Tapioca is a gluten-free starch that is derived from the storage root of the cassava or yuca plant. Tapioca originated in Brazil but is a common diet staple in many tropical countries around the world because it provides a quick source of carbohydrates. In fact, during World War II, some Southeast Asian countries survived primarily on tapioca.
Tapioca is sold in various forms including flakes, flour, or pearls. The ingredient is often used as a thickener. Tapioca pearls can be dyed and sweetened (called boba) and added to sweetened bubble tea. The gummy pearls are also used to make tapioca pudding and other sweet desserts. Tapioca flour is used to make some gluten-free products, including bread.
Even though yuca (cassava) provides a little bit of protein and some vitamins and minerals, tapioca does not. Cassava also contains more fiber. Tapioca provides carbohydrates but has almost no other significant nutritional value.
1. Heart Health
Tapioca contains no saturated fat. Reducing saturated fat has been found to lower the risk of heart disease. One study concluded that reducing saturated fat intake may be linked to significant reductions in cardiovascular risk.
2. Diabetes Control
Modified tapioca starch may have properties that help lower insulin levels. In one study, diabetic mice on high-fat diets were given modified tapioca starch. Insulin resistance was significantly lower in the mice receiving tapioca starch compared to controls. However, more research needs to be conducted to determine if the same benefits apply to people with diabetes.
3. Digestive Health
Tapioca starch is a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour, making it an ideal alternative for people with celiac disease. Tapioca is also very easy to digest, so it’s a good choice for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive issues.
4. Useful for Those on Some Restrictive Diets
Tapioca is gluten-free and grain-free. Those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can use this flour to make bread and other baked goods (in combination with other gluten-free flours). The flour is also vegetarian, vegan, and is often used by those following a paleo diet, or an autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. Many popular brands of tapioca flour are also certified kosher.
Researchers are in the process of understanding how different types of resistant starch affect the gut microbiome. But there is some speculation that the changes it promotes in the digestive tract may help to prevent colon cancer and other diseases.
5. Prevention of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
In some countries, iron deficiency anemia is common in women of childbearing age and children. It can lead to health concerns including birth defects, infant mortality, impaired cognitive function, and poor immunity. A single serving of tapioca pearls provides 1.58mg of iron.
In the U.S., recommended daily allowances for iron vary based on age and sex. Women who are aged 19–50 years should consume 18mg daily. So a serving of tapioca would provide just under 9% of your daily needs. But women over the age of 51 and men over the age of 19 years of age only need 8mg daily. For those people, a serving of tapioca provides almost 20% of the recommended daily intake.
6. Breast Milk Production
Starchy foods are sometimes recommended to help boost milk supply when breastfeeding. Tapioca is a complex carbohydrate that's an excellent source of starch and energy. Published evidence reports that cassava is commonly used to increase breastmilk supply by women in some parts of the world. But it is not known if tapioca, specifically, provides this same benefit for breastfeeding mothers.
7. Reduced Birth Defects
Tapioca contains a significant amount of B-complex vitamins, including folic acid, according to a study conducted by researchers of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Adequate amounts of these vitamins during pregnancy have been directly connected to reducing the chances of neural tube defects in infants.
8. Source of Vegetarian Protein
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 it does 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!
9. Improved Bone Mineral Density
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, general weakness and lack of flexibility. If tapioca is regularly consumed, it provides our bodies with the vital nutrients it needs to help promote and protect bone health as we age.
10. Prevention of Alzheimer’s
Vitamin K does more than promoting osteotropic activity; it is also important for our mental health, according to one study published in the journal Medical Hypothesis. 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. It also eliminates free radicals that can cause a breakdown of brain tissue. As further research on this topic is conducted, it has positive implications for the field of neurodegenerative disease in aging.
11. Regulation of Blood Pressure
According to the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies, tapioca contains potassium, another essential mineral that the human body requires. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it reduces 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 like a heart attack or stroke. 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.
12. Boosted Energy
Carbohydrates are the source of energy for the body as since sugars like sucrose are broken down into glucose, which provides usable energy. Tapioca has plenty of carbohydrates, without the negatives such as LDL cholesterol and saturated fats, so it can keep energy levels high and increase satiety (thanks to the fiber)!