On Nutrition

DEAR DR. BLONZ: At a recent luncheon, there was a talk at our table about healthy foods we include in our diets. A couple of my friends went on at unusual length about the endless health and curative powers of mangosteen. This is not a fruit I am familiar with. I would appreciate any information you may have about this substance and products made from it. I was rather skeptical, and I will pass on your comments. -- S.T., Concord, California

DEAR S.T.: The mangosteen is a fruit native to Indonesia and southeast Asia, but it can be grown in other tropical climates, including Hawaii. Like any plant that manages to flourish under the oxidizing rays of a tropical sun, the mangosteen has evolved to produce a complement of antioxidant phytochemicals. As with most tropical fruits, this one can be an excellent addition to the diet, but it is not widely available in the domestic produce aisle. As for its possessing “endless health and curative benefits,” this is more marketing than a reflection of evidence-based science.

There may indeed prove to be something special in the mangosteen, but I could find no convincing evidence from clinical studies. Regarding the fruit itself, it’s supposed to have a unique, enjoyable flavor that has been variously described as sweet or slightly sour, with undertones of vanilla, strawberry and peach. I will keep an eye out for reliable scientific studies, and will report back if there are any promising developments.

We have been down this road before with various fruits, vegetables and herbs. The more respectable commodities put funds into research on the popular produce du jour, and then wait for results before any grand health claims are made.

The bottom line is that there is no shortage of healthful foods, and they all deserve consideration for a place on your plate. Health claims should never outpace the hard science. Proceed cautiously, especially if the plaudits from your friends are associated with the use of mangosteen as a dietary supplement and not a whole food.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have been told not to heat food in the microwave in hard, plastic containers, as the plastic secretes a cancer-causing chemical when hot. Is this true? -- M.S., via email

DEAR M.S.: The major issue here is: Are you using containers that are specifically designated as “microwave safe”? That being the case, you are almost certainly in the clear. There may be troubling substances in certain plastics, but we are talking about levels that are very low -- well below any level for concern. There is an FDA article on microwave cooking that includes a discussion of containers at tinyurl.com/yc8z6ydl.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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