6 Surprising Benefits of Cassava You Should Know

6 Surprising Benefits of Cassava You Should Know

Cassava, a root vegetable, also known as manioc, Brazillian arrowroot and yuca, is a staple food across much of the Far East, Africa, and South America. It actually originates in Brazil and Paraguay, but it has proven itself to be incredibly adaptable and will grow in any tropical or sub-tropical climate. This makes it the 6th most important food crop in the world. It is so important as a food source that in some Brazilian folklore it is represented as a guardian against starvation. There are sweet and bitter forms of cassava and both are widely consumed. [1]

Half of the world’s production of cassava occurs in Africa, particularly Nigeria (the largest producer), Tanzania and Congo. In Ghana, 46% of the country’s GDP is through the cassava trade. The plant is also produced in Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia, India and across other parts of Africa including Malawi, Cameron, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. [2]

Cooking with cassava.
Although cassava is not a popular dish in colder, Western climates, many of us may already be familiar with one type of cassava: tapioca pearls. Tapioca pearls are a common ingredient in South, East and Southeast Asian drinks and desserts and can be found across supermarket shelves in the west. Tapioca pears are made by processing the cassava root and extracting the starch from it, therefore, much like corn starch lacks the nutrients of whole corn, tapioca lacks the nutrients of whole cassava.

That said, we still need to be very careful about how we handle cassava. Although overly processed cassava is completely lacking in nutrients, cassava that is raw or underprocessed is high in various toxic compounds. So it is essential that we still cook cassava thoroughly. It has been found that boiling cassava is the best way of retaining all its nutrients whilst destroying its toxins. [3]. Cooking, then cooling, cassava can also help increase its resistant starch content (see below for more details).

The health benefits of cassava.
In the tropics, cassava is the third most important source of calories, right after rice and maize. Many cultures and millions of people across the world depend on cassava, which is usually grown by poor farmers, including women [4]

There are many health benefits to eating cassava in its natural form.

1. High Source of Calories
Cassava is a great source of healthy carbs and resistant starches. Ninety eight percent of the calories in cassava are from the carbohydrates and the rest from small amounts of fats, proteins and minerals such as calcium and potassium. For this reason, cassava is used as a primary source of carbohydrates for the people in developing countries.
It has ten times the amount of starch than corn, and twice as much starch as potatoes. [5] It also has 3.7 grams of fiber per cup, that’s around 10-14% of your recommended daily fiber intake. [6]

Cassava’s calorific content is quite high, at 112 calories per 100 grams. The same amount of sweet potatoes only has 76 calories, and the same amount of beets or carrots has under 50 [7] This makes it an amazing food source for people who are very physically active, as it will give you the fuel you need to tackle the day ahead. It makes for a great breakfast food or pre-workout meal, but can also be used for a carb refeed after a day of intense activity, such as running a marathon.

2. Versatile crop

The most consumed part of cassava is its roots. It is extremely versatile and is used in several ways for meal preparations. Cassava roots can be eaten whole, or grated to make cassava bread (common in Caribbean and African cooking). Or, across West Africa, it is typically prepared as garri or eba. To make garri, the cassava root is grated, pressed, fermented and fried. In Ghana cassava roots are processed into agbelima by lactic acid fermentation and in Kenya it is boiled or mashed and mixed with corn to form ugali.

The leaves of cassava are also used in some regions across the world as a vegetable and is a popular dish in Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia and Guinea.

3. Low glycaemia index
Cassava is very low on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index measures how much a food raises your blood sugar levels. The scale ranks foods from 0 to 100, with 0 not raising your blood glucose at all, and 100 being pure sugar. Boiled cassava has a glycemic index of only 46, and cassava breads have a glycemic index of around 50-55. This is a big difference from white potato, whose glycemic index is up to 98, or wheat bread, whose glycemic index is up to 70. However be careful of overcooking and reheating, as the more you cook a food the higher on the glycemic index it gets. Cassava which has been boiled, frozen, thawed, and reheated counts on a glycemic index of 94! [8]


4. Great for Coeliac sufferers
Cassava can also make a great alternative to allergenic carb sources, since it is gluten-free and nut-free. As cassava is high in carbohydrates, but not a grain or legume, it is a good option for people with Coeliac, Crohn’s, or IBS. For this reason, cassava is now an increasingly used ingredient in gluten-free flours. Some people experience allergic reactions to cassava, but this is much rarer than gluten intolerance.

