We May Have Uncovered Why Jamaicans Are So Fast. Ackee!


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

You may not have ever heard of the ackee fruit, the national fruit of Jamaica. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish and is actually a staple breakfast meal.

You might be thinking that it seems a bit bizarre to prepare fish with fruit, but ackee is prepared and treated more like a vegetable. This fruit has a buttery taste and creamy texture. Some people say eating cooked ackee is comparable to eating scrambled eggs.

Ackee is native to West Africa and was brought over to Jamaica by Captain William Bligh in the 1700s. The botanical name of the fruit is Blighia Sapida, given in honor of Bligh. Ackee is a member of the Sapindaceae plant family, along with the lychee fruit.

And just like lychee, ackee is a delicious but potentially dangerous fruit. In fact, Time magazine listed ackee as one of the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods.”

But before you cross this fruit off your list of foods to eat, hear me out. Ackee is a safe food to eat if prepared properly, and is good for you.

“Ackee is an unsaturated fat, and has additional health benefits through its high protein content, being a good source of vitamins B and C, zinc, calcium and fibre,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“But it is the fatty acid composition that is of great significance to health outcomes. It was previously found that 51–58% of lipids in ackee contain mainly linoleic and stearic fatty acids. The new finding, which resulted from a more robust methodology, shows minor to undetectable levels of linoleic acid and 13% stearic acid. Importantly, however, the dominant lipid (55%) is oleic acid…[oleic acid] has a very positive effect on HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio and reduces the risk of chronic diseases, breast cancer in particular.”

Ackee is also rich in fiber. Getting adequate fiber in your diet is important, because it helps add bulk to your stool. This may help prevent constipation, stomach cramps, bloating and even inflammation of the colon (which may help reduce your risk of developing colon cancer).

Another abundant nutrient in ackee is potassium. This must-have mineral acts as a vasodilator (meaning it helps widen the blood vessels). Potassium works with sodium to balance the fluid and electrolytes in the body. It also helps keep blood pressure under control and may help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age. It may even reduce your risk for stroke.  

I think a big misconception is that you have to get most of your protein intake from eating meat and other animal foods. But 100 grams (about a half a cup) of ackee contains 4 grams of protein. If you are a meat eater, it may be good to give your body a break from consuming meat and eat plant-based sources of protein instead. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals.

About a half a cup of ackee contains 40 mg of calcium, probably one of the most well-known minerals out there. About 98 percent of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones. And, of course, calcium is key in building and maintaining strong bones. In fact, calcium is needed in many vital body processes like muscle contraction, bone metabolism, blood clotting, hormone release, neurotransmitters and many more.

Ackee contains saponins, natural plant chemicals also found in peas, ginseng and soybeans. Saponins help fight free radical damage and may reduce your risk for cancer. The ackee fruit is also rich in vitamin A, an antioxidant that may help fight free radical damage and inflammation. Vitamin A also supports the immune system, is good for skin and eye health and also promotes cell growth.

Another antioxidant that ackee contains is vitamin C. This vitamin has numerous health benefits including immune function support and providing more rapid wound healing. It may even help people who suffer from diabetes.

Niacin (vitamin B3) is also present in ackee.

“It plays a role in converting the food we eat into energy. It helps the body to use proteins and fats, and it keeps the skin, hair, and nervous system healthy,” according to one report.

“It may also reduce cardiovascular risk, because it can be used to treat high cholesterol. There is some evidence that it may reduce blood pressure because it is a vasodilator.”

So now that you know some of the potential health benefits of the ackee fruit, let’s look at how to avoid the dangers associated with this fruit and ways to prepare it.

  • Do not eat unripe ackee. It is poisonous.”Ingestion of immature ackees results in Jamaican Vomiting Sickness (JVS), attributable to consumption of high levels of the non-proteinogenic amino acid, hypoglycin A, found in the edible portion of the ackees,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You have to wait until the fruit’s protective pods open up naturally.
  • Know what part of the fruit to eat. Once the protective pod naturally opens, the only edible portion is the yellow arilli. The black seeds of the fruit are toxic.
  • Rinse it. Boil it. Some recommend rinsing the edible part of ackee in water and draining it. It is also suggested to boil it to remove any toxins. To be on the safe side, this is not a fruit I would suggest you eat raw. But some sources say eating this fruit raw is safe as long as it is ripe.

And as always, if you are pregnant, taking any medications or have any existing health conditions, consult a doctor before consuming ackee.

Fresh ackee is not a fruit you are likely to come across at your local grocery store or farmers market (you can find canned ackee at the grocery store). You may see this fruit if you take a vacation in Jamaica. You never know when you will have the opportunity to try something different, and if you have the knowledge of what you are putting into your body, you will likely have a healthy and happier experience.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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