Morton, mango kernel decoction and powder (not tannin-free) are used as vermifuges and as astringents in diarrhea, hemorrhages and bleeding hemorrhoids. Extracts of unripe fruits and of bark, stems and leaves have shown antibiotic activity.

In some of the islands of the Caribbean, the leaf decoction is taken as a remedy for diarrhea, fever, chest complaints, diabetes, hypertension and other ills. A combined decoction of mango and other leaves is taken after childbirth.

Native to southern Asia, especially eastern India, Burma, and the Andaman Islands, the mango has been cultivated, praised and even revered in its homeland since ancient times. It has been the national symbol of the Philippines. Reference to mangoes as the “food of the gods” can be found in the Hindu Vedas and the leaves are ritually used for floral decorations at Hindu marriages and religious ceremonies.

Buddhist monks are believed to have taken the mango on voyages to Malaya and eastern Asia in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. The Persians are said to have carried it to East Africa about the 10th century A.D. It was commonly grown in the East Indies before the earliest visits of the Portuguese who apparently introduced it to West Africa early in the 16th century and also into Brazil.

History records showed that after becoming established in Brazil, the mango was carried to the West Indies, being first planted in Barbados about 1742 and later in the Dominican Republic. It reached Jamaica about 1782 and, early in the 19th century, reached Mexico from the Philippines and the West Indies.

The name “mango” is derived from the Tamil word “mangkay” or “man-gay.” When the Portuguese traders settled in Western India they adopted the name as “manga.”

The Philippines is known around the world for its “Manila Super Mango” because of its taste which until now is “still unmatched.” Former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor said the variety has found its way in the Guinness Book of World Records as the sweetest of its kind in the world.

But how true is this claim? You better ask Ted Hopkins, an American expatriate who was once assigned in the country. When inquired what he would miss about the Philippines before leaving, he answered mangoes.

“There’s nothing quite like it in the world,” he explained. “Its sweet, juicy taste is so addictive, it’s the first thing I’d surely like to have when I come back.” He further said, “Fresh mangoes from other countries are definitely cheaper compared to the Philippine mango especially those coming from Mexico, but why I would I settle for the second best? When it comes to mangoes, it should be only those coming from the Philippines.”

Here’s more: “Philippine mango has three times the vitamin C of a single orange or apple and important minerals essential to prevent cancer and other diseases,” hails Dr. Martin Hirte, a German health food researcher and pediatrician.

The German physician also found that mango contains minerals that are vital for pregnant mothers and stressed-out people. “The calcium and magnesium of mango relaxes the muscles, relieves stress and prevents miscarriage,” Dr. Hirte wrote in his research paper entitled, The Benefits of Mango for Human Health.

For sure, the Philippine mango is one of the country’s sources of pride. It is known for “its striking yellow peel and flesh, ambrosial scent, and most importantly, its distinctly sweet yet slightly tart flavor,” to quote the words of Trina Leah Mendoza, of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Ripe mangoes are eaten fresh as a dessert; or processed into dried mangoes, puree, juice, concentrate, shakes, and many more. When eaten green, they are a tasty treat for lovers of sour fruits as they are usually dipped in salt, fermented fish or shrimp (“bagoong”). Green mangoes are also pressed into juice and shakes.

Mango is also used to make juices, both in ripe and unripe form. Pieces of fruit can be mashed and used in ice cream or blended with milk and ice to make thick milkshakes. In Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, sweet glutinous rice is flavored with coconut then served with sliced mango on top as a dessert.

The Philippines is sixth in world mango production, contributing 4% to world supply. Data from the agriculture department showed that mango ranks third as the most important fruit in the country in terms of volume of production and area after banana and pineapple.

Although the Philippines is a major mango exporting country, its average annual production of 1.4 million metric tons still lags behind India (10.8 million metric tons), China (3.62 million metric tons), Thailand (1.72 million metric tons), and Pakistan (1.7 million metric tons).

Neighboring Asian countries like Hong Kong and Singapore have long been importing the Philippines’ fresh mangoes, while other major markets are Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. Recently, the Philippines has been exporting fresh mangoes from Guimaras to the United States.

Ninety-percent of the country’s exports are fresh mangoes; the remaining 10 percent are in processed form like dried mangoes. “The dried mango fruit from the Philippines was the best I had ever tasted,” observed Dr. Hirte.

Most mango exports come from Guimaras Island. Unknown to many Filipinos, however, the province is not among the country’s top mango producers. The top producers are Pangasinan (29 percent), Isabela (14 percent), Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Norte, and Nueva Vizcaya (4 percent each), Bulacan, Iloilo, and South Cotabato (3 percent each), and Cebu (2 percent).

Mango growers are being classified into three: backyard growers, commercial growers and corporate farms. The agriculture department said more than half of the mango supply comes from backyard growers (those who own five to 20 fruit-bearing trees). This is followed by commercials growers, entrepreneurs who are mostly based in urban areas, covering roughly 40% of the mango supply, and corporate farms that have integrated production and processing operations or export their produce to foreign markets through their exclusive marketing arms.

Now, you have various reasons why you should plant – if not eat – mangoes! — ###


One response to “Mango: The fruit that heals

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