Breadfruit Health Benefits

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A rise in the incidence of diseases and side effects caused by various drugs has forced the researchers and scientists to focus more upon natural food ingredients that are safe and effective. Breadfruit is one such healthy fruit that is filled with the richness of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. It is known as ‘breadfruit’ because it is similar to ‘freshly baked bread’. It is a traditional starch rich crop and a good source of energy. Its fruit, leaf, bark, and stem contains numerous health compounds that possess biological activities such as anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-tubercular and anti-arthritic. Thus, breadfruit is considered as a therapeutic food.

Health Benefits of Breadfruit

Breadfruit and its various plant parts such as bark, stem, leaves and seeds are used as a folk medicine. The medicinal use of breadfruit is abundant and unlimited. In Taiwan, it is believed that breadfruit leaves are very effective in lowering high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, liver diseases and fever. Crushed breadfruit leaves are used to treat oral and ear infections whereas, breadfruit’s bark is used to treat headaches. Breadfruit leaf extracts also contains organic acids that possess relaxing, anti-convulsive and anti-anxiety properties. Roasted and powdered breadfruit leaves are used for the treatment of enlarged spleen.

Macronutrients in Breadfruit

Macronutrients are major nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein and fat that provide us energy. Breadfruit is one such fruit that contains good amount of protein as compared to yam and rice cultivars. Different essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) are present in breadfruit and the most abundant amino acids present are LEUCINE and LYCINE. Out of the total amino acid, 30% accounted for essential amino acids. Therefore, breadfruit is considered as a decent source of protein.

In a study, fatty acids were detected in breadfruit in the ripe stage. Fatty acids present in the highest concentration were MYRISTIC ACID and OLEIC ACID. Essential fatty acids such as LINOLEIC ACID and LINOLENIC ACID were also present in breadfruit. Out of the total fatty acid content, essential fatty acid accounted for 5%. This is the only plant that contains more saturated fatty acid as compared to unsaturated fatty acid.

Carbohydrates are the major macronutrients present in breadfruit. Carbohydrates present in breadfruit are glucose, galactose and sucrose. The high carbohydrate content and tuberous nature of breadfruit helps to combat hunger. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, which further delays hunger pangs. The overall content of amino acids, fatty acid and carbohydrates increases as the fruit ripens.

Micronutrients in Breadfruit

Breadfruit has a very healthy composition and it is completely packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of dietary fiber and minerals such as copper, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. It contains vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1) and niacin (B3). The overall mineral composition is improved after breadfruit is cooked (exposed to heat). Potassium is the most predominant mineral present in breadfruit followed by phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. Research has found that the content of phosphorus in breadfruit is higher than sweet potato and it is very well known that phosphorus is very important for strong bones and teeth. Consuming breadfruit pulp regularly can meet the daily iron requirement.

Rich in Antioxidants and Flavonoids

Research has found that various parts of breadfruit such as breadfruit pulp, peel and the entire fruit extracts have promising antioxidant activities. Such an antioxidant potential is due to the presence of flavonoids and various phenolic compounds in it. Antioxidants present in breadfruit have strong radical scavenging power and thus, it reduces the level of oxidative stress.

Many different flavonoids are present in breadfruit that possess antioxidant properties and fight effectively against oxidative stress. These flavonoids also act as a skin-whitening agent and they inhibit the production of melanin. Some flavonoids were also isolated from breadfruit leaves. These flavonoids prevent the cells against oxidative stress and thus, breadfruit helps in maintaining overall good health.

Therapeutic Advantages

Recently breadfruit has gained a lot of popularity in the clinical setting. It plays important preventive and protective role in a number of diseases and disorders. Let’s have a look at how breadfruit is the new natural medicine:

High Cholesterol Levels

High levels of ‘unhealthy’ LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein), VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) and total cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis (a heart disease in which formation of fatty clots takes place in the arteries). Reducing the level of LDL, VLDL and total cholesterol is a great strategy to lower the overall risk of heart diseases.

Consuming breadfruit is a natural, easy and safe way to reduce cholesterol levels and to improve the overall lipid profile. A research observed that treatment with breadfruit extract significantly reduced the level of LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Furthermore, it also increased the level of ‘healthy’ HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) that protects the heart and reduces the risk of heart disease. Such an effect was only observed in a group treated with breadfruit extract. Healthy compounds present in breadfruit inhibit the enzyme that promotes formation of cholesterol in the body.

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

The incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus has increased tremendously and it has become very important to prevent or delay diabetes mellitus effectively. Besides this, it is also very important to manage blood sugar level under normal range to prevent complications associated with diabetes mellitus. Research has shown that breadfruit extract inhibits the digestive enzyme that converts carbohydrate to glucose upon digestion. Thus, the conversion of food to glucose is delayed, which further delays spike in the blood sugar levels after a meal.

