Health Benefits of Cassava (Yuca Root)

Cassava is a nutrient-dense, starchy root vegetable consumed in developing countries around the world. It’s also known as yucca, manioc, or mandioca. Because cassava produces a natural toxin, some people are wary of eating it. However, the right preparation methods prevent this from being an issue. When cooked, cassava has a similar texture to potatoes. Its tuberous roots are used to make cassava flours, breads, and tapioca.

Yuca root, also known as cassava root, is a staple crop that supports hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Yuca root looks like a cross between a potato and sweet potato in many ways, as a long, dark brown tuber. It has been cultivated by people in South America and Africa for centuries, and it is increasingly being investigated as an efficient, drought-resistant crop that’s easy for farms of any size to grow.

Yuca root is good for more than just that, however. It’s also an excellent source of nutrients and health benefits.

Cassava Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (103g) of raw cassava.

  • Calories: 165
  • Fat: 0.3g
  • Sodium: 14.4mg
  • Carbohydrates: 39g
  • Fiber: 1.9g
  • Sugars: 1.8g
  • Protein: 1.4g

Carbs
Cassava is high in carbohydrates, with 39 grams per 1/2 cup. There are just under 2 grams of both fiber and natural sugars in a serving of cassava. The majority of carbohydrates are from starch.

Cassava is a staple food in many cultures. When compared to wheat, cassava may contribute four times less digestible sugar and offer 16 times more fiber, giving it a lower glycemic than many other staple grains.

Fats
Cassava naturally contains minimal fat, with less than 1 gram per cup. If you cook cassava in oil or top it with butter, the fat content of your meal will increase proportionately.

Protein
Cassava is not particularly high in protein, with less than 2 grams per 1/2-cup serving. However, cassava leaves are edible and a good source of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals
Cassava is very high in potassium and vitamin C. It also contains most of the B-vitamins (except B12), vitamin A, magnesium, selenium, calcium, and iron.

What is cassava used for?

Cassava is a rich, affordable source of carbohydrates. It can provide more calories per acre of the crop than cereal grain crops, which makes it a very useful crop in developing nations.

People prepare and eat cassava in various ways in different parts of the world, with baking and boiling being the most common methods. In some places, people ferment cassava before using it.

It is essential to peel cassava and never eat it raw. It contains dangerous levels of cyanide unless a person cooks it thoroughly before eating it.

Foods that people can make using cassava include:

  • bread, which can contain cassava flour only or both cassava and wheat flour
  • french fries
  • mashed cassava
  • cassava chips
  • cassava bread soaked in coconut milk
  • cassava cake
  • cassava in coconut sauce
  • yuca con mojo, a Cuban dish that combines cassava with a sauce comprising citrus juices, garlic, onion, cilantro, cumin, and oregano
  • tapioca, which is a common dessert food
  • starch and flour products, which people can use to make gluten-free bread

Most products use a combination of cassava and a cereal grain to improve texture, taste, and nutritional profile.

In addition to eating cassava, people also use it for:

  • feeding animals
  • making medications
  • manufacturing fabrics, paper, and building materials, such as plywood
  • making bioethanol for fuel

Scientists may eventually be able to replace high fructose corn syrup with cassava or tapioca syrup. Researchers are also hoping that cassava could be a source of the alcohol that manufacturers use to make polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and other industrial products.

Health Benefits

The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in yucas can provide important health benefits. For example, choline is an important nutrient for helping the body manage nerve and brain functions. It’s also an important part of keeping your cells and DNA healthy. Without enough choline, your metabolism will not function as efficiently as it otherwise could.

Yuca is also full of potassium, which plays a key role in regulating your heart beat, kidney function, and muscle contractions.

Blood Glucose Control

Yuca root’s resistant starch is also being investigated for its ability to help control blood glucose levels. Consuming resistant starch has been shown to help reduce insulin response after eating. This means that eating moderate amounts of yuca root may help people who are watching their blood sugar levels manage their insulin without risking spikes after eating.

Digestive Health

Yuca root can help stabilize your digestive system. It is an excellent source of resistant starch, which works similarly to soluble dietary fiber. Yuca root starch helps feed the “good” bacteria that lives in your intestines, helping your digestive system function more smoothly. It also helps you to feel more full, which can help you moderate your food intake and may help prevent weight gain for many people.

