Vegan diets are becoming more and more popular, as more people learn about all of the potential health benefits vegan living can bring. A vegan diet brings balance to a Western diet, which often features too many animal-based proteins, refined sugars, and saturated fats.1
Of course, that doesn’t mean a vegan diet is easy. One challenge with a veganism, especially for newcomers, is how to fill gaps in the diet – not just nutritionally, but also with regard to the many flavors and textures we commonly associate with animal products.
One great example of a food that often gets ignored, but shouldn’t be – especially for vegans, is jackfruit. After all, how often do you hear of a fruit that is readily accessible, easy to grow, covers some of the biggest nutritional needs we have, and can serve as a pulled pork substitute? It’s only fitting that the biggest tree fruit in the world has such massive potential.
What Does Jackfruit Bring To The Table?
The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is believed to have originated in India thousands of years ago, but today, it is grown throughout Southeast Asia, as well as South America, Australia, and the Caribbean.2 Harvested straight from the jackfruit tree, one jackfruit can grow as large as 80-100 pounds, with each fruit containing as many as 500 seeds.
While raw jackfruit seeds are indigestible, cooked seeds are delicious – and a rich source of important nutrients. Fresh jackfruit seeds have notable levels of vitamins B1 and B2.3 In addition, jackfruit (and its seeds) are rich sources of thiamin and riboflavin, which can help support eye, skin, and hair health.4 However, jackfruit seeds are only one part of the nutritional capabilities of this wonderful fruit. The fruit surrounding the seeds can be eaten either ripe, where it is a soft, fruity snack, or unripe, where it takes on more of a potato-like consistency.
In countries like Bangladesh, where it is the national fruit, jackfruit can be made into curry, stir-fried, juiced, and even made into chips, ice cream, and baking flour. One reason why U.S. vegans are beginning to gain interest in jackfruit because when cooked for a few hours, it has a flavor similar to pulled pork. This makes it a great potential meat substitute.5
In terms of overall nutrition, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck with jackfruit. Studies have shown that on average, jackfruit contains as much, or more, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins, and other essential nutrients as many other, more common fruits.6 In particular, it is a rich source of protein – which some vegans need, as a substitute for what they’d get from eating meats. It is also rich in potassium – an essential nutrient that all Americans need.7
This is only the beginning of the benefits of this tropical fruit, though.
How Can Jackfruit Help Me?
Jackfruit’s nutritional content has led to a variety of studies into its applications for healthy living and helping manage various conditions. One study showed that jackfruit helped improve glucose tolerance in both healthy and diabetic patients, for example.8 And because jackfruit is both low in calories and a good source of protein, it may also help with satiety – and, in turn, weight loss.
Studies have als shown that jackfruit was able to help lower production of certain molecules associated with inflammation.9 On top of being a potential cause of obesity, chronic inflammation has a role in many different conditions in various systems of the body. It will be interesting to see if further research shows that jackfruit has applications in these areas as well.
Perhaps one of the most important capacities that jackfruit has, though, is its high antioxidant content. This comes in the form of high levels of vitamin C and vitamin E (α-tocopherol). By minimizing damage from free radical cells, antioxidants help slow the effects of aging as well as several conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, and cancer. In fact, its immune support capacities have led some scientists to label jackfruit as a true functional food – one which offers benefits beyond basic nutrition.10
Jackfruit’s size and nutritional benefits have led it to be hailed as a potential sustainable crop as well, especially as some of the regions where it is grown suffer from a lack of nutritious food. In fact, a movement is currently ongoing across Southeast Asia, in particular, to get more farmers to use this crop, as the fact that a jackfruit tree doesn’t have to be replanted every year means an easier and cheaper harvesting process. So, not only are you helping yourself when you purchase jackfruit, you may be helping people in need as well.11
Give This Standout Fruit a Second Glance
It’s interesting that much jackfruit’s interest in the Western world stems from a sense of need – as in, you need a meat substitute in vegan diets. As more and more details come out regarding how much you can do with jackfruit and what it can do for you, it becomes clear that everyone should give this standout a second glance.
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