Could breadfruit be the next superfood? Researchers say yes
A fruit used for centuries in countries around the world is getting the nutritional thumbs-up from a team of researchers. Breadfruit, which grows in abundance in tropical and South Pacific countries, has long been a staple in the diet of many people. The fruit can be eaten when ripe, or it can be dried and ground up into a flour and repurposed into many types of meals.
Breadfruit, which grows in abundance in tropical and South Pacific countries, has long been a staple in the diet of many people. The fruit can be eaten when ripe, or it can be dried and ground up into a flour and repurposed into many types of meals, explains UBC Okanagan researcher Susan Murch.
For the project, researchers had four breadfruits from the same tree in Hawaii, shipped to the Murch Lab at UBC Okanagan. Doctoral student Ying Liu led the study examining the digestion and health impact of a breadfruit-based diet.
“Detailed and systematic studies of the health impacts of a breadfruit diet had not previously been conducted and we wanted to contribute to the development of breadfruit as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and high-production crop,” Liu says.
Breadfruit is a traditional staple crop from the Pacific islands with the potential to improve worldwide food security and mitigate diabetes.
While people have survived on it for thousands of years there was a lack of basic scientific knowledge of the health impacts of a breadfruit-based diet in both humans and animals.
Breadfruit can be harvested, dried and ground into a gluten-free flour.
The few studies done on the product have been to examine the glycemic index of breadfruit — with a low glycemic index it is comparable to many common staples such as wheat, cassava, yam and potatoes.
“The objective of our current study was to determine whether a diet containing breadfruit flour poses any serious health concerns,” explains Liu, who conducted her research with colleagues from British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group and the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanic Garden in Hawaii.
The researchers designed a series of studies using flour ground from dehydrated breadfruits that could provide data on the impacts of a breadfruit-based diet fed to mice and also an enzyme digestion model.
The researchers determined that breadfruit protein was found to be easier to digest than wheat protein in the enzyme digestion model. And mice fed the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher growth rate and body weight than standard diet-fed mice.
He also noted mice on the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher daily water consumption compared to mice on the wheat diet. And at the end of the three-week-trial, the body composition was similar between the breadfruit and wheat diet-fed mice.
“As the first complete, fully-designed breadfruit diet study, our data showed that a breadfruit diet does not impose any toxic impact,” says Liu. “Fundamental understanding of the health impact of breadfruit digestion and diets is necessary and imperative to the establishment of breadfruit as a staple or as a functional food in the future.”
The use of breadfruit is nutritious and sustainable and could make inroads in food sustainability for many populations globally, she adds. For example, the average daily consumption of grain in the United States is 189 grams (6.67 ounces) per day. Liu suggests if a person ate the same amount of cooked breadfruit they can meet up to nearly 57 per cent of their daily fibre requirement, more than 34 per cent of their protein requirement and at the same time consume vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.
“Overall, these studies support the use of breadfruit as part of a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet,” says Liu. “Flour produced from breadfruit is a gluten-free, low glycemic index, nutrient-dense and complete protein option for modern foods.”
Could the unassuming lupin bean become the next superfood?
Lupins contain 40% protein, and scientists say the beans have the nutritional bonafides to make it as a superfood.
Pickled in a salty brine, fatty and firm like an olive, the unassuming lupin holds promise as a future food. Packed with more protein than any other legume and offering a host of other nutritional benefits, there are plenty of reasons the bean should be better known in Canada, beyond as an Italian bar snack.
As obscure as they are in the West — your best bet is scouring the shelves at Italian grocery stores (I bought a jar at my local cheese shop) — lupins contain roughly 40 per cent protein. This is just one of the reasons that scientists at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Perth, Western Australia see lupin’s “huge potential” as the next superfood.
(It has) many other nutritional properties: It can combat heart disease, it can reduce blood glucose levels and reduce inflammation in the body,” says Arineh Tahmasian, ECU PhD candidate and the lead developer of a new testing regime that enabled the researchers to identify more than 2,500 different lupin proteins.
A deeper understanding of the bean’s proteins, the subject of their new research published in the journal Food Chemistry, is an important step towards transitioning the crop from fodder to sought-after food.
