By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Maybe it’s because I love to cook. Or maybe it’s because I believe so strongly that the things we eat every day can make or break our health. But I like to keep an eye on what’s new with food—nutritional research, production methods, and diet trends.
I especially enjoy learning about foods that I haven’t heard of before, like the one I’m about to share with you. It’s called feijoa (pronounced FEE-joh-ah), and it’s a fragrant, egg-shaped fruit from South America. It’s packed with nutrients and fiber, and it just may have the potential to join my list of superfood fruits.
My favorite super fruits—tomatoes, olives (and its cousin, extra virgin olive oil), avocados, coconut, and pomegranate—have all earned that title because they promote good health in many ways. Chief among them is their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Tomatoes and olives, for example, are loaded with free radical–fighting antioxidants; avocados are one of my favorite sources of fiber; and coconut is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy fat that’s not as prone to oxidation as others are.
And feijoa? Let’s take a look at what it brings to the table…
What Is Feijoa?
The feijoa (feijoa sellowiana, or acca sellowiana) is a shrub-like evergreen plant native to Brazil and parts of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, though it’s now popular in New Zealand and other parts of the world.
Taste-wise, feijoa has been described as a cross between pineapple and guava, or pineapple and strawberry—with a hint of mint or apple thrown in. Hence its nickname, “Pineapple Guava.” As far as appearance goes, feijoas look similar to avocados, and you select them in much the same way. You’ll know a feijoa is ripe when it’s bright green and slightly soft. (For more on selecting feijoas, here’s a good video)
How you eat feijoa is up to you. In New Zealand, where it’s a part of summertime life, the preferred way is to simply scoop it from the rind with a spoon. But you can also mix it in salads, smoothies, and other recipes.
Feijoa Supports Healthy Digestion
I’m listing this health benefit of feijoa first because I’m always on the lookout for new and flavorful ways to up my fiber intake. This definitely fits the bill. Per 100 grams, feijoa is almost as rich in fiber as avocado! Avocados, of course, are one of my top sources of fiber.
Fiber is essential for two big reasons. One is that it keeps us regular.
Regularity may be the butt of a lot of jokes (pun intended), but it’s one of the most important ways you excrete waste and toxins from your body. That’s why I talk so much about it. When we’re not so regular, waste and toxins build up and can actually be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This can lead to all kinds of health issues—some of which you’ll feel, like fatigue, pain, and allergy-type symptoms—and some of which you won’t, like systemic inflammation.
The other reason fiber is so crucial is that it’s food for our good gut bacteria. When those bacteria are strong and healthy, we’re able to absorb more of the nutrients in our food. Plus, healthy gut bacteria are better able to protect the lining of the gut wall, which means the toxins I just mentioned aren’t as likely to slip through and wreak havoc.
Feijoa Helps the Heart
Whenever I talk about superfoods (and super fruits) supporting the heart, I’m talking about two things: (1) reducing inflammation and (2) supplying the heart with the nutrients it needs to beat efficiently.
On the first point, feijoa is rich in vitamin C. Because of its association with colds and flu, vitamin C tends to get pigeon-holed as an immune health nutrient. But that’s just one way our bodies put it to work. Another is as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants, of course, scavenge the blood for free radicals. This helps reduce oxidative stress in the lining of the arteries. That’s a good thing, too, since the inflammation oxidation causes is the real cause of atherosclerosis, plaque buildup, and heart disease—not cholesterol.
Feijoa also contributes a healthy dose of potassium to the heart and body. Though it’s not an amount on par with bananas or avocados, it is in the ballpark with oranges, which I’ve long recommended as part of my anti-inflammatory Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet.
Potassium is one of the minerals, or salts, known as “electrolytes.” (Sodium and magnesium are two other well-known ones.) Electrolytes help regulate muscle function in the body and, as you know, the heart is a big muscle! Potassium not only helps ensure that it keeps beating in a steady, predictable way, but it also influences the smooth muscle function that allows our arteries to dilate and contract as needed. Add it all up, and potassium plays a big role in keeping our blood flowing.
Finally, there’s the fiber in feijoas and its impact on cholesterol.
Though I don’t believe high LDL cholesterol is a problem that needs to be medicated, it can be an issue if it gets too high (over 250 mg/dL). In these cases, a reduction helps lower the risk that excess LDL will become oxidized and cause arterial damage. However, there’s still no need for a drug, since eating high-fiber foods like feijoa is associated with improved LDL levels.
Feijoa May Help Improve Mood
A study from a couple years back showed that feijoa extract had a significant antidepressant effect in mice. That doesn’t surprise me much, because feijoa has a fair amount of folate in it—and folate deficiency has been linked with increased risk of depression.
One of the things folate does in the body is neutralize a metabolite called homocysteine. It’s been on my radar for years, because it’s inflammatory in the blood and can negatively affect risk for heart disease. However, it also turns out that homocysteine can interfere with hormones like serotonin, which helps regulate mood and is a target of most pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Feijoa Enhances Immune Function
Finally, I want to call attention to the fact that some research shows feijoa has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
This doesn’t surprise me, either. Plant foods are well known for the phenolic compounds they contain. These substances are the plant’s natural defense system against environmental threats like pests and disease. It just so happens that they function in a similar way in the human body. (They also have potent antioxidant potential.) I’d like to see more research done to identify, specifically, what these compounds are. But for now, feijoa gets a check mark of approval for its ability to help us fight off some truly nasty bugs.
Getting Hold of Feijoa
So now for the $64,000 question—where can you buy it?
Unfortunately, because feijoa is still so unknown to most of the world, it’s not something you can just walk into your local supermarket and find. There are some online retailers that will ship directly to you while the fruit is in season, but it can be expensive. If you run across a reputable seller please share that information in the comments.
Hopefully that will be changing soon as the commercial growers in New Zealand increase their marketing efforts and more people like you learn about their health benefits. In the meantime, get to know the produce manager at your grocery store, and start putting in requests. The voice of their consumer may be just the motivation they need to make a space for this fruit!
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