Fruit as a meat substitute? Yep, when it’s jackfruit. This massive tree fruit flips its flavor between sweet and savory, depending on how ripe it is.
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So, is jackfruit good for you? Yes! Jackfruit benefits include being heart-healthy, fighting inflammation and promoting wound healing.
Registered dietitian Gillian Culbertson, RD, explains the health benefits of jackfruit and how to add it to your diet.
The scientific name for jackfruit is Artocarpus heterophyllus. Jackfruit is a tropical tree fruit grown in Asia, Africa and South America. It belongs to the same plant family as figs and mulberries.
Under its thick, bumpy green rind is a stringy yellow flesh that you can eat raw or cooked in a variety of dishes. (Its seeds are also edible.)
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, weighing up to 40 pounds or more. Luckily, you don’t need to throw this massive fruit into your shopping cart. Some health food stores carry peeled and cut jackfruit portions in pouches or cans, ready to cook or eat.
But for some people, jackfruit isn’t safe to eat.
“If you have a latex or birch pollen allergy, avoid jackfruit,” warns Culbertson. “Both of these allergies can have a cross-reaction with jackfruit.”
Jackfruit also has a lot of potassium, which can be harmful to people who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) or acute kidney failure. People with these conditions can develop hyperkalemia if they eat high amounts of potassium. Hyperkalemia is a buildup of potassium in the blood that can cause weakness, paralysis and heart attack.
Like many fruits, jackfruit contains some fiber for healthy digestion and very little fat. A 100-gram portion of jackfruit has:
Jackfruit also contains vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that have health benefits. It’s a good source of:
In addition to being a great meat alternative (more on that below!) and full of essential vitamins, there’s a lot more this might fruit can do. Let’s talk about the benefits of jackfruit.
Research shows that eating jackfruit can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease.
“The combination of potassium, fiber and antioxidants can benefit heart health,” Culbertson says.
Potassium combats the negative effects of sodium on your blood pressure, while fiber contributes to lowering your cholesterol levels.
Jackfruit is high in vitamin C, which studies show can help prevent inflammation.
“Research also shows that jackfruit also contains flavonoids and lignans, plant compounds that may help fight inflammation,” Culbertson notes.
All these antioxidants found in jackfruit protect your cells from inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
While more research is needed to fully understand this potential benefit, it’s believed that jackfruit can help manage your blood sugar.
First, jackfruit has a low glycemic index (GI) score, which means eating it shouldn’t affect your blood glucose levels like other foods with higher scores.
Second, a study shows that its leaf may help lower fasting blood sugar levels. Another study shows that jackfruit’s bark may prevent fats and complex carbohydrates from breaking down into sugar. Both pieces of research could be beneficial for managing diabetes.
Research shows that extract from the jackfruit’s leaf may promote wound healing, while other studies show that its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties can contribute to healthy skin.
“Ancient people used jackfruit as medicine,” says Culbertson. “In folk medicine, where jackfruit is grown, people have used it for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties.”
When jackfruit is unripe, it has a neutral flavor that pairs well with savory dishes. You can use unripe jackfruit in vegetarian curry and in place of tofu or chickpeas.
But jackfruit’s biggest claim to fame is its ability to imitate barbecue meat.
“Jackfruit’s stringy texture makes it a good vegan substitute for pulled pork or chicken,” Culbertson says. “It has under 3 grams of protein per cup, making it much lower in protein than meat. Keep that in mind as you consider the protein sources in your diet.”
Look for packages that label jackfruit as “young” or “packed in brine.” These words indicate that it’s unripe and suitable as a meat substitute.
Ripe jackfruit has a sweet, tropical fruit flavor that works well as a snack or added to sweet dishes. When ripe, it tastes like other tropical fruits like bananas, mangos or pineapples.
If you’re trying ripe jackfruit, use it like you would any other tropical fruit. Serve it as a healthy dessert or add it to a smoothie.
With its abundant vitamins and minerals, jackfruit can be a healthy addition to your diet.
Culbertson says, “Many people enjoy jackfruit as a meat substitute, whether they’re vegan or not. Many Americans already tend to eat too much meat, so a healthy meat substitute is always worth a try.”