Western Australia is the world’s leading producer of lupins; they’re also grown in Eastern Europe, South Africa and the United States, primarily as animal feed or green manure (a crop that improves soil quality). With her PhD project, Tahmasian set out to stimulate the use of lupins in food products, provide information to producers with the goal of developing improved varieties, and help meet the growing demand for plant-based proteins.
Lupins may be better known for their tall spikes of sweet pea-like blossoms, but the legume could play an important role in having a healthy daily meal. By 2050, the world is projected to face a protein gap of around 46 per cent and will need 70 per cent more food.
Today, the global diet is exceedingly narrow: Just five animals and 12 plants provide 75 per cent of the world’s calories. To produce enough food for the future, says Colgrave, we’ll have to widen our scope.
Another factor making the lupin unique among legumes, writes food historian and University of the Pacific professor Ken Albala in Beans: A History (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017), is that native varieties exist on both sides of the Atlantic. Southern Europe gave rise to white, yellow, and narrow-leaf or blue lupins (Lupinus albus, luteus and angustifolius); the Andes, tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis).
The Greeks and Romans viewed lupins “as food for animals or only the poorest of people,” Albala writes, which helped push the bean to Europe’s culinary margins. Though in the Mediterranean, lupins were “a relative latecomer to domestication,” tarwi was a staple of the Andean diet, which the pre-Inca population domesticated as early as 2000 BCE.
In present-day Bolivia and Peru, lupins are roasted and milled into flour, added to soups, stews, noodles, custards and breads, according to Albala. In Italy, they’re still enjoyed as a savoury bite at fairs and festivals, which led to how you’re most likely to find them in Canada: labelled lupini beans and offered as a bar snack.
In Australia, growers prefer the narrow-leaf variety, which has been bred to be sweeter and doesn’t have the bitter notes associated with other types of lupins, Colgrave explains. The Australian sweet lupin doesn’t require the same sort of intense soak and ferment as white, but it’s just this kind of barrier to adoption that the ECU research seeks to address.
“You have to do a little bit more with them,” Colgrave says of legumes in general. “So we’re looking at, how do we actually overcome some of those hurdles, make them more convenient, so that they can become part of people’s diets.”
Lupin flakes are available in Australia, which Tahmasian likes to use when baking, substituting it for up to 30 per cent of the wheat flour in bread. Due to lupin’s nutritional makeup — high in fibre and protein, low in carbohydrates — eating even small amounts is satiating.
“They really sit in that sweet spot, because fibre is obviously great for gut health,” says Colgrave. “But it does make you feel quite full as well … which is also good, because I think we over-consume anyway. So that feeling of satiation is really important.”
Lupins have been bred since the 1960s, which makes it “the new kid on the block” compared to other crops such as wheat, Colgrave adds. She sees their research as an opportunity to explore its genetic diversity and select lines with the most desirable traits: “We can then bring those into breeding programs and cross them to make a superfood even more super.”
Commonly used to boost protein in plant-based meat products, bakery items, gluten-free products, meats (e.g., sausages) and pasta, the researchers see many other possibilities for lupins — not just in food, but pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals as well. Tahmasian admits there’s still a long way to go before lupins are as mainstream as soybeans or lentils, “but we have started. And I think if we focus on the research in this area, we will get there.”
“Our research indicates we should have at least 25g to 29g of fibre from foods daily, although most of us currently consume less than 20g of fibre daily,” said Dr Andrew Reynolds, lead author of the study.
“Our findings provide convincing evidence for nutrition guidelines to focus on increasing dietary fibre and on replacing refined grains with whole grains. This reduces incidence risk and mortality from a broad range of important diseases,” said Professor Jim Mann, who co-led the research.
Their analysis found up to a 30% reduction in deaths from all causes among those who consumed the most fibre.
A high-fibre diet also showed up to a 24% fall in rates of colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
For every 1,000 participants in the 243 studies and trials, the impact of consuming higher fibre intakes translates into 13 fewer deaths and six fewer cases of coronary heart disease when compared to those consuming lower fibre diets.
UK nutrition guidelines since 2015 recommend a daily fibre intake of 30g, but only 9% of adults manage to reach this target.
The health benefits of dietary fibre – contained in foods such as whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruit – come from its chemistry, physical properties, physiology and its effects on metabolism.
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“Fibre-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control,” he said.