Some of the health benefits of tapioca include its ability to help in healthy weight gain, increase circulation and red blood cell count, protect against birth defects, improve digestion, lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes, improve metabolic activities, protect bone mineral density, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, protects heart health, and maintains fluid balance within the body.
Tapioca is a delicious starch extract derived from the cassava plant. Its most common use is in tapioca pudding, but the plant elements are also used in certain cultures as a sweet candy or snack. The useful part of the cassava plant is the root, which is where tapioca is acquired, and this plant is now cultivated and enjoyed around the globe. It is native to South America, namely Northeastern Brazil, where it is simply known as cassava, but in other places on earth, it is known by other names, including manioc, yuca, and manihot. Each root is usually 1-2 pounds, and is rough, elongated, and brown in color. The flesh of the tuber is white and very high in carbohydrates. However, this sweet-tasting flesh should only be consumed after proper cooking.
Tapioca is considered a spurge, from the family Euphorbiaceae and its full scientific name is Manihot esculenta. Portuguese and Spanish explorers first brought the plant from South America back to Europe, where it quickly became popular and spread throughout the West Indies, Africa, and Asia. It is commonly enjoyed in America, as well, but it is not commonly cultivated there. It has also gained recent popularity because it is a gluten-free food, so it is often used as a thickening agent instead of wheat-based fillers, which are dangerous for people suffering from Celiac disease.
One of the most interesting things about this tuber is its high toxicity. If it is prepared incorrectly, it can actually be very poisonous, so only consume tapioca that has been prepared and packaged by reputable sources, and unless you are properly trained, do not attempt to cultivate and consume tapioca grown in the wild. It is a favorite of many vegetarians, since it is a pure starch food that is high in protein (for a vegetable), and comes in a variety of different culinary forms, including dried flakes, sticks, and pearls that must be soaked before consuming so they regain their volume. This makes it a very useful food that can be included in a wide variety of dishes. But why is tapioca so important? And why do so many people around the world count on it as an important part of their diet? First, let’s check out some of the nutritional aspects that make tapioca such a wonderfully healthy and useful food.
Nutritional Value of Tapioca
Tapioca is enjoyed throughout the world, and is relied on as an essential part of certain cultural diets due to its unique composition of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds. These include a very low level of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. It is also a rich source of dietary fiber, “good” cholesterol, and protein. Furthermore, tapioca contains members of the vitamin B-complex, including pantothenic acid, folate, and B6, as well as iron, manganese, calcium, copper, and selenium. They are packed with carbohydrates as well, and 1 cup contains nearly 45% of your daily requirement of carbs.
Health Benefits of Tapioca
The question is, what do all of those nutritional elements have to do with health? Let’s explore some of the numerous health benefits associated with this delicious and nutritious food.
Healthy Weight Gain: Although the majority of people are concerned about staying thin and fit, there are plenty of people who look for options for healthy weight gain. Being underweight can be just as dangerous as being obese, and tapioca provides a quick and easy way to gain weight in a fast and healthy way. The high carbohydrate content (1 cup of tapioca = 45% of daily carbohydrate requirement) means that you can add bulk and calories to your diet without the unhealthy cholesterol or saturated fats that can result in other health concerns. The majority of these carbohydrates comes in the form of sucrose, while a slightly smaller amount comes from complex sugar amylose. This makes tapioca an ideal choice for many people who need to gain weight, particularly after an illness, injury, surgery, or eating disorder.
Increased Circulation: One of the most valuable mineral contributions of tapioca is iron. Iron is essential for the normal functioning of the human body, and perhaps its most significant roles is in the creation of new red blood cells. Together with copper, which tapioca also contains, iron increases the amount of red blood cells in the body, thereby preventing anemia and related conditions. With more red blood cells being produced by the body, peripheral organ systems and extremities are guaranteed a healthy flow of blood and oxygen to keep those cells healthy and operating at their optimal levels. Cellular re-growth and maintenance is improved, which means that wound healing and energy levels are also increased.
Birth Defects: One of the most tragic things in life is to have a child with some sort of birth defect. This can be a traumatic experience for parents, so preventing it is essential, if possible. Tapioca contains a significant amount of B-complex vitamins, including folic acid, which has been directly connected to reducing the chances of neural tube defects in infants.
Digestive Health: One of the other bonuses of tapioca is the wealth of dietary fiber it contains. Fiber has been directly linked to improving a number of conditions within the human body, but the most obvious is in terms of digestion. Fiber bulks up stool, which helps to move it through the digestive tract, thereby eliminating constipation, bloating, intestinal pain, and even more serious conditions like colorectal cancer. Furthermore, fiber helps to boost heart health by scraping excess cholesterol off the walls of arteries and blood vessels, thereby helping to eliminate atherosclerosis and associated issues like heart attacks and strokes.
Metabolic Activity: Protein is an essential element of human health, and while many people get their protein intake from meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, among other sources, vegetarians are always looking for new ways to remain healthy and protein-packed. As you probably know, proteins are the building blocks of a healthy life! Therefore, tapioca is a wonderful option for vegetarians because it does provide ample amounts of protein. Therefore, your bodily processes, muscle development, growth, healing, and various other essential activities can continue as normal when tapioca is regularly added to your diet!
Bone Health: Tapioca is a rich source of vitamin K, calcium, and iron, all of which play important roles in the protection and development of bones. Bone mineral density decreases as we age, resulting in conditions like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and general weakness and lack of flexibility. If tapioca is regularly consumed, then our bones can be protected and developed, and also maintained as we get older.
Neurological Health: The wealth of vitamin K does more than promote osteotrophic activity, it is also important for our mental health. It has been shown that vitamin K can reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease by stimulating neuronal activity in the brain. Alzheimer’s often occurs due to a lack of activity or mental stagnation; vitamin K keeps neural pathways active and engaged, and free of free radicals that can cause a breakdown of brain tissues.
Blood Pressure: Tapioca also contains potassium, yet another essential mineral that the human body requires. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it reduces the tension and stress of blood vessels and arteries. This can increase the flow of blood to parts of the body and reduce the strain on the cardiovascular system. This means a reduction in atherosclerosis and a much smaller chance of blood clots getting stuck and causing fatal events like heart attacks or strokes. Furthermore, potassium is key for fluid balance in the body, and when it is in proper balance with sodium, all of the fluid exchanges in the body can be smooth, further boosting metabolic efficiency and energy.
Energy Levels: Carbohydrates are the source of our energy, since simple sugars like sucrose are broken down into usable energy. However, things like saturated fats and cholesterol rob us of energy, so many foods that help us gain weight don’t boost energy. Tapioca has a large amount of carbohydrates, without the negative cholesterol and saturated fats, so energy levels will be high, you won’t feel hungry as often (thanks to the fiber), and you will generally feel better and more able to face your day!
A Few Words of Caution: Despite the many benefits of eating tapioca in various forms, it is important to remember that cassava can be very poisonous if not prepared, processed, or cooked properly. Cassava produces cyanide, which is an extremely poisonous compound to humans. Therefore, while tapioca that you buy in a store is perfectly healthy to eat, don’t attempt to process or eat tapioca grown or found in the wild, unless you are instructed by someone who is very familiar with a healthy way of processing it.
Also, since tapioca does have a very high carbohydrate and caloric content, if you are trying to lose weight, it might not be the best food to add to your diet.
Other than that, enjoy tapioca in all its many delicious varieties!