This article was previously published on October 10, 2020 and has been updated with new information.
Have you ever heard of breadfruit? It’s a pretty weird name for a piece of fruit that sounds like it smells or tastes like bread. Instead, breadfruit is grown in tropical regions of the world and, like jackfruit, is a member of the mulberry family.1
Bread trees were originally found in Polynesia. People use fruit to bake, roast or fry products, similar to the way potatoes are used. Others dry the meat and grind it into flour to make bread and crusts. Polynesians brought the trees to Hawaii, when anthropologists believe it was colonized 1,000 years before Columbus landed in the Western world.
By the time European explorers came to the Western world in the late 1700s, Polynesian immigrants had established an agricultural system that supported hundreds of thousands of people.
More on bread
The breadfruit tree thrives in Caribbean or tropical climates and can grow up to 85 feet, yielding up to 200 fruits a year. The fruit is round, oval or oblong and can grow large or larger than a basketball. The outer skin is neon green and covered with bumps, which hides the firm flesh that people cook like potatoes or plantains.2,3
One breadfruit yields enough to feed a family of four. When the fruit is ripe, the inside is creamy white or yellow and soft. Although it is a fruit, it is treated and cooked more like a vegetable. The texture and taste are reminiscent of potatoes, a piece of bread or an artichoke heart, depending on the ripeness of the fruit and the method of preparation.
Because the taste is mild, it is suitable for culinary creativity. As the bread ripens, it becomes sweeter, but never comes close to the sweetness of papaya or mango. The British are credited with spreading beyond Polynesia.
Captain James Cook and botanist Sir Joseph Banks discovered breadfruit in Tahiti and believed it could be a response to the British food challenges of the time. The first time the trees were exported to the West Indies, the expedition was led by Lieutenant William Bligh of the infamous HMS Bounty.
On the way to the West Indies from Tahiti, the lieutenant and crew members were thrown into a small boat and all the breadfruit plants were thrown into the sea. Upon his return to England, Lieutenant Bligh was promoted to captain and led another expedition to Tahiti in 1791, during which he successfully brought breadfruit plants to the Caribbean and Jamaica.
Although the plants thrived, people did not enjoy the food and ate it only when they had to. Currently, bread trees are grown in tropical areas of Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia and South America. Trees can also be found in the U.S. in Hawaii and South Florida.
Fruit, which is full of nutrients, is a staple food in Hawaii. The flesh of breadfruit is rich in antioxidants, calcium, carotenoids and fiber. It also contains copper, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus and protein. Interestingly, although it is a fruit, one cup provides 5% RDA protein, 14% magnesium and 31% potassium.4,5
Could bread be the next superfood?
Although it has been a traditional food for centuries, there is a marked lack of scientific evidence to show the impact of breadfruit on health. In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, scientists analyzed flour made from breadfruit.6,7 The objectives were to identify all the health problems associated with breadfruit flour with regard to it as a sustainable source of nutrition and to establish it as a functional food.
In the laboratory, using a model of enzyme digestion, they discovered that the protein in bread fruit is easier to digest than the protein found in wheat. The digested flour was tested for cytotoxicity by application to caco-2 cells. These cell lines are used to analyze drug permeability and have been used for the past two decades “as a model of the intestinal barrier,” say researchers from Italy.8,9
The researchers found no difference between wheat and breadfruit in terms of cytokines and immune factors. When bread-based foods were replaced with wheat in the mouse diet, they found no signs of disease, death, or malnutrition associated with the change. The main bacteria and histology of the ileum were similar between mice fed breadfruit and those fed wheat products.
The researchers concluded: “No negative health outcomes have been observed in in vitro or in vivo studies, and breadfruit flour is a healthy alternative to other starches for modern foods.”10
The combination of scientific evidence and the knowledge that breadfruit is highly productive and easy to grow can provide health benefits and address food shortages around the world. Susan Murch, Ph.D., is a professor of chemistry and one of the researchers at the study. She said:11
“Breadfruit is a traditional basic crop from the Pacific Islands with the potential to improve food safety worldwide and alleviate diabetes. Although humans have survived on it for thousands of years, there has been a lack of basic scientific knowledge about the health effects of breadfruit nutrition on both humans and animals.”
Doctoral student Ying Liu shared:12
“Overall, these studies support the use of bread fruit as part of a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. Bread made from bread fruit is gluten-free, low in glycemic index, rich in nutrients and a complete protein option for modern foods.”
