My search for the perfect plate started on the last Sunday of 2015, it took a full circle around the world and came back to the humble jackfruit. I was back at our village in Kerala for Christmas and the following Sunday, I went for the mass at our local parish. As Fr. Thomas Brahmanavelil, the parish priest, brought Holy Communion to me, I noticed he looked half the size than I had met him in January. As soon as the mass was over, I rushed to him to find out what went wrong. He calmed me down and said, “James, after you shared with me the glycemic comparison between rice, roti and raw jackfruit meal, I stopped eating rice and roti. Instead, I have cooked vegetables, legumes and whenever possible, ate raw jackfruit as my main meal, along with fish curry and a small portion of millets as porridge.” He lost 12 kilograms and stopped taking insulin. “I used to spend Rs 2,000 per month on insulin,” he added. Fr. Thomas had reported the first hypoglycaemic incident with raw jackfruit meal and insulin, and it led to my research on raw jackfruit.
I immediately called advocate Siby, my senior at school. I had a panic call from him three weeks earlier saying his sugar level shot up for the first time and he was very worried of becoming diabetic. I asked Siby if there was any way he could get hold of some raw jackfruit, which was out of season. “I have some in the freezer, kept for my sister who is abroad,” he responded. Since he is a good friend, I took some liberty and said he needed it more than his sister and that he should replace one rice meal with jackfruit meal. After hearing Fr. Thomas’s recovery, I wanted to reinforce my advice to Siby, just in case he didn’t try. I got a rather jubilant Siby on the phone: “James, it’s unbelievable, I think I am now a little negative on sugar and lost five kilograms!” He stopped rice and roti completely. He went to the extreme of carrying raw jackfruit meal and fish curry as tiffin when he travelled to Delhi for his cases in the Supreme Court. His lawyer friends told him he looked ten years younger and later, when I met him I knew why. He seemed to have lost all five kilos from his characteristic double chin!
It was then that I started a research on the humble jackfruit. The glycemic study at Sydney University has proved that raw jackfruit is low in glycemic load and calories. I started looking for global parallels for such rapid weight loss and reversal of sugar levels. I had heard about weight loss from protein diet, which was popular among Malayalee Christians when I landed in the US for the first time in the late nineties. I still remember going to parties where men would be all around the barbeque and praise Dr. Robert Atkins who came up with the theory that mankind was created to eat only protein. Vegetables, fruits and carbs were for the cows! Many of them lost weight and felt very energetic but I just couldn’t imagine how one can complete a week without eating any fruits. I called my friend Jimmy to see if his elder brother, then a strong proponent of the protein diet, had seen such rapid drop in weight and sugar. Jimmy had a rather sombre response: “James, my brother doesn’t like to talk about the protein diet any more after his guru, Dr. Atkins, dropped dead one day, and many reports said his brain was all messed up with protein. He now takes paleo and pills and chechi (sister-in-law) takes vegan and pills.” Paleo is the diet of ancient hunters and gatherers, mostly meat but you are allowed to have some fruits and ancient grains. But as a precaution, his brother also takes tablets for cholesterol and diabetes. Whereas his sister-in-law has gone completely vegan as a penance for the protein diet she followed earlier but takes sleeping pills to stop dreaming about her favourite fish curry! I started researching on vegan diet and finally found my global parallel and it was the exact opposite of Dr. Atkins!
Dr. Neal Barnard, the Washington based founder of Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) had reported several cases of rapid reversal of diabetes and excess weight when people followed his vegan power plate for three weeks. Their plate has one half fruits and vegetables and the other half whole grains and plant based protein in equal proportions. It looked all good till I had a chance to meet Dr. Zeeshan Ali from PCRM at their first session in Kerala to promote the concept of plant based diet in India. There are two sticky wickets for its wider adoption in India; it could upset not only non-vegetarians but even hard core vegetarians. For example, asking a fish loving malayalee or Bengali to switch to seitan, a meat lookalike from wheat protein, or concentrated gluten, sounds exactly like its strange name. And asking our vegetarian friends from North and South not to have our much loved cow’s milk in their paneer and curd rice could upset a whole lot of Indians, including our little Amul girl! Fr. Thomas and Siby got the same results as the power plate, except that they had more fruits and vegetable through jackfruit meal, less whole grain but same amount of protein, which was animal based than plant based.
My research moved to tour de france winner Chris Froome’s plate, who lost 20 pounds and won the tour, to the Mediterranean plate promoted Dr. Aseem Malhotra, noted British Cardiologist, who claims the plate is better than Statin, a lifelong pill to control cholesterol and finally to the Healthy Eating Plate by Harvard Medical School, which is now treated as the perfect plate.
All three had one thing in common, at a nutritional level they all had a lot of similarities with the original God’s own jackfruit plate. Our tradition was to first quench our appetite with raw jackfruit meal with a protein curry and then finish with a small portion of rice porridge. Those days, rice was expensive and hard to grow especially in the highlands of Kerala where jackfruit thrives. By this time, my friend Ayaz insisted I watch the BBC DVD, “The Story of India with Michael Wood”. And their theory says the hunters and gatherers from the African continent crossed over to Asian continent and one group traveled south and other to the north. When the first group reached Kerala side of the Western Ghats, they never ran out of food and decided to settle down with the likes of jackfruit, coconuts and animal based protein. I guess the other group ended up in the Mediterranean and settled down with salads, olives and animal based protein. That’s as paleo as it gets!
If there is a God’s own committee for responsible food, the first commandment would be, thou shall eat animal based protein and grains as long as you fill the other half of the plate first with plant based fibre from the Eden garden near you and you may make it tastier with all the spices and any oil as long as it is a virgin! All your trespasses on one side of the plate will be forgiven through the soluble and insoluble fibre you get from the other side. Fr. Thomas, Siby and our fellow God’s own people can definitely continue with our traditional jackfruit plate as it really is the perfect plate... without pills, of course.
(The writer is former director, executive engagement, Microsoft India and Founder & Brand Ambassador of JackFruit365)