Strange, Nutritious, and Delicious: Jackfruit

This tropical fruit has an impressive nutritional profile but isn't eaten often by Americans

Strange, Nutritious, and Delicious: Jackfruit
A single jackfruit tree can produce as many as 500 fruits in a single year. (Ilyas Kalimullin/Shutterstock)
Sandra Cesca

Tropical fruits appear in markets each spring in much of the United States. Besides being refreshingly delicious, these foods have numerous bioactive compounds that help reduce inflammation, high blood pressure, and even one's risk of developing cancer.

One of the strangest-looking among them is jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), which is available from March through August and can weigh as much as 100 pounds when mature, though the ones seen in stores typically fall somewhere in the range of 10 to 25 pounds. The fruit's knobby green exterior hides a white sticky flesh filled with seed pits, each surrounded by a delicious yellow flesh.

In tropical countries where jackfruit grows, it's considered a miracle fruit due to its high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It's the national fruit of Bangladesh. India is the world's largest producer, followed by Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nepal. The average American, however, likely hasn't even tried it.
The unripe flesh can be dried and eaten as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan dishes. The ripe flesh can be eaten plain or made into cakes, custards, curries, and smoothies. The yellow seed envelope is sweet and delicious, and the seed pits can be roasted and eaten as a snack.

Nutritional Qualities

The nutritional and medicinal properties of jackfruit are numerous. It's a complete protein source due to its nine essential amino acids, though it's low in protein overall and has very little of one of those amino acids.

The jackfruit's most common vitamins and minerals include vitamins A, C, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.

Although jackfruit contains sugar, most of which is fructose, the fiber and protein in jackfruit help slow sugar metabolism, giving it a medium glycemic index suitable for those with Type 2 diabetes. One-half cup of fresh pulp only contains 94 calories.

Bioactive Compounds

A bioactive compound is a chemical substance found in plants that may promote good health, according to the National Cancer InstitutePhytonutrients are substances produced in plants to protect themselves. Many can also be bioactive compounds that benefit the human body when consumed. Common phytonutrients include carotenoids, flavonoids, coumarins, indoles, isoflavones, and resveratrol.
Recently, flavonoids have gained scientific interest due to their positive effects on health and their potential use in the management of chronic diseases. Phytonutrient properties, particularly polyphenols, play a role in metabolic syndrome, especially inflammation and oxidation as noted in an article in Current Opinion in Food Science in 2016.
Since ancient times, jackfruit, which is rich in these beneficial compounds, has been known for its therapeutic qualities, including anticancer, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antioxidant effects.

It's also high in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, thus reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The iron in jackfruit helps to prevent anemia and aids in proper blood circulation, while the fruit's copper content plays an essential role in thyroid metabolism.

Niacin, another nutrient found in jackfruit, is necessary for energy metabolism, nerve function, and the synthesis of certain hormones.

Some of the phytonutrients found in jackfruit have been studied regarding their effects on mental health conditions, including stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. An investigation into the flavonoid epigallocatechin gallate looked at its effect on stress and mood. Another study in Nutritional Neuroscience in 2018 showed that carotenoids significantly reduced stress, cortisol, and symptoms of emotional and physical health. Further research is needed to confirm the benefits of jackfruit and its therapeutic use for mental health.

Anti-Aging Properties

The vitamin A in jackfruit supports eye health and can counteract age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Vitamin C helps the skin's natural aging process through sun protection and collagen production. It also plays a huge role in maintaining the immune system to fight inflammation and degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and damage from free radicals.
The high magnesium and calcium content of jackfruit helps prevent bone-related disorders such as osteoporosis. Research suggests magnesium may help alleviate insomnia.
The dietary fiber in jackfruit helps the digestive system function properly. This can reduce constipation problems, colon and rectal cancer, hernia, and hemorrhoids. This fiber can also help lower glucose and cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of obesity.

To obtain the best nutritional quality, flavor, and taste from any tropical fruit, eat it fresh and raw, including the skin of most, though not jackfruit. Fruit gradually loses its nutritional value and disease-fighting qualities after picking, so it's important to eat it promptly.

Sandra Cesca is a freelance writer and photographer focusing on holistic health, wellness, organic foods, healthy lifestyle choices, and whole-person medical care. Her background includes allopathic medicine, naturopathy, homeopathy, organic and biodynamic farming, and yoga practices.