Cassava (Manihot esculenta) also known as yucca or manioc is a starchy tuber that belongs to the spurge family. Native to South America, this nutty flavored and crunchy underground tuber is a popular food item for the indigenous people in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America since hundreds of years. Similar to the other tubers like potato, yam and plantain, Cassava also constitutes one on the highest sources of carbohydrates for these people. It is nutritionally rich and so incorporating it in your diet is a good way to get your daily requirements of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
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Nutrients in Cassava
Cassava is highly rich in calories and is considered to be the highest source of calories when compared to other roots and tubers. In fact a 100 gram serving of this tuber provides around 160 calories. Sugars like sucrose and amylase mainly accounts for the high calorie content in cassava. Although low in saturated fats and cholesterol, this tuber contains good amounts of dietary fiber, protein and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), niacin, riboflavin, folates, and pantothenic acid. It is also a good source of important minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. Cassava is also a great source of saponins that have antioxidant effects, which protect your body from the negative effects of free radicals.
Health benefits of Cassava
The abundance of nutrients in cassava mainly contributes to the various health benefits this tuber offers. Read on to know more about some of the several health benefits associated with this tasty and nutritious food.
Anti-aging properties of Cassava
Cassava contains vitamin C that helps in the production of collagen, making your skin smooth and supple. It also acts as an antioxidant that protects your cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. This helps in preventing early aging and also in eliminating the signs of aging such as wrinkles, dark spots, pigmentation and fine lines.
Cassava benefits to heart
As mentioned above, the nutrients in cassava help in lowering cholesterol and hypertension, two main conditions that can affect the health of your heart. So by keeping a check on these two factors, cassava can help in lowering your risks of developing heart attacks and heart diseases.
Cassava is a good source of phytochemicals known as saponins that may help in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. They bind to the cholesterol and bile acids, thereby preventing them from being absorbed in the small intestines. According to studies, the high dietary fiber content in cassava is also helpful in significantly decreasing the levels of total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
Cassava is high in potassium, an important mineral that functions as a vasodilator. This means that it helps in widening the blood vessels, thus reducing the stress and tension on blood vessels and arteries. As a result, the flow of blood to the various parts of the body is increased. Another way in which potassium lowers blood pressure is by neutralizing the effects of sodium in the body.
Iron is one of the most important minerals found abundantly in Cassava. This mineral is significant for your body as it plays a vital role in the production of new red blood cells. Cassava also contains good amounts of copper, which along with iron helps in increasing the amount of red blood cells in the body, thus preventing anemia and other such conditions. As the red blood cell count increases, the blood circulation also increases which ensures that all parts of your body receive a healthy supply of blood and oxygen. Proper blood circulation helps to keep all your organs healthy and functioning at their optimum best.
Cassava for healthy weight gain and weight loss too
Although cassava is high in calories, it is also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It is a good source of dietary fiber, which offers several health benefits including weight loss. Eating cassava in moderate amounts can make you feel fuller for long hours, in addition to providing your body with the essential nutrients. When you feel full, you avoid the need for frequent snacking and overeating.
Just like many people wish to have a slim and trim body, there are others, especially underweight people who wish to gain some weight. For them, eating cassava is one way to achieve healthy weight gain. The high carbohydrate content in cassava helps in adding calories to your diet without adding the unhealthy effects of cholesterol or saturated fats.
Cassava prevents birth defects in babies
During pregnancy, doctors prescribe folic acid for the expecting mothers. This is because folic acid plays a major role in the development of the neural tube of the fetus. The neural tube that forms in the third or fourth week of the pregnancy is the part that develops into the brain and spinal cord. Cassava contains good amounts of folic acid and hence its consumption by pregnant ladies can reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.
Cassava boosts digestive health
The high amount of dietary fiber is one of the many reasons that make cassava extremely healthy. A diet rich in fiber is known not only to improve your health but also in preventing many serious diseases and ailments. In addition to lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels, fiber also helps in promoting digestion. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, which helps in the easy passage of wastes through the digestive tract, thereby eliminating many digestive disorders like constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and even colorectal cancer.
Cassava is rich in proteins and is a great source of protein for vegetarians. As we all know, proteins are the building blocks of life that perform a vast array of functions needed to maintain overall health and to sustain life. Adding cassava to your regular diet ensures that the various bodily processes such as growth, muscle development, healing etc take place at a normal and healthy manner.
Cassava improves energy levels
Cassava is a rich source of simple sugars like sucrose and amylase that are broken down to release energy. Incorporating this tuber into your diet can make you active by providing ample amounts of energy that will last throughout the day.
Cassava keeps your bones strong and healthy
Cassava is a rich source of vitamin K and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, all of which play key roles in the healthy growth and development of bones. One of the problems that many people may have to deal with as they age is the decrease in bone mineral density, resulting in conditions like weakness, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and lack of flexibility. Regular consumption of cassava can help in strengthening your bones and in preventing the above mentioned bone related issues.
Cassava is beneficial to the nervous system
The high level of vitamin K in cassava is beneficial for maintaining proper health of the nervous system. It has been found that vitamin K can help in stimulating neuronal activity in the brain, thereby reducing the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin K prevents mental stagnation by keeping the neural pathways active and engaged. It also functions as a powerful antioxidant that can fight off the dangerous free radicals and prevent the oxidative stress on the brain cells.
Cassava for diabetics
Cassava has relatively low glycemic index (46) and hence is considered to be a healthier food choice than other kinds of starches for people suffering from diabetes. Foods with low glycemic index are recommended for diabetics as they do not cause considerable spikes in the blood glucose levels. Several studies indicate that people who eat cassava regularly also have a low chance of developing diabetes.
Cassava can help in cancer treatment
Although strong scientific evidence is yet to be available, studies indicate that cassava contains a cyanogen known as linamarin which produces hydrogen cyanide. This property of cassava has been found to destroy the cancer cells and hence has the potential to be used in the treatment of various types of cancer.
A few words of caution
As mentioned earlier, cassava contains small quantities of cyanide and hence should not be eaten raw. Eating raw cassava is likely to cause nausea, abdominal pain, and even death. The cyanide level is found to be much higher in the skin when compared to the rest of the plant. Peeling the vegetable and cooking it properly can help to get rid of the toxicity.
Cassava is gluten-free and hence is a safe alternative for people suffering from celiac disease. Another interesting fact about cassava is that it is being used as an ethanol biofuel. Since it can grow in poor soil and is able to withstand conditions such as drought, it is a valuable famine reserve crop in places with unreliable rainfall.