High in Resistant Starch

Cassava is high in resistant starch, a type of starch that bypasses digestion and has properties similar to soluble fiber.

Consuming foods that are high in resistant starch may have several benefits for overall health.

First of all, resistant starch feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which may help reduce inflammation and promote digestive health.

Resistant starch has also been studied for its ability to contribute to better metabolic health and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

This is due to its potential to improve blood sugar control, in addition to its role in promoting fullness and reducing appetite.

The benefits of resistant starch are promising, but it is important to note that many processing methods may lower cassava’s resistant starch content.

Products made from cassava, such as flour, tend to be lower in resistant starch than cassava root that has been cooked and then cooled in its whole form .

Lower Risk of Cancer

Yuca root is rich in beta-carotene, the pigment responsible for its color. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, and is just one of many found in yucas. The antioxidants in yucas, including saponin, have been shown to fight free radicals, which can cause damage to your cells and potentially lead to cancer.

Lowers Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health markers that indicate a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. It’s characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and waist circumference, among other factors.

Cassava is rich in flavonoids and fiber that protect against the development of metabolic syndrome and it’s associated complications. This claim is especially true when cassava replaces wheat as a staple food.

Promotes Wound Healing

Cassava is rich in vitamin C. With 42.4 milligrams per cup, cassava provides about 50% of the daily vitamin C needs for most adults. Vitamin C is an essential precursor to collagen, a structural component in skin tissues. Getting enough vitamin C from food supports the body’s ability to repair itself, especially since vitamin C is not something our bodies are able to produce.

Prevents Malnutrition

Although not as big of a concern in the Western world, cassava serves as an essential safeguard against malnutrition in the tropical and African communities where it’s most popular.

Cassava is tolerant to drought, pests, and difficult growing conditions. The root vegetable produces a high yield and can be kept in the ground for several growing seasons as a reserve food when other crops are scarce. Both cassava leaves and roots have nutritional benefits that help keep the developing world fed.

Reduces Blood Pressure

Similar to potatoes, cassava is exceptionally high in potassium. A cup of cassava has 558 milligrams, providing 16% to 21% of the daily recommendation (which range between 2600–3400 milligrams per day depending on age and sex).

Potassium lowers blood pressure levels and can help balance out sodium intake which raises blood pressure. Choosing a cassava-based side dish instead of a grain-based one boosts the potassium intake of your meal.

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Supports Healthy Weight Maintenance

Although cassava is high in calories, it provides fiber and resistant starch that promotes healthy gut bacteria. Studies suggested that the fiber from root vegetables reduces cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods. The fiber in cassava positively impacts the gut microbiome, promoting feelings of satiety. Choosing a meal plan based around whole foods provides ample nutrition without empty calories.

How to prepare cassava safely

Due to cassava’s cyanide content, people should ensure the cassava comes from a trustworthy supplier. They should also take the following steps when cooking:

  • Peel the cassava root.
  • Slice or cut it into small pieces.
  • Soak them in water.
  • Boil them until tender and very well cooked.
  • Discard any cooking water.

Baking, frying, or boiling may be appropriate. However, people should follow the instructions on the packaging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , people should soak the tubers of sweet cassava in water for 4–6 days.

People should also follow these steps when using frozen cassava.

Bitter varieties of cassava require more extensive processing, such as grating or pounding and soaking in water, before boiling. However, bitter cassava is not common in the U.S.

Processed cassava products, such as tapioca pearls and cassava flour, are safe to use without any precooking.

Summary

Cassava is a versatile, flavorful food and an important source of nutrients and energy, particularly in the tropics.

Cassava is similar to yams and taro, and people can use it in similar ways to a potato. It is possible to use tapioca starch to make gluten-free baked goods. As long as people take precautions when preparing cassava, it can be a beneficial addition to the diet.

Scientists are currently mapping the genetic structure of cassava. They hope to be able to use this information to breed superior cassava plants that will have higher nutritional content, be more resistant to disease, and make it to market more easily.

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