Wild plum. Picture: FLICKR
Wild plum. Picture: FLICKR

Wild plums — planted as street trees in many towns and cities — could save your life.

Out of 10 indigenous fruits studied by Cape Town academics‚ wild plums scored the highest for antioxidant content, meaning they neutralise cell-damaging free radicals.

Researchers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) say fruit and vegetables prolong life but many South Africans eat none‚ largely because of affordability and availability.

"Freely available indigenous fruits that have been traditionally used by rural peoples constitute an untapped resource that deserves to be promoted more extensively‚" they write in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Daniela Kucich and Merrill Wicht‚ of the CPUT chemistry department‚ said the lack of fruit and vegetables was linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

It also led to chronic malnutrition‚ which was linked to lower respiratory infections‚ diarrhoea and stunting.

"An estimated 21.5% of the population of SA falls below the poverty line‚ and ... a nutrient-dense‚ diversified diet may cost 69% more on average‚" said the researchers.

This was where indigenous fruits came in‚ and the researchers compared 10 varieties with the blueberry and cranberry.

The wild plum left other fruits firmly in the shade‚ followed by wild olives and colpoons. "Wild olive‚ colpoon and Christmas berry would not be consumed as food due to their bitter taste‚ but could be prepared as medicine‚ similar to European bitters‚" said the researchers.

"Crossberry has been collected traditionally and dried to use as flavouring for milk."

Other fruits tested were waterberry‚ tortoise berry‚ num num‚ bietou and sour figs.

Western Cape health department spokesman Jo-Anne Otto said advice on healthy nutrition was available to all clinic patients.

Children were followed up at home after discharge‚ she said‚ and "patients diagnosed with a chronic disease of lifestyle and who are struggling to follow a healthy diet are referred to the dietician for guidance and direct counselling".

But the Association for Dietetics in SA said there was a shortage of positions for diet experts "to manage the high burden of malnutrition".

Spokesman Catherine Pereira said: "A key improvement would be the prioritisation of budget and resources towards creating more positions for nutrition professionals so that a larger portion of those who need appropriate nutrition counselling and care can receive the treatment they require".

TMG Digital/The Times

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