We break down the (bogus) health claims being made about the tropical fruit on the new Netflix show, Cheer.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Jan 22, 2020 @ 6:00 pm
Suthep Wongkhad / EyeEm/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for people to make big (unfounded) claims about foods. Coconut oil supposedly burns belly fat. Celery juice can cure everything from acne to depression. (Warning: It’s a good rule of thumb to run from advice that pinpoints total health to one ingredient.)

But jackfruit as a means for staying full all day? That’s one you might not have heard before – until watching the new Netflix documentary series, Cheer

The fruit comes up in a conversation between Gabi Butler — a 22-year-old cheerleader featured on the show — and her mom, Debbie, during a scene where she asks her daughter if she’s “eating clean.”

“If you eat jackfruit, that can actually hold your stomach for 10 to 12 hours with no other food,” Debbie says. 

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Gabi responds by telling her mother that she’s working out all day and she needs to eat, and, let’s pause here — she’s right. In fact, when female athletes do not eat enough calories to compensate for a high level of activity, it can result in adverse effects on their reproductive, bone, and cardiovascular health.

Cheer viewers caught on to Debbie Butler’s rather problematic suggestion quickly, with many of them even tweeting their disgust.

“Dude Gabi butler's parents put SOOO much pressure on her, like her mom telling her to eat jackfruit so she won't have to eat basically for the whole day is crazy and so unhealthy,” one Twitter user wrote.

Gabi has since responded to the Internet backlash about her mom's controversial statements. On a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she admitted that watching the show was a 'big eye-opener' for her entire family and that it ultimately helped her to 'love herself more.'

Bottom line: No, jackfruit can't be used as an appetite suppressant — and should never be considered a meal replacement. But that doesn't mean jackfruit isn't super nutritious, or worthy of adding to your diet. Ahead, two registered dietitians break down the health benefits of this lesser known fruit and how to incorporate it into your next meal.

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What Is Jackfruit?

You may have seen jackfruit at your local grocery store or co-op. It’s a large, “green and spiky” tropical fruit from the jack tree, explains Allison Childress, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University.

“This fruit has been increasingly used for both sweet and savory dishes depending on its ripeness,” she explains of the fruit, which is primarily grown in tropical areas like India, Thailand, and Southeast Asia, but is becoming increasingly available in the United States.

You may have also begun to hear more about jackfruit as a plant-based meat alternative. Childress says that’s because it has a “meat-like texture” when it’s cooked and, like tofu, it soaks up the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in, including spices, herbs, and your favorite marinade.

Also interesting? Although the jackfruit (and its interesting appearance) might seem otherworldly, it is actually in the same family as the more commonly recognized fig and mulberry, says Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and founder of Fitzgerald Nutrition.

While jackfruit’s thick, green rind can make it tough to cook on the fly, Childress says you can opt for pre-packaged versions, like The Jackfruit Company’s Southwest blend or Native Forest’s canned organic jackfruit.

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What Are the Health Benefits of Jackfruit?

One cup (165 grams) of jackfruit contains 157 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of fat, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) database. Plus, while other similar fruits (like apples or mangoes) only have compared to 0–1 grams of protein, jackfruit packs 3 grams of protein per cup. 

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It’s also loaded with vitamins and minerals. Notably, jackfruit has a high amount of vitamin C and flavonoids, which can help prevent and lower inflammation and even reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, Childress adds. 

It’s also a rich source of B-complex vitamins, specifically B6, Fitzgerald says. “Vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin, is key to the production of the hormone serotonin (used in mood regulation) and norepinephrine (which helps your body manage stress),” she explains.

Another reason you may want to consider adding it to your diet now? Jackfruit is also a solid source of potassium, which can help soothe sore muscles after a tough workout, and magnesium, which helps keep your immune system strong and heart beating steadily, Childress says.

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How Do I Cook Jackfruit?

Like Childress said earlier, the fruit is a bit of a chameleon, blending with whatever flavors and ingredients you send its way. If you’re looking for something savory, then Childress says you might want to use jackfruit as a meat alternative, leaning on its stringy, shredded texture to turn it into a barbecue sandwich or chicken-like tacos. 

“Jackfruit can also be made as a sweet dish by slicing it (include seeds) and putting it in a saucepan over medium heat and adding one cup of water and one cup of sugar,” Childress says, adding that cooking it like this will extract some of the fruit’s 80 percent water content. The result is tender jackfruit slices with a sweet, syrup-like texture that serve as the perfect dessert.

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OK, So Can It Really Keep You Full All Day?

This one is simple, Childress says — absolutely not.

“Just like with any new fad diet, there is no quick fix to curbing your appetite for the entire day,” she says. “[This is] not healthy and there is also currently no research showing this effect.”

While jackfruit does contain a decent amount of filling fiber (which Fitzgerald says “can slow down digestion and make you feel fuller for longer”), it shouldn’t be a substitute for adequate nutrition. Plus, jackfruit on its own isn’t a meal, but instead can be used as part of a recipe or as a snack, like dried jackfruit.

“It will not keep you full all day nor should it!” she says. “You still want to tune in to your body, listen to your hunger and fullness cues, and consume balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.”

Moral of the story? Eat jackfruit, but as a part of a balanced, healthy diet. A serving offers nutritional benefits, yes, but not a whole day’s worth of food.

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