Breadfruit leaves also contain important flavonoids that help in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus. It was found that flavonoids possess strong anti-diabetic properties that prevent rise in blood sugar levels. Thus, breadfruit leaf extract can be used as a safe ingredient for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

In addition to this, breadfruit is rich in antioxidants that scavenges free radicals and reduces the level of oxidative stress. Diabetic individuals are under high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to high blood sugar levels. Such high levels for prolonged period may damage the organs and it gives rise to complications linked to diabetes mellitus. Thus, by various different mechanisms breadfruit and its leaves play an important role in management of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Hypertension or High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is an important risk factor in the development of heart diseases. Research has shown that breadfruit leaf extract is very effective in lowering high blood pressure. It inhibits the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme that induces vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) which in turn raises the blood pressure. Such a hypotensive effect of breadfruit leaf extract is attributed to the presence of phytochemicals (plant chemicals that promote good health).

Potassium is a predominant mineral present in breadfruit. Potassium is very beneficial in lowering high blood pressure. It induces vasodilation that is widening of the blood vessels and thus ensures smooth blood flow all throughout the body. Therefore, breadfruit can be used in the treatment of high blood pressure.

Cancer

It is very well known that breadfruit is used as an important ingredient in the preparation of various dishes. Besides this, it is also known as a folk medicine and it is used in the treatment of various diseases and disorders. Research has shown that breadfruit leaf extract inhibits the enzyme that plays an important role in the development of prostate cancer. These leaves also kill cancer-causing cells and hence it reduces the population of such harmful cells. Thus, breadfruit leaf can be used in the treatment of prostate cancer. These anti-cancer effects of breadfruit extract are due to the presence of a compound named ‘ARTOCARPIN’ that induces death of cancer-causing cells. Such an effect also prevents the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

It has been further observed that breadfruit extract regulates the activity of cancer causing genes and protects the body. This effect is seen in case of breast cancer. It also reduces the level of inflammation and oxidative stress that are very high in cancer. Therefore, breadfruit is considered to be a natural and potent anti-cancer agent.

Heart Disease

Atherosclerosis is a disease in which fatty clots get deposited in the arteries that carry purified blood to the heart. High levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL) increases the risk of deposition of clots and atherosclerosis. Therefore, in order to limit the progression of heart disease, it is important to reduce the level of unhealthy cholesterol. Breadfruit extract suppresses the formation of cholesterol in the body and thus protects the heart.

A research observed that treatment with breadfruit increased the level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), which is extremely healthy and heart-protective. Lower the level of HDL cholesterol, higher is the risk of atherosclerosis. Low levels of HDL cholesterol directly play a role in the atherogenic process. HDL cholesterol inhibits ‘oxidation of LDL’, which is the first step in the development of atherosclerosis.

Six different flavonoids (health promoting compounds) were isolated from breadfruit. These flavonoids possess antioxidant and heart-protective properties. B-sitosterol is also present in breadfruit that lowers the levels of unhealthy cholesterol. Therefore, such a composition makes breadfruit heart-protective as well as heart friendly.

Antimicrobial Effects

Breadfruit is a medicinal plant with the presence of various therapeutic constituents. These constituents inhibit the growth of various microorganisms, bacteria and parasites and protect the body against infection. Crushed breadfruit leaves are known to treat oral fungus disease. A complex organic amino acid called gamma-amino butyric acid present in the breadfruit leaf has a relaxing effect. Studies have found that roots and barks of breadfruit possess anti-microbial property against gram positive and gram-negative bacteria. Breadfruit contains a wide variety of flavonoids, steroids and phenols that exhibit a wide range of biological activities, one of which is they have anti-microbial properties. Breadfruit extract was strongly effective against staphylococcus aures as compared to other pathogens. Thus, breadfruit leaf can inhibit staphylococcus aures and help in the prevention of food poisoning.

Liver Diseases

Many toxic agents, chemicals, drugs and intake of excess alcohol may cause damage to the liver. Such damage alters the normal structure and function of the liver. These toxic agents increase the production of free radicals and oxidants in the liver and the kidneys. Such an imbalance between increase in the oxidants and decrease in the action of antioxidants causes damage to both liver and kidneys. If such a damage is not controlled it may lead to liver diseases and injuries.

Research has showed that breadfruit extract protected the liver against harmful action of toxins by increasing the production of antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. It was observed that due to increase in the oxidants the level of liver enzymes as well as cholesterol increased. Breadfruit further lowered the level of cholesterol and liver enzymes and helped in the treatment of liver dysfunction.

Safety Profile

Few studies were conducted to evaluate the safety of breadfruit consumption. The results showed that breadfruit is completely safe and it can be used to cure ailments. Besides this, its leaf and bark extracts are also safe to use and cause no toxicity. These extracts did not cause any allergic symptoms as well as physical or behavioural changes. Any side effects or toxic effects of any drug or food ingredient cause the liver enzymes to increase. However, in case of breadfruit extract, the liver enzymes did not increase. This is a clear and main indicator that breadfruit extracts did not cause any ill effects and is completely safe for consumption.

Effect of Cooking on Breadfruit

Breadfruit is usually consumed fresh, but it is highly perishable and it cannot be stored for more than 3 to 5 days at normal room temperature. Besides eating it fresh, it can also be cooked, steamed, roasted and fried.

