Yucca: A Healthy Root

Here is the low-down on John Bagnulo’s lecture about “Gut Health” in Costa Rica during our recent retreat. We will also expand on this during our April retreat:  Finding Your Food Map.

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Here John displays two perfect resistant starch vegetables:
cassava or yucca and plantains.

Many of the whole food carbohydrates in the diet are starches. These starches are long chains of glucose that are in root vegetables and grains, but some of the starch gets undigested and passes through the digestive tract unchanged. This means it is resistant to digestion, so it is called resistant starch, which is a form of soluble fiber. Other health benefits of including resistant starch in your diet are: lower blood sugar levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced appetite. Making sure you have a resistant starch in two meals a day is a good practice.

Cooking root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, etc. too much, will create a simple starch and you will have lost the resistant starch. Much of this process is about learning how to cook and also in training your taste buds.

This resistant starch is found in some starchy foods, including raw potatoes and green (unripe) bananas. But seriously, who is going to eat a raw potato or unripe banana? (although you could include a piece in your morning smoothie!)

But when you undercook these starches or cook them al dente, and they are allowed to cool, the digestible starches are turned into resistant starches in a process called retrograde. You see, resistant starch feeds the good bacteria in the intestine. When the bacteria digest resistant starches, they form several compounds, including gases and short-chain fatty acids. All good for our health and probably way more information than you want to know when you are eating a simple Yucca (or potato) Salad.

When we were in Costa Rica, we had an abundance of yucca (see photo of John holding yucca he pulled out of the ground!) and plantains. We undercooked the plantains and served them with either ginger or shaved coconut at room temperature, of course! You can find yucca in any Brazilian market either fresh or frozen. We cook it for about 20-30 minutes (remember to undercook it!) in well-salted water with some cilantro leaves. Allow it to cool and it is ready to be made into a salad (think potato salad!)

We made our own mayonnaise with avocados or local farm eggs (we do not recommend making mayonnaise with eggs unless they are local eggs).

Yucca is available in most large grocery stores (often wax coated) in the potato and onion section. It can also be found in a large bag in the freezer section of most Brazilian markets. If using frozen or fresh, cover it with salted water and cook for 25 minutes. In Costa Rica, during our 2015 retreat, we added a handful of kulantro, a very hardy cilantro to give it a wonderful savory flavor. The nutrient content of yucca is comparable to American potatoes. A 5 lb. bag of peeled and frozen yucca cost $5.25 at our local Brazilian grocery.

Yucca root contains about 38 grams of carbs per 3.5 ounce (100 grams) serving. This is a perfect resistant starch if served at room temperature. A yucca, like a sweet potato or white potato or rice, is a perfect source of glucose. Glucose is needed to feed aspects of our physiology from time to time, without the anti-nutrients that often accompany something like oatmeal or brown rice. The heat in cooking breaks the starch in these foods into glucose fragments. Once allowed to cool, the starch will retrograde back into a more resistant starch that can be very beneficial for gut flora in particular.

Try this recipe for Yucca Salad, the same one we made on our retreat!  The homemade mayonnaise recipes can be found here at Two Homemade Mayos.

Featured Image Photo Credit (Cassava-Yucca): CIAT

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