Impact of cereals on health
There is potential to replace wheat flour for bread flour in baked breads and crusts. While bread fruit flour is gluten-free, wheat products are not. In previous years, only people with wheat allergies and celiac disease sought gluten-free products. After adopting a gluten-free diet, they often reported a resurgence of good health.13
Gluten is a protein found in wheat grains and cereals.14 When these proteins are in contact with water, they form an elastic bond that gives the bread the ability to retain its shape. Gluten can also be found in barley, oats, rye and spelled and can be hidden in processed foods under a variety of names, including malt or natural flavoring.15
Some people react negatively to just a small amount of gluten because their body identifies it as a toxin. If left unchecked, excessive gluten consumption can predispose a person to nutrient deficiencies along with neurological and psychological conditions. It can have a potentially negative effect on the joints, liver, nervous system and skin.16
In addition, experts at the Celiac Disease Foundation believe that undiagnosed celiac disease may contribute to the development of “autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), herpetiformis dermatitis (itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and abortion … epilepsy and migraines, short stature and bowel cancer. “17
As you can imagine, gluten intolerance can cause signs of gastrointestinal upset, including bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In addition, you may feel anxiety, confusion, headache, nausea, or pain in your joints and muscles. Although gluten-free food options may seem to help people who are allergic to wheat or celiac disease, it is reasonable to approach them with caution.
I believe most processed, packaged gluten-free foods are celebrated as junk foods because it is one of the most ultra-processed foods in the store. They lack fiber, are often full of toxic amounts of sugar and salt, and include unhealthy fats in their list of ingredients.18
Whether you are gluten sensitive or not, almost anyone can benefit from eating fewer grains, which are rich in net carbohydrates. The potential of using breadfruit flour and baked goods can help reduce gluten exposure and the glycemic index of the foods you eat.
Your body needs fiber
Breadfruit is rich in fiber, which is much more important than science thought before. In fact, just 1 cup contains 43% of all the fiber you need for the day.19 A low-fiber diet can change your gut flora. In one study that used an animal model, a low-fiber diet altered the intestinal flora, which was also passed on to offspring.20
In some cases, even after the mice were fed fiber-rich meals, the intestines could not be repopulated with certain bacteria that were severely reduced. Past studies have confirmed that the human microbiome has changed throughout history, as has human nutrition.21 In general, researchers have found that people who eat more plant foods have a more diverse gut microbiome.
The benefits of getting enough fiber include prevention of permeable bowel syndrome which also causes anxiety, joint pain, fatigue and bloating.22 Food Integrity Now explains bowel leakage syndrome as follows:23
“The gut wall is considered semipermeable. That means it only allows certain things to enter the bloodstream and blocks other things from entering the bloodstream. For example, certain molecules and nutrients can pass, but toxins and large undigested food particles are blocked.
When your intestines leak, the pores in your small intestine expand and this allows undigested food particles and toxins, which would otherwise be blocked, to enter your bloodstream. These particles and toxins are not recognized and the immune system goes on the attack because they should not be in the blood. In essence, the immune system literally recognizes these undigested particles as dangerous. “
Fiber has other health benefits. For example, researchers have found an inverse relationship between fiber and heart attack, showing that those who eat fiber-rich foods have a 40% lower risk of heart disease.24
As I have already written, fiber can delay inflammation of the brain and aging which negatively affects your function. In particular, a low-fiber diet can be harmful to the elderly because they have less ability to produce butyrate, a nutrient that helps delay brain aging.
Sustainable crops can affect global health
Breadfruit is a sustainable high-yield crop that has a low glycemic index and can provide an answer to the growing problem of food shortages around the world. It is also easy to grow in the right climate. As winter approaches rapidly in the northern hemisphere, it may be time to consider a dramatic reduction in food bills by growing an indoor organic garden.
As the price of organic products rises due to the demand and problems associated with the pandemic, many have begun to establish their own backyard gardens and container gardens. If you thought autumn was the time to hang your gardening gloves, you might want to consider it because spinach, beets and carrots can be harvested by February. Many plants and vegetables can be grown indoors with proper lighting.
You will enjoy the benefits of winter gardening, which include savings on your grocery bill and a guarantee that the products you pick from organically grown seeds are GMO-free. Before diving, take the time to plan your garden.
Some plants thrive well with extended vegetation, while others are planted in the fall to overwinter for an early spring harvest. Others do best in indoor container gardens. Gardening is good for your health and in other ways, because it is an easy way to reduce stress and exercise a little, something that each of us needs.