Cassava Benefits and Dangers (2024)

Cassava is a root vegetable that contains vitamin C and copper. It may also contain harmful compounds if consumed raw.

Cassava is a root vegetable widely consumed in many countries around the globe.

It provides many important nutrients, including resistant starch, which may have health benefits.

Nevertheless, as with all foods, you should be mindful to consume it in moderation. This is especially true considering that it’s fairly high in calories and contains potentially harmful chemicals.

This article explores the unique properties of cassava to determine whether it’s healthy and safe to include in your diet.

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Cassava is a nutty-flavored, starchy root vegetable or tuber. Native to South America, it’s a major source of calories and carbs for people in many countries. Nigeria, Thailand, and Indonesia are the top cassava-producing countries in the world (1).

It’s grown in tropical regions around the world because of its ability to withstand difficult growing conditions. In fact, it’s one of the most drought-tolerant crops (2).

Although both sweet and bitter varieties of cassava are available, sweet cassava is more common in the United States, where it’s often referred to as yuca, manioc, or Brazilian arrowroot.

The most commonly consumed part of the cassava plant is the root, which is incredibly versatile. You can eat it whole, grated, or ground into flour to use it in bread and crackers.

Cassava root is also used to produce tapioca, a type of starch, as well as garri, a product similar to tapioca.

Individuals with food allergies can benefit from using cassava root in cooking and baking because it’s free of gluten, grains, and nuts.

It’s important to note is that you must cook cassava root before eating it, as it can be poisonous if consumed raw.

Summary

Cassava is a versatile root vegetable that’s widely consumed in several parts of the world. It’s also what tapioca starch is made from. You must cook it before eating it, as the raw form can be poisonous.

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked cassava root contains 191 calories. Around 84% of them comes from carbs, while the rest come from protein and fat (3).

One serving also provides some fiber and a few vitamins and minerals (3).

The following nutrients are found in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked cassava (3):

  • Calories: 191
  • Protein: 1.5 grams
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Carbs: 40 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Vitamin C: 20% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Copper: 12% of the DV
  • Thiamine: 7% of the DV
  • Folate: 6% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 6% of the DV
  • Potassium: 6% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 5% of the DV
  • Niacin: 5% of the DV

Cassava root is particularly high in vitamin C, an important vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, supports collagen production, and enhances immunity, among other benefits (4).

Plus, it’s rich in copper, a mineral necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis, energy production, iron metabolism, and more (5).

Summary

Cassava is a significant source of carbs. It also provides a little fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Cassava may offer several potential health benefits.

Contains resistant starch

Cassava is high in resistant starch, a type of starch that bypasses digestion and has properties similar to those of soluble fiber.

Eating foods that are high in resistant starch may benefit your health in several ways (6).

First, resistant starch feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and may help reduce inflammation and promote digestive health (6, 7).

Second, resistant starch has been studied for its ability to improve metabolic health and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. These benefits are likely related to improved blood sugar management, increased feelings of fullness, and reduced appetite (8, 9, 10, 11).

It’s worth noting that processed cassava products like tapioca tend to contain less resistant starch than cooked cassava root. Interestingly, cooling cooked cassava root may further increase its content of resistant starch (12, 13).

Good source of vitamin C

Cassava contains a hearty dose of vitamin C, with 20% of the DV in each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving (3).

Vitamin C plays a key role in many aspects of health, including immunity.

In fact, research shows that vitamin C can help protect against oxidative stress and support the function of immune cells in your body (14).

Vitamin C also protects against skin damage and stimulates the production of collagen, a type of protein found throughout your body in your bones, skin, muscles, and joints (15).

Summary

Cassava is a good source of resistant starch, which supports gut health and blood sugar management. It also contains vitamin C, a key micronutrient that can enhance immune function and collagen production.

Although there are some benefits of adding cassava to your diet, there are also downsides to consider.

High in calories

Cassava contains 191 calories per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, which is high compared with other root vegetables (3).

For comparison, the same serving size of sweet potatoes has 90 calories, while the same amount of carrots has 35 calories (16, 17).

Its high calorie content is what makes it such an important staple crop in many countries.

However, keep in mind that consuming more calories than you burn can contribute to weight gain over time (18).