5. Contains Essential vitamins and minerals
Cassava is a source of several important vitamins and minerals too. It contains magnesium, copper, and folate and is especially high in vitamin C. [3]
All of these nutrients fulfill many functions in the body. Magnesium controls blood pressure, hormone balance, and bone strength. Copper looks after your nervous system. Vitamin C and folate are both crucial for properly absorbing and using iron in our diets, which improves blood health, clotting speed, and immune strength. [6]

6. High in resistant-starch
One of the most important health benefits of cassava is its high resistant starch content. Resistant starch is a starch which cannot be digested. This means that it passes whole through to the large intestine, where it feeds our gut bacteria. This sort of fermentation in our gut produces short chain fatty acids, which are a form of natural energy, and helps rebalance our gut bacteria, favoring the good bacteria and reducing our risk of colon cancer. Resistant starch also reduces our appetite and lowers the glycaemic index of our foods, making it a good weight loss food for active people. [9]

Cassava – The Dangers!
All foods come with some disadvantage or another, and cassava is no exception.

First of all, cassava’s high starch content makes it inappropriate for some diets. Its high calorie content means if you like having a full plate, you run the risk of overeating when choosing cassava.

Cassava also has two major nutrient drawbacks: antinutrients and cyanide. Yes, cyanide, but don’t be too scared! There is also cyanide in almonds, and the seeds of fruits we accidentally swallow, like apple seeds. A teeny tiny amount of cyanide, bound by various starches, will not actually hurt us. But consumption of large amounts of cyanide can actually cause cyanide poisoning which has been associated with organ damage and paralysis. This effect majorly affects those who have low nutritional status and low protein intake, since protein aid eliminating cyanide out of the body [10].

Cassava is safer for consumption when you peel it to remove the skin that is rich in cyanide, as most of the cyanide is in the skin. While serving it pair it with some proteins, proteins help to get rid of cyanide from the body. The cyanide in cassava is actually not whole, instead, it is in compounds called linamarin and lotaustralin, which turn into cyanide as they break down. As already stated, properly cooking cassava will prevent the formation of cyanide. [11]

Antinutrients are exactly what they sound like: things that get in the way of absorbing and using nutrients. Cassava is high in three types of antinutrients: saponins, phytates, and tannins. These compounds will stop us from absorbing certain vitamins and minerals. Saponins coat the lining of our intestine and make us more vulnerable to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune conditions, which makes us less likely to absorb a whole host of nutrients. Tannings also interfere with digestion, except by blocking the enzymes in food which help us to digest it. By not digesting our food properly, we miss out on many nutrients.

Phytic acid (or phytates), are the best known antinutrient, made famous for how they are found in many of our grain and legume staples. It blocks the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. However, vitamin C counteracts phytates, so as long as you do not overcook your cassava, the natural vitamin C in it should make the phytates less active. [12]

If you are aiming to keep your antinutrient levels low, always remember that cooking is the best way to get rid of them. Boiling whole cassava will massively reduce the antinutrient content. But moderation is also key: if you eat a varied, balanced diet, the antinutrients found in a serving of cassava should not bother you. [13]

[1] http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/cassava.php.
[2] http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-cassava-producing-countries-in-the-world.html.
[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2009.00077.x/epdf.
[4] http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/gcds/                                                                                                                                                                                      [5] http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/cassava.php
[6] http://www.livestrong.com/article/470580-cassava-benefits/.
[7] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cassava
[8] http://www.glycemicindex.com/index.php.
[9] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/resistant-starch.html.
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16619750..
[11] http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0104-79301996000100002
[12] https://draxe.com/antinutrients/
[13] https://www.builtlean.com/2012/12/12/antinutrients/.

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