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If you are a foodie, you might already know that kitchens aren’t just a host to conventional fruits, vegetables and food items but they are like a wonderous place that contain flavours from all around the world.

Tapioca or sabudana is such a usual name in most Indian kitchen but do you really know that it doesn’t just grow on trees? Nor is it a seed or fruit of a plant. It is a type of starch obtained from cassava root tubers and is virtually free from fats and proteins. Not only this, it has no gluten and is thus safe for gluten intolerants. And that’s just one of the reasons why it has become such a rage these days.

It is rich in fibre and calories so depending on which way you want to take it, it can aid in weight gain or weight loss. The fibre present in tapioca also aids digestion and preventing constipation and it houses minerals and vitamins that can aid in various biological processes.

Tapioca is a perennial plant that grows in the tropical climate. It has a partly woody stem and dark green leaves that grow opposite to each other. Both the leaf stalk and the stem have a distinct red shade that makes one of its identifying features. Tapioca plant can grow up to a height of 20 feet and it has tuberous roots that grow upwards from the base of the stem. These tubers make up the edible part of the tapioca plant from which tapioca starch is extracted.

Did you know?

Tapioca plant is a staple in some African countries.

In the course of this article, you’ll know about how exactly is tapioca used and how is it beneficial to health.

But first, let us know about some basic facts about tapioca plant

  • Botanical name: Manihot esculenta
  • Family: Euphorbiaceae
  • Common name: Cassava, Yuca, Tapioca, Brazil arrowroot
  • Sanskrit name: Tarukandah
  • Parts used: Roots (tubers)
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Originally, a native of the tropical areas of America, it is widely grown in Brazil, West Indies and Africa. In India, cassava plant is mainly grown in the states of Kerela and Tamil Nadu.
  1. Sabudana nutrition facts
  2. Tapioca health benefits
  3. Sabudana recipe and uses
  4. Sabudana side effects
  5. Takeaway

Being a starch, a major percentage of tapioca is carbohydrates, but it also contains some amounts of iron and calcium.

As per the USDA, 100g of dry tapioca contains the following values:

Nutrients Value per 100 g
Energy 358 Kcal
Carbohydrates 88.7 g
Water 11 g
Fats 0.02 g
Proteins 0.19 g
Minerals Value per 100 g
Iron 1.58 g
Calcium 20 g
Potassium 11 g
Phosphorus 7 g
Sodium 1 g

Tapioca has numerous health benefits, but one of the most important of this is its high energy and low-fat content which makes it an excellent food for fasting and dieting. Also, it has good amounts of calcium and potassium which makes it an excellent food source for building bones and maintaining blood pressure. Let us have a look at some of the nutritive and health benefits of tapioca.

  1. Sabudana for weight loss
  2. Sabudana for diabetics
  3. Sabudana benefits for babies and infants
  4. Tapioca for digestion
  5. Tapioca for high cholesterol
  6. Tapioca as a calcium source
  7. Tapioca for high blood pressure
  8. Tapioca as an iron source
  9. Tapioca during pregnancy

Sabudana for weight loss

Tapioca is rich in fibre and has almost no fat content so it is believed to be an excellent weight loss agent. It adds bulk to the food and slows down the process of digestion and nutrient absorption from the intestines. So, munching on tapioca will make you feel full for longer. This may aid in losing weight gradually. But, it does not contain any nutritional value of its own. So, it is best to add it with some nutritionally rich and healthy fruits or take fortified sabudana.

However, tapioca is a calorie dense food and overconsumption would lead to weight gain.

(Read more: Diet chart for weight loss)

Sabudana for diabetics

Diabetes is an endocrine disorder wherein the body is not able to metabolise glucose due to an impairment in insulin functions. Keeping that in view, tapioca, a carbohydrate-rich food, seems like a pretty bad choice for diabetics. Animal studies suggest that ingestion of tapioca has a negative effect on diabetes. However, fortified tapioca has been found to improve the sensitivity of insulin thus making it easier to take up extra sugar from the blood.

Also, by slowing down digestion, it makes sure that you don’t get a sudden rush of sugar into the bloodstream.

Though, the evidence is far-fetched and lacking on the exact action of tapioca in hyperglycemia. It is best that you refer to a doctor to confirm the safety and usage of tapioca pearls for diabetic people.

Sabudana benefits for babies and infants

Tapioca is probably one of the most common sources of starch that is added in baby food and is considered a good source of energy for infants. Studies suggest that it can provide about 50% of baby’s energy requirements without interfering with the overall process of digestion.

However, it is very low in proteins and other nutritive compounds.

According to a study done on Nigerian children, regular tapioca consumption, without adding any protein source in the diet leads to malnutrition in the long term.

So, to reap maximum benefits, it is suggested that you add tapioca to some protein-rich recipes.

Tapioca for digestion

The fibre content in tapioca makes it an excellent food for maintaining good digestive health. First, it forms a gel in the intestines and softens the stools thus relieving constipation. Second, it promotes the growth of gut microflora, thus improving digestion. Then, it is much easier to digest than most grains like wheat and barley. Being gluten-free, tapioca is a  safer choice of flour for gluten intolerant people and celiac patients.

(Read more: How to improve digestion)

Tapioca for high cholesterol

Studies suggest that it has a much lower lipemic index than rice. This is because tapioca is low on fats and, thus, is safe to be consumed in case of hyperlipidemia (high-fat content in the body) and high cholesterol. Since it has some amount of dietary fibre, it may be helpful in eliminating excess cholesterol from the bloodstream. This, in turn, would reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and stroke. However, no studies have been done to confirm the hypocholesterolemic effects of tapioca. So, it is advisable that you refer to a nutritionist to know more about the possible uses and safety of this starch in high cholesterol.

