7 Amazing Tapioca Benefits

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

No, it’s not just used to make a delicious pudding! Tapioca may have some other health benefits including an improvement in digestion, as a cholesterol-lowering agent, and as an aid in weight gain. It may also help in improving the metabolic activities, maintain bone mineral density, and prevent neurodegenerative diseases.

What is Tapioca?

Tapioca is a delicious starch extract derived from the cassava plant. Its most common use is in tapioca pudding; however, 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. [1]

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. The root is usually 1-2 pounds in weight 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 with the scientific name Manihot esculenta. It is thought that 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. Tapioca is commonly enjoyed in America, as well, but it is not commonly cultivated there.

Recently, tapioca may have also gained popularity because it is a gluten-free food, so it is often used as a thickening agent instead of wheat-based fillers. It is a favorite food of many vegetarians, since it is potentially a pure starch food that may be high in protein (for a vegetable), and comes in 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.

One of the most important things to consider about this tuber is its high toxicity. If it is prepared incorrectly, it can 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.

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 healthy and useful food.

Nutritional Value of Tapioca

Nutrition Facts

Tapioca, pearl, dry
Serving Size :
Water [g]10.99
Energy 358
Energy [kJ]1498
Protein [g]0.19
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.02
Ash [g]0.11
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]88.69
Fiber, total dietary [g]0.9
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]3.35
Calcium, Ca [mg]20
Iron, Fe [mg]1.58
Magnesium, Mg [mg]1
Phosphorus, P [mg]7
Potassium, K [mg]11
Sodium, Na [mg]1
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.12
Copper, Cu [mg]0.02
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.11
Selenium, Se [µg]0.8
Thiamin [mg]0
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.14
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.01
Folate, total [µg]4
Folate, food [µg]4
Folate, DFE [µg]4
Choline, total [mg]1.2
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.01
16:0 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.01
18:1 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0
18:2 [g]0
18:3 [g]0
Tryptophan [g]0
Threonine [g]0
Isoleucine [g]0
Leucine [g]0.01
Lysine [g]0.01
Methionine [g]0
Cystine [g]0
Phenylalanine [g]0
Tyrosine [g]0
Valine [g]0.01
Arginine [g]0.02
Histidine [g]0
Alanine [g]0.01
Aspartic acid [g]0.01
Glutamic acid [g]0.03
Glycine [g]0
Proline [g]0.01
Serine [g]0.01
Sources include : USDA [2]
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. Some of its benefits include a very low level of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium while being a rich source of dietary fiber, HDL (good) cholesterol, and protein. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 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 one cup of tapioca contains nearly 45 percent of your daily requirement of carbs.

Health Benefits of Tapioca

Let’s explore some of the numerous health benefits associated with this delicious and nutritious food.

May Help In Healthy Weight Gain

Although the majority of people are concerned about staying fit, there are also many who seek options for healthy weight gain. Being underweight can be just as dangerous as being obese, and tapioca may provide a quick and easy way to gain weight healthily. The high carbohydrate content (one cup of tapioca equates to 45 percent of daily carbohydrate requirement) means that it is easy to add bulk and calories to your diet without any unhealthy cholesterol or saturated fats that can result in other health concerns. The majority of these carbohydrates may come in the form of sucrose, while a slightly smaller amount comes from complex sugar amylose. This makes tapioca an ideal choice for people who need to gain weight, particularly after an illness, injury, surgery or an eating disorder.

Whole and halved raw tapioca with leaves on a wooden table

Tapioca is a popular gluten-free alternative. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Might Aid In Reducing Birth Defects

According to a study conducted by researchers of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, tapioca may contain a significant amount of B-complex vitamins, including folic acid. Adequate amounts of these vitamins during pregnancy have been directly connected to reducing the chances of neural tube defects in infants.

May Improve Digestion

One of the bonus health benefits of tapioca is that it may contain a wealth of dietary fiber. 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 the stool, which may help move it through the digestive tract, thereby eliminating constipation, bloating, and intestinal pain. Furthermore, soluble fiber may even help boost heart health by scraping excess cholesterol off the walls of arteries and blood vessels, thereby helping maintain healthy heart.

Could Be A Potential Vegetarian Protein Source

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 protein-packed. As you probably know, proteins are the building blocks of a healthy life! Therefore, tapioca is a wonderful option for vegetarians because may provide ample amounts of protein. Therefore, your bodily processes, muscle development, growth, healing, and various essential activities can continue as usual when tapioca is regularly added to your diet!

May Help Improve Bone Mineral Density

Tapioca may be 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, general weakness and lack of flexibility. If tapioca is regularly consumed, it may provide our bodies with the vital nutrients it needs to help promote and protect bone health as we age.

May Help Regulating Blood Pressure

According to the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies, tapioca may contain potassium, another essential mineral that the human body requires. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it may help reduce the tension and stress in the blood vessels and arteries. This can increase the flow of blood to parts of the body and reduce the strain on the cardiovascular system.

A diet high in potassium (such as the DASH diet) has been linked to the prevention of atherosclerosis and a reduced chance of blood clots getting stuck and causing fatal events. Furthermore, potassium is the 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.

May Boost Energy

Carbohydrates are considered the source of energy for the body since sugars like sucrose are broken down into glucose, which provides usable energy. Tapioca may be rich in carbohydrates, without the negatives such as LDL cholesterol and saturated fats, so it may help keep energy levels high and increase satiety (thanks to the fiber)!

Word of Caution: Cassava produces cyanide, which is an extremely poisonous compound for humans. So despite the 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.

Commercially prepared tapioca is perfectly healthy to eat, however, 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 has a very high carbohydrate and caloric content, if you are trying to lose weight, you must be vigilant about consuming small portions as part of a healthy diet.

Other than that, enjoy tapioca in all its delicious varieties!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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