Cassava: Uses, Benefits, & Products
What is Cassava?
Cassava is a root vegetable which is gaining popularity lately. This starchy tuber grows in tropical regions around the world, including Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. It has a brown fibrous skin and snowy white interior flesh. Sometimes cassava is also known as yuca or Brazilian arrowroot. When the root of the cassava plant is washed and "pulped," this gives us tapioca.
Much like potatoes, cassava can be steamed, boiled, baked, or fried before being eaten on its own, mashed, or added to other dishes. Cassava must be cooked because uncooked cassava can be "poisonous." (Just as potatoes must be cooked before being eaten.) Raw cassava contains chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide in the body when consumed. So always be sure to thoroughly cook cassava, or even better, buy some of the products mentioned below.
(At the end of this article, you'll find links to some available products. If you choose to purchase anything from my website's links to Amazon, I may make a very small fee which helps to support the website. This is at no additional charge to you.)
Flour: One of the reasons cassava is becoming so popular is that, when ground and made into a flour, it substitutes nicely for wheat flour. You can replace cassava flour for wheat flour in a 1:1 ratio in most dishes. This is useful for those with gluten sensitivities as cassava is naturally gluten-free.
Strips: Artisan Tropics is one company that makes cassava strips. These particular strips contain only cassava, non-hydrogenated palm oil, and sea salt. They are perfect for snacking. The company also states that these are "nightshade" free. Nightshades are vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers; and some people react to nightshades. (You can read more about nightshades here.)
Chips: Cassava chips are popping up all over the market, too. This can be a nice replacement for potato or corn chips. Siete is a company that makes grain-free tortilla chips. Today, many people are opting for a grain-free lifestyle (as with the Paleo diet) since grains are sometimes implicated in inflammatory conditions.
Crackers and Cookies: Cassava is also an added ingredient in some packaged foods which, again, makes the products gluten-free and even grain-free. Simple Mills is one manufacturer using cassava in its crackers and cookies. They are delicious!
Other: There are plenty of other companies and products. You can find cassava wraps, bars, flours, breads, and even beers! Some may not have yet made it to your grocer's shelf, but Amazon carries a plethora of products if you're interested.
6 Health Benefits of Eating Cassava
1) Improves Heart Health
Cassava contains saponins. Saponins are phytochemicals found in plants. When you eat, bile acids are released into your intestines. The detergent qualities of saponins allow them to bind to bile and prevent its reabsorption. Once bound to saponins, cholesterol leaves your body in waste. Thus, cassava may help reduce cholesterol and control triglyceride levels.
It's also thought that the high potassium content in cassava may contribute to heart health. Potassium helps to regulate heart beat and regulate blood pressure levels.
2) Restores Gut Health
Cassava is considered a resistant starch which means that it resists digestion until it reaches the colon. Resistant starches help feed the friendly bacteria in your gut and increase the production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate helps control the growth of the cells lining the gut to make sure there’s good balance between old cells dying and new cells being formed. So, there are some natural probiotic qualities in cassava. It's also rich in fiber which helps with constipation.
3) Assists in Weight Loss
Again, the fiber in cassava provides benefits. The fiber aids in satiety, keeping you fuller longer. Cassava also contains amylose which breaks down slowly. Amylose is a polysaccharide and resistant starch. Resistant starches not only help with gut health, they may also contribute to overall weight loss.
4) Controls Blood Sugar
Cassava is low on the glycemic index which means it does not elevate blood sugars and insulin the way that other starches and carbs might. And because it is fiber-rich, this further blunts the effects of carbohydrate consumption. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care noted that Tanzanians who ate cassava regularly had a lower incidence of diabetes than those who rarely ate it.
5) Decreases Inflammation
In some countries, cassava root is used as home remedy to treat arthritis, rheumatism, and irritable bowel syndrome. The saponins in cassava help to reduce inflammation of the joints particularly and in the body in general. The amino acids in cassava play important roles in protecting and repairing body tissue as well.
As we mentioned in the above section on products, cassava flour is a nice option because it substitutes directly for wheat flour. More and more people are finding that they are either sensitive to gluten or are negatively affected by gluten's inflammatory and insulin-spiking properties. Cassava provides energy since it is a carbohydrate, but it's low on the glycemic index too which helps with satiety.
Cassava is one of the world’s most valuable and stable crops. Almost every part of the plant can be used in some way, making cassava a versatile and helpful food. Take a peek at some of the products using cassava below!
Be sure to subscribe to my blog on the Home page to get the latest articles as soon as they're published!
And if you haven't already checked out my book 360 Health: Your Guide to Cancer Prevention, Healing Foods, & Total Body Wellness, you can get it below!