The healing wonders of fruits

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Since time immemorial, fruits – whether fresh or dried – have been a natural staple diet of human beings.  Replete with minerals, vitamins, enzymes, they are easily digestible.  In some parts of the world, fruits serve as medicines and can treat ailments. 

Fruits, eaten raw or consumed as fresh juice, are excellent ways to retain and balance the moisture level in the body. The low level of sodium in fruits plays an important role for people who would like to avail of a salt-free diet.

Recent scientific studies have also claimed that the naturally occurring antioxidants found in most fruits and vegetable juices can help lower a person’s risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease.   In addition, fruits are known for their ability to promote detoxification in the human body. Fruits help to cleanse the body, especially those with high acid levels.

Being a tropical country, fruits abound in the Philippines.  They are available throughout the year and in any parts of the country.  One of this is the national fruit called mango.  Reference to mangoes as the “food of the gods” can be found in the Hindu Vedas.  In the Philippines, the fruits are made into ice cream, pies, jams, chutneys, drinks, preserves, brandy and vinegar. 

Unripe mango is eaten with bagoong.  Dried strips of sweet, ripe mangoes have also gained popularity both inside and outside the country, with those produced in Cebu making it to export markets around the world.

Dried mango flowers, containing 15% tannin, serve as astringents in cases of diarrhea, chronic dysentery, and catarrh of the bladder.  The bark possesses 16% to 20% tannin and has been employed for tanning hides.  

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.

Another readily available health-packed fruits is the banana.  Alexander the Great described this “heavenly fruit” as something “that tasted like nectar sweetened in honey.” 

Nutrition experts claim that banana is low in protein, free of fats but high in energy. A fully ripe banana has 20-25 percent sugar. It has a significant amount of B-vitamins, especially B1 and B6. B1 is a brain tonic whereas B6 relieves, in particular, uncomfortable symptoms of the pre-menstrual tension syndrome like irritability, headaches, tender breasts, and water retention.

A recent survey undertaken in the United States has shown that many people suffering from depression felt much better after eating banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.

If you are having trouble with stress, potassium-rich banana can help you.  Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalize the heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates the body’s water balance.  When you are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby reducing our potassium levels. These can be rebalanced with the help of a high-potassium banana snack.

Another fruit that Filipinos should eat is papaya.  Its pulp is basically very sweet in taste, fiberless and refreshing. Some liken the flavor to melon and apricot.  It is used in salads, pies, sherbets, juices, jam, jelly and confectionery.

“Low in calories and full of nutrition, papaya has more vitamin C than an orange,” says Amy Tousman, a registered dietitian based in Hawaii.  “It’s loaded with vitamin A, potassium, folate and fiber.  It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, substances which help protect our eyes from age-related blindness.”

Likewise, papaya helps in the prevention of atherosclerosis, diabetes and heart disease. Folic acid found in papaya is needed for the conversion of a substance called homocysteine, an amino acid. If unconverted, homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls and if levels get too high, it is considered a significant risk factor to heart attack and strokes.

Papaya is also a good source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels and helps in easing the discomforts constipation. The fiber is able to bind to cancer toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells.

In addition, vitamins C and E found in papaya are all associated with reduced risk of colon cancer. The pigment in the fruit called carotene is similar to that of carrots and squash. Carotene in food is converted into vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight.  Papaya is also an ideal food for those with difficulty chewing and those who are smoking.

In Mindanao, particularly in Davao, one of the  most popular fruits is the durian.  The Muslims claim it rejuvenates fertility (which is why is known as an aphrodisiac).  It is called the king of fruits because in Hindu-influenced, it was reserved only for royalty.

Durian, described as “the fruit that smells like hell but tastes like heaven,” contains a high amount of sugar, vitamin C, potassium, and the amino acid tryptophan, and is a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 

In Malaysia, a decoction of durian leaves and roots are used as an antipyretic. The leaf juice is applied on the head of a fever patient.  Just a warning:  Discover magazine reported an incident where a woman with preexisting renal failure ate a durian and ended up critically ill from potassium overdose.

Another fruit grown mostly in Mindanao is the mangosteen.  The fruit hull of mangosteen has been used for many years as a medicine for treatment of skin infection, wounds, and diarrhea in Southeast Asia.
In her book, Fruits of Warm Climates, Julia F. Morton wrote: “Dried fruits are shipped from Singapore to Calcutta and to China for medicinal use. The sliced and dried rind is powdered and administered to overcome dysentery. Made into an ointment, it is applied on eczema and other skin disorders. The rind decoction is taken to relieve diarrhea and cystitis and is applied externally as an astringent lotion. A portion of the rind is steeped in water overnight and the infusion given as a remedy for chronic diarrhea in adults and children.”

Outside Asia, mangosteen is completely unknown.  Recently, however, the fruit receives some popularity in the Western countries because of its medical properties.  Dr. James Duke, who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture for 35 years, mangosteen has over 138 beneficial properties including antioxidants and Xanthones, a unique biological compound that can kill cancer cells.
Extensive research on mangosteen juice has been conducted in countries worldwide over the past years and revealed the benefits gained from drinking mangosteen juice.   Reportedly, mangosteen juice can combat Parkinson’s disease, fungal and viral ailments, aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fruits, anyone? — ###


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