For this reason, it’s best to enjoy cassava in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Generally, try sticking to around 1/3–1/2 cup (73–113 grams) per serving.

Can be harmful if consumed raw

Cassava may be dangerous if consumed raw, in large amounts, or if prepared improperly.

Raw cassava contains chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides. If eaten, these can release cyanide into your body (19, 20).

Regularly consuming cyanogenic glycosides or eating them in high amounts increases the risk of cyanide poisoning. Cyanide poisoning is associated with impaired thyroid and nerve function, paralysis, organ damage, and even death (21, 22).

Because protein helps rid the body of cyanide, those who have an overall poor nutrition status and low protein intake are more likely to experience these effects (23).

Soaking and cooking cassava decreases the content of these harmful chemicals. Plus, pairing the root vegetable with a well-rounded diet that’s high in protein may reduce your risk of adverse health outcomes (22, 23).

Processed versions may be lower in nutrients

Processing cassava by peeling, chopping, and cooking it significantly reduces its content of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and resistant starch. Still, cooking the root before consumption is necessary to avoid side effects (24).

Some older studies have found that boiling cassava root retains more nutrients, compared with other cooking methods like roasting or frying. The exception is vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat and easily leaches into water (24).

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that some popular, processed forms of cassava, including tapioca and garri, have limited nutritional value.

For example, tapioca pearls, like those often used in bubble tea, are high in calories but lack fiber and other important micronutrients (25).

Therefore, it’s best to stick to less processed varieties of cassava whenever possible and opt for boiled dishes to maximize the nutritional value.

Summary

Cassava is relatively high in calories and must be prepared before eating to avoid adverse health effects. Some highly processed varieties like tapioca are low in important micronutrients but high in calories.

Cassava is generally considered safe when prepared properly and enjoyed in moderation.

While cases of cyanide poisoning associated with this root are rare, it’s still important to cook it properly to prevent adverse side effects (22).

Here are some ways you can make cassava safe to eat (22, 23):

  • Peel it. The peel of cassava root contains most of its cyanide-producing compounds, so it’s a good idea to discard it before cooking and eating the vegetable.
  • Soak it. Soaking cassava by submerging it in water for 48–60 hours before cooking it may reduce its content of harmful chemicals.
  • Cook it. Since harmful chemicals are found in raw cassava, it’s essential to cook it thoroughly before eating, for example by boiling, roasting, or baking it.
  • Pair it with protein. Eating protein along with cassava may be beneficial, as this macronutrient helps rid your body of toxic cyanide.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. You can prevent adverse effects from cassava by including a variety of foods in your diet rather than relying on it as your main source of nutrition.

There are many ways to incorporate cassava into your diet.

For example, you can use it to make snacks and side dishes. It’s commonly sliced and then baked or roasted, similarly to how you’d prepare potatoes.

Additionally, you can mash it or add it to stir-fries, omelets, and soups. It’s also sometimes ground into flour and used in grain-free bread, crackers, tortillas, and pancakes.

Plus, you can enjoy it in the form of tapioca, the starch extracted from the root through a process of washing and pulping. Tapioca is commonly used as a thickener for puddings, pies, and soups.

Other popular dishes that feature cassava include:

  • Cassava cake: a Filipino dessert made with grated cassava root
  • Farofa: a Brazilian side dish that uses toasted cassava flour
  • Fufu: a dough-like food eaten in many African countries, made from fermented and puréed cassava
  • Tapai: a fermented food often enjoyed in Southeast Asia, prepared from cassava, rice, or other starches
  • Kabkab: a traditional Filipino wafer made from ground cassava

Note that products made from the root, such as cassava flour and tapioca, contain little to no cyanide-inducing compounds and are safe to eat.

Summary

Cassava is typically used similarly to how you’d use potatoes and makes an excellent addition to many dishes. It can also be ground into flour or used as tapioca starch.

Cassava is a type of root vegetable. It’s considered a staple food in many countries thanks to its unique ability to withstand difficult growing conditions and relatively high calorie density.

In addition to being versatile, it’s a good source of resistant starch and vitamin C.

