Ackees and avocados are two unique fruits in that both have a high fat content, a very unusual feature for a fruit. The misinformed anti-fat propaganda has used this to claim that eating these foods may be unhealthy. Absolutely false statements like “eating ackees will increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer” or “avocados are high in cholesterol” are still being made even by health professionals. On the contrary, these fruits are not only delicious but very healthy food choices. Let’s examine them in detail.
The scientific name for our national fruit, ackee is Blighia sapida. According to Wikipedia, this name honors Captain William Bligh, an infamous English sailor who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793 and thus introduced it to botanists. It is originally from West Africa and is related to the lychee fruit. The common name is derived from the West African Akye fufo.
The Pan American Health Organization, states that the ackee is a good source of healthy fatty acids: stearic, linoleic, and palmitic acids. These healthy fatty acids make up over half of the total fatty acids in the ackee and are an excellent source of good fats in the Jamaican diet.
Traditionally ackee is cooked with salt fish to produce an often oily meal. Unfortunately, the type of oil used in cooking ackee and salt fish often contains unhealthy saturated fats or even worse, hydrogenated vegetable oils. These ‘bad’ fats or excess salt in the salt fish may be responsible for the bad press that ackee has undeservingly been given. The ackee itself is a very healthy food. Today a vast array of options exist for preparing healthy and tasty ackee dishes.
The clinical syndrome caused by the consumption of the unripe ackee fruit is known in Jamaica as "Jamaican vomiting sickness" or "ackee poisoning." Substances in ackee seeds and the unripe pods (arils) cause vomiting that can lead to convulsions, coma and death.
Ackee poisoning and Jamaican vomiting sickness was first described in 1875 but it was not until 1954, that the two toxic compounds in the unripe fruit that cause the problem was isolated.
These amino acid compounds were named hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B because of their hypoglycemic or blood sugar lowering activity. This ability of hypoglycin A and B to drastically lower blood sugar cause the unripe fruit to be toxic. Fortunately, the hypoglycin compounds are deactivated after sunlight reaches the mature pods.
Before effective treatments were developed, the mortality rate from ackee poisoning was as high as 80%. In Jamaica, six deaths were reported between 1989-1991. No deaths from ackee poisoning have been reported in the North America.
The avocado fruit (Persea Americana) is another fatty fruit. Fruits mostly contain carbohydrates, while the avocado is high in healthy fats. In fact, three quarters of the calories in it comes from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence.
But the main fat in avocado is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major fat in olive oil and is responsible for some of its health benefits. Oleic acid reduces inflammation and has been shown to deactivate certain genes linked to cancers. The fats in avocado are also quite heat resistant, making avocado oil healthy and safe for cooking.
Avocados also contain a wide variety of nutrients:
- Vitamin K, Folic acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, B1, B2 and B3, Vitamin E, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorous and Vitamin A.
- A 100gram serving of avocado has 7grams of fiber, making the avocado a great high fiber Fiber is the indigestible part of plants that can contribute to weight control, balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels and lower the risk of many diseases. About 25% of the fiber in avocado is soluble, and 75% is insoluble. Both types serve important functions.
Studies have shown that avocados can significantly reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. They have been shown to lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol while elevating HDL (the good) cholesterol.
Avocados are also high in antioxidants like Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which are very important for eye health. Studies show that these nutrients can reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, common causes of poor vision especially in the elderly. Eating avocados regularly should benefit eye health over the long term.
So, enjoy these two fatty fruits and reap many great health benefits.