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Health Benefits of Cassava

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Health Benefits of Cassava

By

Jillian Kubala, RD

Published on March 21, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Simone Harounian, MS

    Cassava root vegetable: white inner flesh with a brown, bark-like exterior

    GUSTAVO RAMIREZ / GETTY IMAGES

    Cassava (Manihot esculenta), commonly known as yuca, is a root vegetable that’s used as an important food source in many areas of the world, including Africa and the Caribbean. The cassava plant is resistant to drought, pests, and diseases, making it a popular carbohydrate and energy source in tropical and arid areas.1

    Cassava is high in calories and carbohydrates and provides several essential nutrients, including vitamin C and potassium. However, it’s important to take precautions when preparing cassava as the raw root contains toxic compounds that can harm health.

    Good Source of Several Essential Nutrients

    Cassava is concentrated in several vitamins and minerals that tend to be low in modern-day diets.

    For example, a cup of cooked cassava provides 10% of your daily needs for potassium, a mineral that’s essential for fluid balance, cellular function, and blood pressure regulation.2

    Because potassium is required for blood pressure regulation, it’s critical for maintaining the health of the heart, kidneys, and more. However, research shows the average American falls short of the adequate intake (AI) for potassium, which is currently set at 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day for adult males and 2,600 mg per day for adult females.2

    People who follow diets low in potassium-rich foods are more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease, which is why choosing potassium-rich foods is important for health.34

    Cassava is also high in vitamin C and folate. Vitamin C functions as a powerful antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from oxidative damage that may otherwise lead to disease.5 Because of its cellular-protective effects, consuming a vitamin C-rich diet may reduce the risk of certain health conditions, such as cancer.

    For example, a review of 57 studies found that having a higher vitamin C intake was associated with a lower incidence of several cancers, including breast cancer, gastric cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.6

    In addition to its role as an antioxidant, vitamin C is required for immune function and the production of collagen, the most abundant protein in the body.5

    Cassava is also a good source of folate, a B vitamin that’s needed for red blood cell production, growth, development, and the regulation of an amino acid called homocysteine. Though homocysteine is naturally found in your body in low amounts, high levels are associated with inflammation and oxidative stress and can increase the risk of heart disease. Maintaining optimal folate levels helps keep homocysteine in check, which is why consuming folate-rich foods, like cassava, is essential for keeping your heart healthy.7

    May Benefit Gut Health

    Cassava contains resistant starch, which is a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine. Resistant starch passes into the large intestine where it’s broken down or fermented by gut bacteria. This fermentation process leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, acetate, and propionate.8

    SCFAs promote gut health in several ways. They act as a fuel source for the cells lining the large intestine, maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier, regulate inflammation, and produce mucus. Adding sources of resistant starch into your diet can support digestive health.9

    Additionally, a cup of cooked cassava provides 3.04 grams (g) of fiber, which can help support healthy bowel movements, support feelings of fullness, and promote overall intestinal health and functioning.10

    Nutrition of Cassava

    Cassava is very high in carbohydrates and relatively high in calories. However, it’s a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin C, and several other nutrients.

    A one-cup serving of cooked cassava contains:10

    • Calories: 306
    • Protein: 2.27 g
    • Fat: 4.85 g
    • Carbohydrates: 63.4 g
    • Fiber: 3.04 g
    • Vitamin C: 29.1 mg or 32% of the Daily Value (DV)
    • Copper: 0.166 mg or 18% of the DV
    • Folate: 38.4 micrograms (mcg) or 16% of the DV
    • Potassium: 451 mg or 10% of the DV

    Just one cup of cooked cassava contains over 60 grams of carbs, making cassava a high-carb food. One serving of carbohydrates equates to 15 grams, so one cup of cassava provides four servings of carbohydrates.11

    Though this doesn’t make cassava unhealthy, people following low-carb diets and people with blood sugar regulation issues, such as those with type 2 diabetes, should avoid consuming large amounts of cassava.

    Cassava is a good source of several nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, folate, and copper. Cassava also contains smaller amounts of nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and fiber.10

    Risks of Cassava

    Raw cassava contains compounds called cyanogenic glycosides, which break down into hydrogen cyanide, a chemical that’s toxic to humans. Consuming raw or improperly prepared cassava could lead to cyanide poisoning and contribute to neurological diseases that cause irreversible spastic paralysis.12

    Although all types of cassava contain toxic compounds, bitter cassava, which isn’t recommended for human consumption, contains much higher levels of cyanogenic glycosides than sweet cassava, which is the type most commonly used for food. Most cases of cyanide poisoning due to cassava consumption are related to the ingestion of improperly prepared bitter cassava, which is sometimes grown as a food source in some areas of the world due to its drought resilience and high productivity.13

    Though sweet cassava does contain cyanogenic glycosides, these compounds can be reduced to safe levels by peeling the roots and then soaking them for a prolonged period or boiling them.1213

    As long as cassava products are properly prepared, they’re safe to eat. However, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should speak with your healthcare provider before consuming cassava to ensure safety.14

    Cassava is also high in carbs and low in fiber, fat, and protein. Because cassava is a high-carb food, it’s not appropriate for people following low-carb diets, such as keto diets.

    Tips for Consuming Cassava

    When properly prepared and cooked, cassava is safe to eat and can be used in the same way as other starchy vegetables. Cassava can made into mashes, fries, and chips and can be added to dishes such as soups, baked goods, and salads.

    If you’re interested in cooking with whole cassava, you must take the following steps to ensure it’s safe to eat:

    1. Rinse the cassava and cut off both ends.
    2. Use a sharp knife to remove the thick skin from the cassava.
    3. Cut the cassava in half length-wise and remove the inner core, similar to how you would remove the center of a pineapple.
    4. Cut the cassava into small places and place them into a pot of salted water.
    5. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer the cassava for about 30 minutes.
    6. Drain the cassava thoroughly and discard the water.
    7. The cooked cassava can now by mashed, fried, roasted, or made into chips.

    Cooked cassava has a mild, slightly nutty taste and soft texture and can be used in place of other starches, like potatoes and sweet potatoes.

    Because cassava products, like cassava flour, are naturally free from gluten, they can be used to make gluten-free baked goods, like bread and muffins.

    A Quick Review

    Cassava is a starchy vegetable that’s an important food source in many areas of the world, including Africa and the Caribbean. It’s a good source of calories, carbohydrates, and several vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and vitamin C.

    However, raw cassava contains toxic compounds, so it must be properly prepared and thoroughly cooked before consuming. If you’re interested in trying cassava, it’s important to learn how to prepare and cook this starchy vegetable to ensure it’s safe to consume.

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