Sweet, fragrant fruit helps prevent Type II diabetes

Yesterday, I bit into a peach at the perfect stage of ripeness. The taste and the aroma were an experience to remember.

What we call “taste” is actually largely due to the aroma. And as I was eating the peach, the unmistakable aroma of roses came to mind. I literally stopped and smelled the roses by simply savoring the peach.

Of course, nothing is more powerful than aroma for stimulating memory. Like Marcel Proust’s madeleine confection (which I always remember because it is my daughter’s middle name).

Peaches and other pit fruits actually belong to the large botanical family Rosacea or rose. Rosacea is a huge botanical family found all over the world. It includes decorative roses, pit fruits, and luxuriant hibiscus (Chinese rose, or Rosa sinensis, known as bunga raya, the national flower of Malaysia). What we call a nectarine is botanically a peach with a recessive gene for fuzz.

If you pay attention, you will find the same brilliant hues on ripening peaches as the natural pigments rose varieties. And, of course, the complex aromas of peaches include hints of rose.

It sounds like I am describing a wine. And in fact, in Europe they make peach wine. In the summer, they also toss peach slices into glasses of red or white table wine. It makes a perfect dessert wine, instead of the sickly, sweet vintages sold specifically for that purpose.

Peaches pack a nutritional punch

Peaches also provide a lot of nutritional punch. Just one peach provides 570 IU of vitamin A from conversion of carotenoids to retinol in the liver; B vitamins (folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and thiamin); 12 mg of vitamin C; and about six percent of the daily values of vitamins E and K.

Plus, like all fruits and vegetables, peaches also have fiber. One peach has 3,000 mg of fiber on average.

Peaches are also an excellent source of bioavailable minerals. They are high in potassium at 333 mg, and also provide some calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.

In addition, other plant compounds found in peaches appear to help prevent inflammation, obesity and “metabolic syndrome,” which can lead to Type II diabetes.

As I often advise, eating more vegetables and fruits, including peaches, remains the best prescription for avoiding all chronic diseases, including Type II diabetes.  

Indeed, there is a world of difference between eating fructose in whole fruits versus sucrose (cane sugar) or “high-fructose” corn syrup, artificially added to packaged foods. Peaches are naturally sweet and can replace added sugars. Cut them up and add them to unsweetened whole grain cereal, yogurt or plain cottage cheese for a natural sweetener that won’t cause metabolic spikes.

Magic fruit from the ancient Chinese “Tree of Life”

Historians believe peaches originated in China where they were documented as the “Tree of Life” and traded extensively beginning in the 10th century during the Tang dynasty.

In the ancient Ramayana of India, the peach features in a legend when the white-jawed monkey, Hanuman, steals a “magic fruit.”

The scientific name Prunus persica is a direct European reference to peaches’ early travels on the Silk Road from China to ancient Persia. Persians introduced the fruit to the ancient Romans, who called it “Persian apple,” or malum persicum, in Latin.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia brought peach trees back to the Mediterranean. Columbus then brought them to South America on his second and third voyages. Then the French introduced them to Louisiana, and the English brought them to Jamestown, Virginia, and even as far north as Massachusetts Bay colony.

Domestic production began in Delaware, Maryland, Georgia and Virginia during the 19th century. During Queen Victoria’s reign, at every meal a fresh peach was presented in a fine cotton napkin, both brought from the far-flung colonies of the British Empire.

China remains the world’s top peach grower today, followed by Italy and Spain.

In the U.S., Georgia is known as the Peach State, but more than half of peaches in U.S. are grown in California.

Local is better

Global agricultural seasons seem to allow farmers to grow a wide variety of fruits year-round. But I recommend taking advantage of the local growing season and look for locally grown peaches in August.

In Florida, where it seems they can grow just about anything, I have noticed long periods when I can’t find peaches (or other fruits of the genus Prunus, almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, plums). So — you may have to look a bit harder, even in the sunshine state.

For ideal ripeness, the flesh of the peach should have a slight give. Hold it in your whole hand because a fingertip can easily bruise the fruit. Also make sure to appreciate the beautiful yellow-orange-red colorations and the aromas.

When peaches are out of season, you can get a highly potent fruit from another member of the Rosacea family — the rose.  The “rose hip,” located under the floral bloom of the wild rose plant, is actually a delicious and nutritious fruit.

Rose hips are extremely high in vitamin C and other nutrients. And it’s the only botanical shown to metabolize fat and remove inches from your waist and hips. You can now find it in supplements and dry powdered extract.

So get hip to rose hips and stay with the Rosacea family year-round.