However, it requires proper preparation to avoid adverse health effects. Particularly, avoid eating it raw. It’s also worth noting that processed varieties like tapioca may be lower in important micronutrients.

Still, cassava root makes a great addition to stir-fries, soups, baked goods, and desserts and is frequently featured in traditional dishes around the globe.

Just one thing

Try this today: You can easily swap other root vegetables for cassava in your favorite recipes to add some diversity to your diet. For a tasty side dish, try making mashed yuca, cassava chips, or yuca fries.

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Cassava Benefits and Dangers (2024)

FAQs

What is the risk of cassava? ›

Cassava that is prepared improperly can contain chemicals that are converted to cyanide in the body. This may cause cyanide poisoning and lead to certain paralysis conditions. This is especially true if eaten as part of a low-protein diet. In some people, eating cassava can cause an allergic reaction.

Is cassava good or bad for you? ›

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.

What are the warnings of cassava? ›

People should not eat cassava raw, because it contains naturally occurring forms of cyanide, which are toxic to ingest. Soaking and cooking cassava makes these compounds harmless. Eating raw or incorrectly prepared cassava can lead to severe side effects.

What does cassava do to the brain? ›

Various animal studies on neurotoxicity due to cassava reported decreases in motor coordination and neurotransmitter changes, particularly dopaminergic changes in the brain (Mathangi et al., 1999; Mathangi and Namasivayam, 2000) .

How much cassava is safe to eat? ›

However, keep in mind that consuming more calories than you burn can contribute to weight gain over time ( 18 ). For this reason, it's best to enjoy cassava in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Generally, try sticking to around 1/3–1/2 cup (73–113 grams) per serving.

What are the two diseases of cassava? ›

The two major cassava diseases common to cassava crops in Nigeria are cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CMSD). Yellowing and distortion of leaves. Dark green blisters.

How to remove cyanide in cassava? ›

Drying is the most ubiquitous processing operation in many tropical countries. Sun drying eliminates more cyanide than oven drying because of the prolonged contact time between linamarase and the glucosides in sun drying. Soaking followed by boiling is better than soaking or boiling alone in removing cyanide.

What is the cassava toxin called? ›

Toxicity. Cassava roots, peels and leaves are dangerous to eat raw because they contain two cyanogenic glucosides, linamarin and lotaustralin. These are decomposed by linamarase, a naturally occurring enzyme in cassava, liberating hydrogen cyanide.

Which is healthier, potato or cassava? ›

However edible varieties of cassava and potatoes grown for consumption are low on toxicity. Cassava is more healthier if you can eat the green leaves which are edible after blanching/boiling and straining and contain useful amounts of amino acids/proteins.

What is the cause of death of cassava? ›

Symptoms of cassava intoxication, cassava poisoning appear after eating cassava with symptoms such as headache, pain in limbs, abdominal pain,... The reason is that in cassava contains cyanhydric acid that causes poisoning and even poisoning. can even be fatal if tolerated in large quantities.

Why do people sleep after eating cassava? ›

Actually starch foods such as cassava, rice, macaroni, and posho are known to enhance the transfer of sleep inducing chemicals in the brain. In contrast, proteins inhibit the transfer of the same chemicals, and help to maintain alertness.

Is cassava good for the heart? ›

Cooked cassava provides about 16% of the daily value for vitamin C, an important antioxidant nutrient needed for immune system function and collagen production. This powerful vitamin may also help lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

How do you remove cyanide from cassava? ›

Drying is the most ubiquitous processing operation in many tropical countries. Sun drying eliminates more cyanide than oven drying because of the prolonged contact time between linamarase and the glucosides in sun drying. Soaking followed by boiling is better than soaking or boiling alone in removing cyanide.

Is cassava high in lead? ›

lead concentration in peeled cassava tubers was found to be significantly higher than that of cassava leaves at 95% confidence level. The differences in lead contents of soils and cassava tissues (Table 2) between the farms under study were found to be statistically significant (ANOVA, p < 0.05).

What is the toxicity in cassava due to the presence of? ›

Toxicity of cassava arises due to the presence of the cyanoglucosides linamarin and lotaustralin which are hydrolysed by endogenous enzyme linamarase to acetonecyanohydrin (ACN) and cyanide (CN) which are toxic.

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