Sri Lanka has a lot of potential for cultivating fruits for both the domestic market and for export, thanks to its ideal tropical climate and the fact that agriculture is an important sector of our economy. However, many of our local fruits are confined to home gardens in rural areas and it is difficult to purchase them in the market. This is unfortunate, since most of them are rich in nutrients, have been used in traditional ayurvedic medicine, and have been scientifically proven to have the capacity to fight diseases and health conditions from cancer to diabetes. Here are some of the best examples:
Soursop (Katu Anoda)
This rather strange-looking green fruit has been reputed in ayurvedic medicine to help attack cancer cells effectively and safely. Both the fruits and the leaves have been used in ayurvedic treatments; the soursop leaf has been noted to have an effect on cancerous cells in colon, breast, prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancer, but medical research is still underway to determine the potency of this fruit as an effective cure. The soursop juice has helped to overcome kidney disease, liver problems, urinary tract infection (urethritis) and hematuria (the condition of having blood in the urine) as well. The fruit is also a good source of vitamin C, which is a strong antioxidant that increases endurance, boosts the immune system, and slows down the ageing process in the skin. It also contains Vitamin B1, which accelerates metabolism and prevents nerve damage, and Vitamin B2, which is required for our bodies to produce the energy we need, store necessary fat, and ensure that our nervous system functions accordingly.
Bael Fruit (Beli)
This large fruit may be a tough one to crack, but it is worth the trouble. The juice of the beli is believed to be one of the most nutritious fruit drinks among a wide range of healthy options available. It has many health benefits, especially concerning the digestive system, and has been used in ayurvedic medicine to treat conditions such as diarrhoea, constipation, and dysentery. It is also used to cure ulcers in the bowels caused by inflammation or infection, diabetes, chronic fever, nausea and vomiting, gastritis, and bleeding disorders. Bael fruits also contain vitamin B1 and B2, protein, and riboflavin.
Java Plum (Madan)
This wild fruit is hard to find within the urban area of Colombo and its suburbs, but can be found in the dry forest areas of the country. The small, dark purple fruit has a sour, slightly bitter taste and a tendency to leave a stain on one’s tongue, but nevertheless, it is regarded as a successful treatment for diabetes in ayurvedic medicine.The low glycemic index contained by the fruit ensures that a proper sugar level is maintained in the body. It has also been used in ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for lung disorders, such as bronchitis and asthma, and to cure problems related to the digestive system. Madan is also packed with vitamin A and vitamin C – which are beneficial for the health of the skin and the eyes – and iron, which ensures that a proper supply of oxygenated blood is delivered throughout the body. They also contain compounds such as oxalic acid and gallic acid that help fight against malaria and other microbial and bacterial infections.
Rose Apple (Jambu)
These juicy pink fruits are a favourite during the avurudu season, and the fact that they, too, have a low glycemic index makes it beneficial to diabetics. The fruits also contains ‘jambosine’, a type of alkaloid that has had positive results in blocking or regulating the conversion of starch to sugar. Research is currently underway to determine the effect of jambosine on blood sugar levels. There has also been evidence to show that jambu has antimicrobial and antifungal effects as well, and its richness in vitamin C allows for a stronger immune system, and prevention of various skin infections. The high fibre content of the fruit also helps in preventing serious health conditions in the digestive system.
Jew Plum (Ambarella)
This versatile fruit can be turned into any sort of dish, ranging from savoury curries, chutneys and achcharus to healthy drinks, smoothies, salads, and even desserts. Interestingly, it has also been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of wounds, burns, and sores, whereas modern scientific research has identified that it can also lower high blood pressure. Furthermore, this fruit has one of the highest levels of vitamin C, containing about 30 times more than what is available in oranges. It also contains significant amounts of vitamin A, iron, phosphorous, calcium, and dietary fibre and does not contain any saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. The high vitamin C content strengthens the immune system and allows for the fruits to be used to treat coughs, colds, and minor ailments of the throat and respiratory tract. The high level of iron assists in producing more red blood cells, thus increasing the supply of oxygenated blood and thereby preventing anaemia. Also, antioxidants found in these fruits can reduce the risk of blood clot formation in blood vessels.
These lovely bright red fruits contain antioxidants known as ‘punicalagins’ and these give the fruits excellent anti-inflammatory properties, thus making them beneficial in preventing diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, which are caused by chronic inflammation. The hundreds of edible little seeds inside of a pomegranate, called ‘arils,’ are also rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Local ayurvedic remedies use the skin of the fruit to treat diarrhoea, and the juice made from the seeds has been used as a cure for digestive disorders and a stimulant for poor appetite. Furthermore, studies of the effects and benefits of the pomegranate have shown that the extract from the fruit can slow down the production of malignant cells, and lower the risk of the death of patients suffering from prostate cancer. There is evidence to show that pomegranates can improve memory in the elderly and help fight Alzheimer’s disease as well.
