SINGAPORE — Before you think of buying a whole box of durian mooncakes, be advised that people may be out to cheat you through online scams, and that it is going to add more fat to your body than eating the fruit itself.
Besides fibre and vitamins such as A, B and C, durians are also rich in potassium, which is essential for maintaining normal functioning of all cells. Potassium maintains the balance of salt and fluid in the body to regulate blood pressure.
WHAT MAKES DURIANS UNHEALTHY?
As an energy boost, durians are a good option. However, people who are watching their weight or have diabetes should be aware that it has a higher calorie and sugar content than other fruits such as apples and strawberries.
Dr Anuradha Negi, a specialist in endocrinology and consultant at Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, said that 100 grams (roughly three seeds) of Thai raw durian contain 165 calories and 29g of carbohydrates (equivalent to a bowl of rice).
In comparison, 100g of a red apple contains 57 calories and 13g of carbohydrates.
Ms Chia said that a 100g serving of durian contains three to four times the amount of carbohydrates than strawberries.
If you were to devour an entire small durian weighing about 600g, that would mean consuming about 990 calories — although this may vary depending on the variety. This is around half the daily calorie intake recommended for an average adult.
The high sugar content in durian will also cause blood glucose spikes when consumed excessively, Dr Negi said.
For people living with diabetes, uncontrolled and repeated blood sugar spikes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, blindness, nerve damage and kidney problems.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH WHEN EATING DURIANS?
It is not unusual for durian lovers to indulge in five or even 10 to 20 seeds at one go, but that would be considered excessive.
The experts advised limiting durian intake to one to three seeds every day, as one of the two daily servings of fruit.
For diabetics, limit durian intake to no more than two seeds a day. Ms Chia advised having them between meals to avoid sugar spikes and to avoid overloading the meal with too much carbohydrates.
The size of each durian kernel matters, too. For example, the Red Prawn and Black Pearl varieties tend to have smaller seeds.
“Those with smaller seeds tend to have more flesh. This means that you will consume more calories and carbohydrates by eating more smaller seeds,” she said.
If you must have durians, it is recommended to eat two seeds of the fruit every day as part of a healthy diet, but switch around with other types of fruit.
“Having a variety of fruit in our diet can help provide different nutrients.
“Fruits like durian and banana are higher in carbohydrates and should be eaten in moderation,” Ms Chia added.
SHOULD YOU DRINK ALCOHOL AFTER EATING DURIANS?
Consuming too much durian and alcohol together may cause uncomfortable side effects.
Depending on one’s tolerance, alcohol can cause nausea, bloating and dehydration, while overeating durians can lead to bloating and sugar spikes, Ms Chia said.
It is also thought that mixing the two may worsen hangovers, a set of symptoms that occur as a consequence of drinking too much alcohol. Typical symptoms are fatigue, excessive thirst, nausea, headaches, muscles aches and weakness.
Dr Negi explained that durians contain sulphur compounds that are known to slow the metabolism of alcohol in the body. This can potentially exacerbate alcohol-related intoxication. At the same time, the liver also has to process the fat and sugar content in durian.
Studies in mice have not shown any conclusive evidence and more studies are required to understand the effects of durian on alcohol metabolism, but it would be prudent to avoid mixing the two, Dr Negi added.
DOES EATING DURIAN PROMOTE BETTER SLEEP?
It is worth mentioning that durians contain the amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to make melatonin and serotonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, while serotonin plays a role in regulating body functions such as mood, sleep, digestion and even appetite.
Would consuming durian promote better sleep then? The jury is still out on this.
Dr Negi said that a study analysing the tryptophan content in three different varieties of durian found that it is present only in the Musang King variety — but in low amounts.
“We cannot conclude with certainty that durian positively affects sleep,” she said.
If you are having sleep problems, you should avoid consuming too much fatty food such as durian, and eating it too late in the evening because that will affect digestion.
Try other sleep-promoting habits instead. For example, improving your sleep hygiene and limiting caffeine intake in the afternoon or evening.
DO DURIAN BY-PRODUCTS HAVE FEWER CALORIES THAN THE FRUIT?
When choosing between eating the fruit and a durian puff or cake to get your durian fix, opt for the fruit itself.
Durian-infused treats and beverages are typically laden with way more sugar, (not-so-good) fat, carbohydrates and calories than the real deal.
For example, one raw durian seed contains 55 calories and 1.7g of fat but a small durian puff (30g) can easily contain more than 70 calories and almost 5g of fat.
As for that entire piece of durian mooncake (about 200g), it has more than 800 calories and around 42g of fat.
“Enjoy these novelty foods only once in a while and limit the portion size,” Ms Chia said.
WHY DRINK SALT WATER FROM A DURIAN HUSK?
People are often advised to drink salt water from a durian husk after eating the seeds to get rid of the smell and to reduce “heatiness”. Is there any truth to this?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Tay Jia Yin from Raffles Chinese Medicine said that from a TCM perspective, durian is considered a “heaty” food.
This means that it has “warming” properties that can lead to undesirable symptoms such as sore throat, mouth ulcers and increased phlegm production when people consume too much of it.
TCM practitioners believe that salt water has the effect of reducing the heaty effects of durian, but there is no basis to support the practice of drinking it from a durian husk to get rid of the smell, Ms Tay said.
People may also consider pairing durians with mint tea, chrysanthemum tea, green tea or coconut water to counter its “heaty” effects, she added.