One interesting research observed the effect of cooking on breadfruit and its flour. Cooking breadfruit and its flour reduced its moisture content, which was in fact beneficial because reduction in the moisture content reduces the microbial growth. Thus, the shelf life is improved.

An increase in the cooking time also increased the content of resistant starch in breadfruit. This is beneficial for individuals with diabetes, as it delays spike in the blood sugar levels.

Cooking breadfruit also increases its overall energy content. This energy-dense fruit is very beneficial for children and adults that are undernourished and underweight. It provides satiety and combats hunger. Thus, it can even be vital for individuals with tuberculosis, HIV and cancer, who are usually undernourished and need such energy-dense foods to fight diseases.

Research further observed that the mineral content of breadfruit improved with cooking. Such increase was due to the effect of heat. This heat further degraded some anti-nutrients and thus, more minerals were available. Potassium is a predominant mineral, which is present in breadfruit in abundance. The overall content of potassium had also increased after breadfruit was cooked. Thus, it would be more beneficial for individuals with hypertension if they consume breadfruit in the cooked form.

The content of calcium and magnesium increased when breadfruit was cooked for 10 to 15 minutes, but when it was cooked for more than 20 minutes, the levels of calcium and magnesium reduced significantly.

The effect of fermentation was observed on breadfruit flour. It was found that the content of minerals in unfermented breadfruit flour was higher as compared to fermented flour. However, magnesium content remained the same even after fermentation.

Different Ways to Cook, Eat & Store Breadfruit

Breadfruit is very different from other fruits. Besides eating it, raw there are many different way to cook and eat breadfruit. It is also very important to store the cooked and raw fruit in the right way.

  1. A fully ripe breadfruit can be stored at room temperature for 3 days. After 3 days, breadfruit pulp becomes very soft. Therefore, it is best to consume breadfruit within 3 days if you want to eat it fresh.
  2. You can also store a mature breadfruit in the refrigerator. The outer skin will turn brown in color but the inner flesh will remain firm.
  3. If you want to store the fruit for more days, you can keep the fruit submerged in cool water.
  4. Cooked breadfruit can be frozen and stored for a longer period. Cool the cooked breadfruit slices. Place these slices in a plastic bag or Ziploc bag and store it in the freezer.
  5. When raw frozen breadfruit is thawed, it may give an unpleasant sappy taste.
  6. If you want to steam breadfruit, first remove its outer covering. Cut it into lengthwise slices and steam it until the flesh is tender.
  7. Breadfruit can be deep-fried or pan-fried just like potatoes. Blanch the fruit before peeling, as blanching helps to loosen the outer skin.
  8. Baking gives breadfruit a roasted-nutty flavour. You can cut the fruit into two halves, brush some oil and bake it until the flesh is tender. Alternatively, you can wrap the entire fruit with aluminium foil and bake it.
  9. Breadfruit is a perfect ingredient for desserts, energy-bars, pastries, biscuits and cookies.
  10. You can replace potatoes in stews, soups, curries, soups and patties with breadfruit.

About Breadfruit

Breadfruit is a tropical fruit that belongs to the family ‘Moraceae’. Scientific name of breadfruit is ARTOCARPUS ALTILIS. Breadfruit tree produces fruits typically from March to September. Breadfruit is a very versatile fruit and it can be consumed in steamed, baked, fried and roasted form. As it is a rich source of carbohydrates, it is often substituted for wheat flour in many different preparations such as snacks, bread and pastries.

It is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions with hot and humid climate. It requires rainfall as rain plays a very important role in the flowering and rate of growth of breadfruit. It grows best in lowland regions as compared to highland regions. The quality of breadfruit reduces when it is cultivated in cooler regions. It grows best at temperatures 21 to 32 degrees Celsius and the pH of the soil should be neutral to alkaline.

Breadfruit tree is a large and evergreen tree that reaches 15 to 20 meters tall. Breadfruit leaves are thick and dark green in color. The tree also bears many tiny flowers. There are two varieties of breadfruit – one is with seeds, which is commonly cultivated in southwestern Pacific. The other one is without seeds, which is cultivated in Micronesia and Eastern islands of Polynesia.

Breadfruit is usually round or oblong in shape and they have a diameter ranging from 9 to 30 centimetres. It weighs about 0.25 to 6 kilograms. Ripe breadfruit has a yellowish or yellowish-brown outer covering and the inner fruit is sweet and soft. Unripe breadfruit is green in color and as it ripens its color changes to yellow. The inner pulp of the fruit is creamy, sweet and soft and it has a very pleasant fragrance.

Breadfruit was first cultivated 3000 years ago in the western Pacific. It was then spread throughout the Pacific regions by migrating Polynesians and Pacific islanders. In 1700s, breadfruit was considered as a food for poor people. Later on it was widely distributed in South and Central America, Africa especially in Ghana, Liberia and Senegal. In India, it is mainly found in the coastal regions such as Karnataka and Kerala. Breadfruit is also widely found in Southeast Asia, Maldives, Malaysia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, South Florida and northern Australia.

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