There is a wide range of different kinds of guavas, but the ones that have pink flesh, small, hard white seeds, and green skin are the most common in Sri Lanka. They are believed to aid in skin care, as they have a high content of vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants, which help to protect the skin from effects of ageing, and vitamin K which reduces skin discolouration, dark circles, and irritation caused by acne. More importantly, eating this fruit can help improve the sodium and potassium balance of the body, and regulate blood pressure levels for those who have hypertension. Guavas also contain vitamin B3 and vitamin B6, which help improve the blood circulation to the brain, thereby giving a boost to cognitive function. The presence of folic acid in the fruits is an added benefit for expectant mothers, as it helps develop the baby’s nervous system and keep it safe from neurological disorders.
Like a lot of other fruits listed here, the durian contains a large amount of dietary fibre, which is essential for a healthy digestive system. Aside from preventing various diseases in the digestive system, fibre also helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body, thus protecting the cardiovascular system as well. Known as ‘the king of fruits’ due to its massive size and thorn covered skin, the durian also contains relatively high amounts of fat, so it is advisable to keep a watch on the amount of the fruit consumed. But even though it does have a lot of fat content, it is still free of cholesterol and saturated fats, which is a plus. Durian is also a good source of magnesium, potassium, and manganese; all these minerals play a notable role in developing and sustaining the strength and durability of our bones. Furthermore, potassium also boosts the effectiveness of nutrient uptake by the cells in our body, which means that it maximises the quantity of essential minerals that are absorbed, and these minerals ensure the prevention of osteoporosis. Manganese and copper on the other hand, like iron, are required for the production of healthy red blood cells.
Sapodillas have a calories count, making them an excellent source of energy. The round fruit, covered with a scruffy brown peel, bears resemblance to kiwi fruits on the outside; but unlike kiwis, they have dark brown or yellowish-brown flesh that has a grainy texture and a mildly malt-like taste.They also contain tannins, a type of antioxidant that can help reduce anti-inflammatory conditions such as erosive gastritis and irritating bowel disorders. This antioxidant also has homeostatic properties, which can cause bleeding to stop when it comes to injuries, piles, and haemorrhoids. Tannins also have astringent properties and potential antiviral, antiparasitic, and antibacterial effects. Sapodilla is rich in dietary fibre, minerals such as potassium, copper, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins like folate, niacin, and pantothenic acid. Sapodilla is also considered a natural sedative, eaten to relax the nerves and relieve stress, and is suggested for those affected by insomnia and panic disorders.
Indian Gooseberry (Nelli)
The small, acidic green fruit is commonly used in ayurvedic medicine, and ayurvedic doctors have used them for several different treatments such as enhancing digestion, treating constipation and fever, purifying the blood, and alleviating asthma. It is also used for stimulating hair growth and getting rid of dandruff, among other treatments. The dried fruits have also been used to cure diarrhoea, dysentery, jaundice, and anaemia. Drinking the juice of these fruits with honey is said to improve eyesight and research has shown that it can be used to better cataracts and nearsightedness, mainly because of the large amounts of carotene that have been identified. They also contain chromium, which benefits diabetic patients, as this mineral can help reduce blood sugar levels. Eating nelli can also help improve diuretic activity, meaning that they can aid in increasing the frequency and volume of urine disposed of from our bodies. This is a plus point, as it allows for the elimination of toxins and excess water, salts, and uric acid, thus improving the health of our urinary system.
This bright yellow fruit, that is sometimes colloquially termed the ‘egg fruit’ due to its colour, texture and taste being similar to a powdery egg custard, is more or less considered a superfood among tropical fruits. It packs more energy than bananas, has almost as much protein as avocado, and contains high levels of carotene, vitamin B, and essential minerals. The most notable health benefit of the canistel fruit is that it is rich in carotenoids, which is vital for clear vision and good eye health. Among these, beta carotene is effective in treating dry eyes and aids in lowering the risk of cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It also contains large amounts of niacin, which aids in the conversion of carbohydrates into energy, controls blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels in the body, and produces necessary stomach acid. Niacin also helps to produce histamine, an enzyme which dilates the blood vessels thereby improving blood circulation and preventing high blood pressure. Eating these fruits also helps to prevent inflammation in the body and even eliminate the inflammation caused by pneumonia and laryngitis.
These are only a handful of the under-consumed fruits in our country, and those which have the most potent benefits for our health. What is unfortunate to note is that most of these fruits are hard to come by in the shops and supermarkets in most urban areas.
One main reason for this is that these tropical fruit trees are rarely grown anywhere in or around the city. Another reason is that we opt for imported fruits like grapes, apples, and oranges over our own local fruits.
Given their immense health benefits, however, we ought to encourage the cultivation of more local fruits, not only for the home market but also for exports. We should also call for more research and scientific study to determine the extent of their potential to cure or fight diseases such as cancer, and to improve overall mental and physical well-being.
We live on an island abundant with nutritious ‒ albeit sometimes a little strange ‒ fruit, and it would be a pity if we did not make the best of this.
Featured image courtesy timeout.com