Tapioca as a calcium source

According to USDA, 100g of dry tapioca pearls contain about 20 mg of calcium. While that is not a lot, it certainly helps you meet your daily calcium requirement quickly. Calcium is not just needed for the development of bones and teeth but it also helps in maintaining heart rhythms and muscle contractions along with aiding in brain signalling and blood clotting.

Most of the calcium is stored in our bones and teeth and in case of a deficiency, our bodies start to pull it out from these tissues making them weaker.

Regular tapioca consumption makes sure that you get some of your dietary calcium thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Tapioca for high blood pressure

Blood pressure is marked by the force that the circulating blood puts on your arteries. Among the many factors that keep your blood pressure in a normal range (120/80 mm of Hg), a proper balance between sodium and potassium plays a primary role. This is because our body needs these minerals to flush out extra toxins and any disruption in the sodium/potassium ratio would lead to salt accumulation and an increase in the blood pressure. That is why excess sodium is not considered good in hypertension. Tapioca contains good amounts of potassium and fairly low levels of sodium which makes it an ideal food choice for hypertensive people.

(Read more: High blood pressure treatment)

Tapioca as an iron source

Apart from being a rich source of calcium, tapioca pearls also contain some amount of iron which is essential for the transport of oxygen in the body. Additionally, iron has some other functions which include:

  • Formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin.
  • Formation of proteins that are needed in respiration.
  • For the proper functioning of the immune system.
  • Formation of neurotransmitters and collagen.

Since iron plays so many important roles in our body, tapioca pearls and flour are now being sold in an iron-fortified form.

Tapioca during pregnancy

A pregnant woman needs a lot of minerals and nutrients to provide for the growing demands of the foetus. Folate is one such nutrient. It is a type of Vitamin B which is required for the proper development of the foetal nerve tube. A pregnant woman needs about 400 mg of folate per day which is usually provided through supplements. However, folate deficiency in otherwise healthy people may also lead to megaloblastic anaemia, which is associated with symptoms like fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration, headache, and shortness of breath. It is also apparent in the form of nail and skin discolouration and mouth ulcers.

Tapioca, being a fairly good source of folic acid can help keep these problems at bay. Optimal folate levels in healthy women in fertile age would also make it easier to maintain folate levels during pregnancy.

(Read more: Pregnancy diet chart)

Tapioca flourWhen talking about tapioca, most of us think of the soft white pearls but it is also available in the form of a flour. A flour can easily be made by grinding tapioca seeds into a fine powder. Tapioca flour can be used to prepare healthier versions of your usual bread and pancakes. Also, it is used as a binding agent in various recipes. Having no taste of its own, it doesn’t really affect the original flavour of the dish. Hydrated tapioca has a gel-like consistency, so, it can be used as a thickening agent in soups or gravies.

Tapioca pearls: Tapioca pearls are those small white balls that are used in various recipes including sabudana khichdi and kheer. If you haven’t yet tried a tapioca pudding or bubble tea, you are definitely missing out on some of the most exotic flavours.

Here is a simple recipe for a cup of bubble tea

  • Soak some tapioca seeds in water for a few hours. You’ll notice they leave their white colour and turn a more translucent white.
  • Prepare black tea (you can add milk if you like).
  • Let it cool down to room temperature.
  • Add sugar to your liking.
  • Pour tapioca seeds to a glass of tea.
  • Add ice cubes and let it chill.
  • Enjoy.

You can also add honey in place of sugar if you like it.

  • Even though it is rich in carbs, tapioca lacks in proteins and fats. So it is not a good source of nutrition.
  • Tapioca plant is known to contain a poisonous compound which can cause acute or chronic toxicity. So, it is preferable to buy these pearls from recognised or trustable sources.
  • Tapioca is basically a starch, which is a type of sugar. Even though it has a low glycemic index (doesn’t increase blood sugar significantly), studies are quite contradictory. So, diabetic people are recommended to talk to a doctor before taking tapioca.
  • While tapioca is a non-allergic food, studies suggest that people who are allergic to latex may also show cross-reactivity to tapioca.

Tapioca is a starch obtained from the roots of the cassava plant. It has negligible amounts of fats and proteins and can be used as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour. Apart from being an exotic delight, it has numerous health benefits that include but are not limited to weight management and maintenance of body cholesterol. Not much research is done on tapioca pearls but you can always talk to a nutritionist to know more about its health benefits.

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References

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  3. Kato R et al. High-hydroxypropylated tapioca starch improves insulin resistance in genetically diabetic KKAy mice. J Food Sci. 2009 Apr;74(3):H89-96. PMID: 19397723
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  6. Kevin Stephenson et al. Consuming cassava as a staple food places children 2-5 years old at risk for inadequate protein intake, an observational study in Kenya and Nigeria . Nutr J. 2010; 9: 9. PMID: 20187960
  7. Joanne Slavin. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits . Nutrients. 2013 Apr; 5(4): 1417–1435. PMID: 23609775
  8. Kurup PG, Krishnamurthy S. Glycemic response and lipemic index of rice, raggi and tapioca as compared to wheat diet in human. Indian J Exp Biol. 1993 Mar;31(3):291-3. PMID: 8388856
  9. University of California San Francisco. Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron. [Internet]
  10. Michael J Hall . The Dangers of Cassava (Tapioca) Consumption . Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal Volume 102 (ii) May 1987
  11. Ibero M, Castillo MJ, Pineda F. Allergy to cassava: a new allergenic food with cross-reactivity to latex. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2007;17(6):409-12. PMID: 18088025