"Miracle" fruit is the healthier alternative to meat, tastes just as good

Researchers call it a miracle food crop because it is easy to grow, survives high temperatures and provides a ton of nutrients to those who eat it. Yet, for those snacking on carnitas tacos at Houston's Ripe Cuisine food truck, few know the "carnitas" sizzling on the grill were from that miracle crop, Jackfruit.

"They sort of do a double take or a double bite -- wait, what am I eating," said Stephanie Hoban, founder of Ripe Cuisine.

Often weighing in at over 80 pounds, Jackfruit has a bumpy exterior with a gooey interior and powerful smell. Imported from Asia, Houstonians can find the raw fruit at Keemat Grocery in southwest Houston. When it is ripe and sweet, Keemat sells it by the pound. Unripened versions can be found in other grocery stores in a can. Either way, the recommended preparation is to smoke the Jackfruit over wood chips or grill it. Mix it with spices and it begins to resemble meat.

"It pulls and shreds and it mimics the same texture as pork or pulled chicken," said Hoban.

By replacing pork and other meats for Jackfruit, you'll not only cut back on calories and fat, you will also add vitamins and minerals to your diet.
"A plant-based diet reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer," said Rita Connors, a registered dietitian with Memorial Hermann Hospital in Sugar Land.

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Researchers suggest a plant-based diet may be better for you.

A class at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fresno is about getting healthy and preventing diseases, but the prescription isn't medicine - they're plants.
Staff members at the medical center are being motivated by cooking demonstrations and support programs to adopt a plant-based diet so they can encourage their patients to do the same.

"Plant-based eating is focusing on eating whole foods, which are fruits and vegetables and beans and avoiding meat and dairy products," dietitian Judy meadows said. "And the research is showing it reduces inflammation and risks of chronic disease and helps you manage many chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, cancer risk."

Meadows says real results can be measured in lower numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight after people take out meat and dairy from their diets.

"As you eat healthier, and you eat real food, you get the enzymes in your body that help you digest the food and you feel better," she explained. "You have more energy."

Registered nurse Tammy Barigian wants to lead by example. She's taking on the challenge to change what's on her plate to help her patients also get healthy.

"First couple of days were a little challenging, but after that, I really embraced it," she said. "And I found new recipes."

Barigian doesn't have to leave work to attend a cooking class. She gets to sample a dish and learn how to make it at Kaiser.

The medical center hosts cooking demonstrations for its staff to promote plant-based eating which helps them pass along the process to patients.

"If I'm trying to teach my patients how to eat, I need to be doing the same thing," Barigian said.
Tammy takes care of people with heart problems and says diet is directly related to health.

"So, if you eat a high-saturated fat diet, you're going to have heart disease sooner or later, so you need to focus on low-saturated fat and eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible," she said.

Tammy practiced what she preached and took on a plant-based diet, losing 14 pounds.

"It's really a choice and it's a lifestyle," Meadows explained. "It's not really a diet that you're going to end."

Meadows helps Kaiser members and staff make the change because she acknowledges it's not easy being green by cutting out meat and dairy products.

"The American diet, with all the sugar and fat, is very addicting," she said. "We are accustomed to that flavor, and when we eat real food, plants, and fruit for dessert, when you go back to those kinds of things, they don't taste as good."

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Jackfruit is the largest fruit in the world, growing on trees in southeast Asia and Mexico, and it's a rising star in the world of vegan eating.

But something unique might taste as good as meat. It's not steak on the grill inside La Jacka mobile food truck, it's jackfruit.

The largest fruit in the world grows on trees in southeast Asia and Mexico, and it's a rising star in the world of vegan eating.

Roberto Jauregui and his family import the protein-rich fruit from Mexico to serve to their customers across the Valley.
"It's getting more popular because now people are trying to eat more healthy, so now they have this option," he said. "Especially in the taco trucks, they want to eat more healthy, cleaner and is better for your body."

Even though jackfruit is fairly new to the people's palates, Roberto's wife Miriam has been cooking with jackfruit for 15 years, creating savory flavors with sauces and spices.

The result is a taste and texture like meat, without the fat and high calories, and many customers eat jackfruit as they gradually eliminate meat from their diets.

And that approach is how Kaiser encourages its staff and members to adopt plant-based eating, but they don't have to go cold turkey.

Since it takes 21 days to change a habit, Kaiser launched the 21-day challenge.

"We're encouraging people to commit to one plant-based meal a day or they can gradually ease into it, they can do two meals a day, or take the plunge and see significant results by doing a 21-day challenge," Meadows said.

And those results can be dramatic.

"We're seeing stress reduction, we're seeing weight loss, we're seeing less sick days, healthier families at home," Meadows said.

Kaiser also offers a nutrition class called "Food for Health" in which Kaiser members can learn about plant-based eating. And meatless and dairy-free recipes are on Kaiser's website to make hearty dishes that are good for the heart and the rest of you.

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