Healthy Eating: New fruits on the block

Bored with your food? Break with the norms and spice up your plate with these exotic yet nutrient loaded produce.

Grocery bag full of vegetables 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Grocery bag full of vegetables 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
We’ve all heard the saying an apple a day will keep the doctor away… but can we really eat the same food day after day. When it comes to what we eat, most of us like to mix it up. But when you really think about what we buy at the grocery store, how many of us go beyond the traditional apples, oranges, bananas, melons and maybe some berries. Vegetables are probably worse, as most of us stay with the staple salad ingredients as well as broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes. Despite the fact that we are told over and over again to eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, most of us sadly don’t. It’s not because we don’t like fruits and vegetables, it’s because we get easily bored – we seek different options when it comes to our food.
So to add variety to your diet, load up your fridge with one, two or even all of these strange but healthy exotic fruits and veggies:
Purple Sweet Potatoes
You have probably heard that sweet potatoes offer some pretty “sweet” health benefits. Full of fiber, beta-carotene and minerals such as potassium and manganese, sweet potatoes are one of the best foods around; but what about their purple cousin? Also referred to as Okinawa sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes do in fact exist. On the outside, this potato looks like a regular run of the mill potato – but peal off the skin and you will discover a deliciously cool rich purple hue. So what can this purple do for you?
For starters, where regular (orange) sweet potatoes get their tangy color from beta-carotene, the purple version receives its “cool” hue from anthocyanins – the flavanoid responsible for both the color and many of the health benefits of blueberries and blackberries.
In addition to acting as antioxidants and fighting free radicals, anthocyanins may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits. Some studies have also indicated that this flavonoid may help to fight oxidative stress and reduce blood cholesterol. If that wasn’t enough to turn you into a fan, purple sweet potatoes, just like their regular and orange counterparts, are loaded with Vitamin C and are a great source of dietary fiber.
Dragon Fruit
Beautiful on the outside, pitaya, commonly referred to as dragon fruit, is equally beautifully healthy on the inside. Originally from South America and Mexico and now commonly grown in South East Asia, dragon fruit is loaded with immune boosting Vitamin C and is considered a good source of calcium and iron.
Aside from vitamins and minerals this spiky fruit contains a rather intriguing compound known as phytoalbumins – antioxidants that mop up free radicals in the body and help to fight cancer cells. Slice open your dragon fruit, and you’ll find hundreds of tiny (poppy like) seeds, which are rich in protein and healthy fats. If that wasn’t enough, some studies have indicated that dragon fruit can help to regulate glucose levels in some people who suffer from Type II diabetes. 
Mark Twain once referred to the cherimoya as "the most delicious fruit known to men." This exotic fruit is fleshy, soft and sweet, white in color, with a sherbet-like texture, which led to its nickname, custard apple. However, this white fruit is more than just a famous author’s favorite fruit. Cherimoya is an excellent source of Vitamin C as well as trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals.
However, that is not what makes Cherimoya so special. This fruit is full of antioxidants; from the skin, to the flesh, to the juice. And while eating any part of this fruit is beneficial, it is Cherimoya’s juice, whose antioxidant content has been studied in fighting certain types of cancers, that has caught the attention of many researchers.
Resembling a miniature orange, the tiny kumquat is originally from China, where it was named after the Cantonese word for yellow-orange. While this fruit, which is no larger than a grape, may seem all cute on the outside, on the inside it is a nutritional all-star. Like citrus fruits, kumquats are an excellent source of Vitamin C – offering nearly your entire daily requirement. This miniature fruit is also a good source Vitamin A as well as many of the B vitamins.
What makes them really unique (and what differentiates them from the rest of the citrus clan) is that kumquats are eaten with their peel. The peel is rich in anti-oxidants and fiber – both of which help to ward off illnesses from common colds, to cancer, to heart disease. Moreover, unlike other citrus fruits (and most fruits for that matter), Kumquats contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids – two essential fats that help to reduce bad “LDL” cholesterol and inflammation in the body. If you find kumquats too sour to eat whole, by just popping them into your mouth as you would a grape, try slicing them and adding them into a salad. 
Yardlong beans
Widely grown in Southeast Asia, Yardlong beans, also called Chinese Long Beans, resemble string beans. However, unlike other beans they can grow up to three feet long and produce pods ranging from 14 to 30 inches just 60 days after sowing. If that wasn’t remarkable enough, the health benefits of this bean will impress you.
For starters, these beans contain large amounts of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Moreover, they are a loaded with Vitamin C, and so can help to boost the immune system and produce collagen. If that wasn’t enough to get you on board, these long skinny beans are an excellent source of folate, an essential B vitamin that improves the body’s ability to repair damaged cells, ward off depression and maintain optimal brain function.