To be clear you don’t need to cut out animal foods altogether, unless you so wish of course, and nutritionally it is easier to meet your needs by combining plant and animal foods. Nevertheless, many people eat waaaay too much meat and not nearly enough plants.
One thing I am yet to be convinced on are the fake meats, created in the lab to replicate meat. Admittedly they do seem to be better for the environment and for those wanting the taste of meat (or pretty close to it) without harming animals they may be a good option. My reservations come from the fact that they are at the end of the day ultra-processed foods and we just don’t know what their impact on our health may be.
So, what are the alternatives? This is where jackfruit is a real contender with nutritional honours. It may be new to many of us here in Australia (and the UK and USA), but in Sri Lanka and India it’s commonly used in surprisingly diverse ways from curries and stir-fries to sweet delicacies. The big drawcard giving it potential as a meat alternative is that once cooked up it has the texture and look of pulled pork… you just have to add the flavours to match.
"The big drawcard giving it potential as a meat alternative is that once cooked up it has the texture and look of pulled pork… you just have to add the flavours to match."
Jackfruit really is a fruit, in fact it’s the largest fruit in the world. It’s so big that buying the whole fruit for home might be too much for you to get through! It is also reportedly (as I haven’t tried myself) a bit of effort to prepare the fresh fruit with a thick tough skin. Thankfully we can purchase jackfruit ready prepared, vacuum packed in a little water. It is also available canned.
Some companies also offer jackfruit ready prepared in a sauce or marinade, making it super easy to create recipes. Be warned however that some I have reviewed have very high added sugar and I always like to check the ingredients list to ensure there are no unwanted additives or other undesirable ingredients.
Here’s what fellow dietitian Tara Kaff from Amazonia had to tell me about their Tender Jack product:
“Unlike some other plant-based meat alternatives available on the market, Jackfruit is a whole food made with minimal processing. The tender, young Jackfruit that we use in our product has a very subtle taste when plain making it perfect to add as a plant-based alternative into your favourite savoury dishes and cooking with a variety of herbs, spices and sauces.
Jackfruit is also naturally low in calories, fat and sodium free and as it is high in fibre keeps you fuller for longer, combating that you might be hungry without a meat-based protein source.”
How does it stack up nutritionally?
Tara is spot on. On its own jackfruit is indeed low in kilojoules (calories in old currency). Amazonia’s data shows the original product has only 153kJ per 150g serve. It also has almost no fat – not necessarily a plus but that means you can add your own good fats to the dish and avoid the saturated fat of pulled pork or other meats.
However, the downside is that neither does it have much protein with only 1.5g per 150g serve. If you are following a predominately plant-based diet you will need to ensure you include other plant foods higher in protein in order to meet your needs. A combination of foods such as legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas), tofu, tempeh, wholegrains (and pseudo-grains such as quinoa), nuts and seeds will do the trick. If you are vegetarian, you can also include dairy foods and eggs – all excellent sources of protein.
But back to jackfruit. It is high in fibre with 4.8g per serve and naturally has very little sodium. A serve gives only 5.3g of carbohydrate and almost no natural sugars. As I said above however, do watch for the added sugars in the flavoured varieties.
The Smoky BBQ flavour from Amazonia has 27.9g per 150g serve! That’s a shame as otherwise it’s a terrific product. The curry flavour has very little added sugar or my advice is to buy the original and add your own flavours. The Amazonia Tender Jack Original has only 0.8g sugar and the curry flavour only 2.4g sugar per 150g serve.
The Ceres Organics BBQ Jackfruit has 13.1g of sugar per serve, but the serve is only 100g, so comparing to the Amazonia product that’s 13.1g vs. 18.6g per 100g.
Bottom line is pay attention to what is added and read the nutrition labels.
It does also provide several vitamins and minerals, although none particularly standout, but probably of more significance is the presence of phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phytosterols and other beneficial plant compounds. These combined with the fibre helping to fuel a healthy, diverse microbiome, make it worthy of a big nutrition tick.
If you are aiming to reduce your meat intake and boost your plant food quantity and variety, jackfruit can help meet your goals. The biggest nutritional selling points are that it is low in kilojoules and a fabulous source of fibre and phytonutrients. For everyone from vegan to flexitarian to paleo – give it a go!
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