It’s nice that all my favorite fruits and vegetables are slowly making their way on to the growing list of superfoods. While there is no official list of superfoods, and indeed it seems like “the” list will vary extensively depending on where you’re getting your information, the term superfood usually designates a food that is particularly high in specific nutrients, minerals or, most commonly, antioxidants. It’s fantastic to see natural foods like blueberries, pomegranates and cacao being recognized for the healthy, nutrient-dense foods that they are.
A shame, then, that one of my favourites, mango isn’t usually thought of as a superfood. Mangoes are quite good for you, and I’ve sung their praises in the past, but their antioxidant count doesn’t come close to what an equal volume of pomegranate or blueberries or acai berries would be, and its vitamin profile is fairly standard. However, Dr. Stephen and Dr. Susanne Talcott have started referring to mangoes as superfoods after their recent study uncovered the surprising effect the fruit has on cancer cells.
Texas AgriLife Research food scientists examined five different varieties of mango and found they all effectively stopped the growth of cancers cells in the lab. And the Talcotts tested an extract of polyphenols from mango in vitro on colon, breast, lung, leukemia and prostate cancers. Polyphenols are a class of natural antioxidant compounds from plants, found in high concentrations in tea, wine, chocolate and certain other plant foods. The Talcotts specifically looked at specific polyphenols from the mango called gallotannins as being the bioactive compounds responsible for the effect on cancer cells.
Mango showed some impact on lung cancer, leukemia and prostate cancers cells, but most affected by the mango extract were certain types of colon cancer and breast cancer cells. The doctors also found that, although the mango extract caused aptosis, or programmed cell death, in the cancer cells, normal cells were unaffected. “That is a general observation for any natural agent, that they target cancer cells and leave the healthy cells alone, in reasonable concentrations at least,” Susanne Talcott noted.
“It has about four to five times less antioxidant capacity than an average wine grape, and [mango] still holds up fairly well in anticancer activity. If you look at it from the physiological and nutritional standpoint, taking everything together, it would be a high-ranking super food,” she said. “It would be good to include mangoes as part of the regular diet.”
But before we jump to add mango to the superfood list, official or not, note that this study was done in the lab. Although it may seem reasonable to assume, it is still unknown if consuming mango will stop colon or breast cancer in human beings as it did in the lab. Much more research needs to be done before it can be effectively stated that mangoes are a “cure”. The Talcotts are looking to do further research on the subject, expressing plans for a small clinical trial using individuals at high risk for colon cancer. We’ll keep our eyes open for that, but in the meantime, I won’t be shying away from mangoes any time soon.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale