Jackfruit is the love of the vegetarian and vegan community, and rightly so. It has a texture similar to meat, and just like tofu or eggplant, can absorb any flavors you add. But is it a good substitute for meat proteins?
Many people substitute green jackfruit in brine for meat in a plant-based diet. Its unique texture and versatility has made it popular among vegetarians, vegans, and nonvegetarians. Jackfruit is used in sandwich fillings, sauteed in a stir fry, baked, or added to a stew. Once it's cooked and seasoned, it's easy to trick the senses as to whether it's meat or a meat substitute. It used to be difficult to find the fruit, which is a huge, heavy fruit not grown in the U.S. But canned jackfruit is easier to find, now that it's sold in many stores.
Nutritional Content of Jackfruit vs Chicken
For eaters who use jackfruit as a meat substitute, does it meet (meat?) the same nutritional marks as chicken, for example? Let's look at some of the differences between jackfruit and chicken. Here's a nutritional comparison between one cup of jackfruit, and one cup of chicken breast.
Nutritional Content of Jackfruit per 1 cup
Sodium content depends on manufacturer
Fiber: 7 grams
Iron and calcium: 4% each
Vitamin A: 3%
Carbohydrates: 10 grams
Nutritional Content of Chicken Breast per 1 cup (USDA)
Fat: 11 grams (17%)
Saturated fat: 3 grams (15%)
Cholesterol: 120 mg (40%)
Sodium: 100 mg (4%)
Vitamin A: 2%
Protein: 68 grams (more than the required daily amount for protein)
The Great Protein Debate
Comparing jackfruit to chicken is like comparing apples to oranges. Why? It's an unfair comparison. Jackfruit is a fruit, which has a very different nutritional profile than meat. The most glaring difference is the protein content. Fruit has very little protein, a necessary building block for the body's tissues. Meat is all protein. But how much do you need? Most of us get more protein than the amount we can use. That means the remainder is stored as fat.
How much protein a body needs depends on you and many factors. How much do you exercise? What type of exercise do you do? Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? How old are you? How tall are you? Do you have kidney disease?
If you're looking for a protein-based meal, jackfruit won't cut it. It's worth incorporating small amounts of protein for a balanced, nourishing meal. Protein is filling, and keeps you full longer. But that doesn't mean you can't get all the protein you need from plant-based sources. Beans are an excellent protein base, along with good amounts of plant iron, vitamins and minerals. A registered dietitian is an expert at crafting meals that will meet your unique protein needs.
To ramp up the protein in your meal, consider adding these elements:
Sunflower or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Rich in fiber
While jackfruit is not a protein-based substitute, it does have other advantages in comparison to meat proteins. Protein aside, if you go back to the nutritional content of jackfruit vs chicken above, you'll see that jackfruit has a host of benefits for the body's needs.
Jackfruit is low calorie (about 6 times less than chicken), and has no fat or cholesterol. Where it shines in comparison to a meat-based protein is the fiber content. It is rich in fiber at 7 grams a cup. Meat proteins do not provide any fiber. Most people do not meet the necessary requirement for fiber and are missing out on the incredible health benefits fiber provides.
On the other hand, meat has no carbohydrates, and double the amount of iron compared to jackfruit. Still, jackfruit is relatively low in carbohydrates, at 10 grams per cup, and even lower than many fruits. Most vegetarians are conscious of their iron needs, and understand how to include enough iron in their foods.
Jackfruit is a flavorful, easy-to-prepare food that is a wonderful addition to plant-based meals, and I am all for adding new and different foods to our cooking repertoire. Just don't consider it as a protein substitute for meals. But that can be easily remedied by adding a side salad filled with edamame, toasted quinoa, and sunflower seeds. Now, doesn't that sound good?