By Dottie Feucht

The next time you have iced tea try putting a slice of pineapple in it for sweetening. The area closer to the base of the fruit has more sugar content and therefore a sweeter taste and more tender texture. Not only will the pineapple give the tea a delicious flavor, it will aid your digestion because of the bromelain it contains.

Bromelain is a complex mixture of substances including a group of protein-digesting enzymes called cysteine proteinases. The bromelain of the fruit is not as rich a source as that found in the core and stem which is usually extracted and made into a dietary supplement. Research studies have shown that bromelain taken as a dietary supplement reduces inflammation, heartburn, upset stomach, excessive coagulation of the blood, and certain types of tumor growth.

You don’t have to take bromelain as a dietary supplement to benefit from pineapple. Even fresh pineapple has wonderful health benefits. There are 80 nutrients listed on one health food-related web site for pineapple. It is rich in Vitamin C, the body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant, defending it against free radicals that attack and damage normal cells. Free radicals have been shown to promote the artery plaque build-up of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, cause the airway spasm that leads to asthma attacks, damage the cells of the colon so they become colon cancer cells, and contribute to the joint pain and disability seen in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

This would explain why diets rich in vitamin C have been shown to be useful for preventing or reducing the severity of all of these conditions. In addition, vitamin C is vital for the proper function of the immune system, making it a nutrient to turn to for the prevention of recurrent ear infections, colds, and flu. Just one cup of pineapple supplies almost 140% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C.

Pineapple is an excellent source the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. For example, the key oxidative enzyme superoxide dismutase, which combats free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the part of our cells that produce energy), requires manganese. Just one cup of fresh pineapple supplies 128% of the DV for this very important trace mineral. In addition to manganese, pineapple is a good source of thiamin, a B vitamin that acts as a cofactor in enzymatic reactions central to energy production.

If you were taught that carrots would keep your eyes healthy, you should now think “fruit” as well. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily. Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but pineapple makes a tasty contribution to any meal. Besides enjoying chunks of it by itself, add it to smoothies, yogurt, any fruit and most vegetable salads; for example, add chunks of pineapple to your next coleslaw or carrot salad. I have also cooked it a bit with corn starch as a dessert topping.

Pineapple, or Ananas comosus, belongs to the Bromeliaceae family, from which the enzyme bromelain, was named. Its name (piña in Spanish) comes from its similarity to the pinecone. We all know what it looks like but did you realize that pineapples are actually not just one fruit but a composite of many flowers whose individual fruitlets fuse together around a central core? Each fruitlet can be identified by an “eye,” the rough spiny marking on the pineapple’s surface.

It is thought that pineapple originated in Brazil and Paraguay; it was well distributed throughout Latin America by the indigenous population before Columbus found it and took it back to Spain. Portuguese and Spanish explorers carried pineapples aboard their ships as protection (from its high vitamin C) against scurvy and soon introduced them into Africa and Asia where they flourished. As a matter of fact Thailand, the Philippines, and China are now three of the largest exporters of pineapple, along with Brazil and Mexico.

Belize Ag Report