In Rwanda, cassava or ‘imyumbati’ as it’s locally known, is among the staple foods consumed in the country.
The root is versatile and can be eaten whole, chopped or ground into flour to make bread, for example.
Nutritionists say cassava is loaded with nutritional benefits, making it important to one’s health. However, experts warn that cassava can have dangerous effects, especially if it is eaten raw and in large amounts.
The root vegetable is known for its significant source of carbs and also provides fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says vitamin B and C, calcium, carbohydrates, and minerals are just some of the vitamins loaded in cassava.
He says it is an excellent source of vitamins, such as thiamine, folates, riboflavin, Vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid.
Uwiragiye, however, cautions that some ways of cooking cassava significantly reduce the nutritional value, and are, therefore, not advisable as far as nutrition is concerned.
He explains that this is because many of the vitamins and minerals are destroyed in the process, as well as most of the fibre and resistant starch.
Rather, he notes, boiling cassava root is one cooking method that has been shown to retain most nutrients, with the exception of vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat and easily leaches into water.
Studies have shown that the intake of Vitamin C assists to lower the appearance of wrinkles, skin dryness and slows down the ageing process.
Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital, says vitamin C is vital for the formation of ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and skin.
And that it also speeds up the healing process of a wound. Additionally, he says, a diet rich in antioxidants cuts risk of skin cancer.
The nutritionist goes on to add that consuming cassava has also been shown to reduce blood sugar levels.
“The fibre in cassava makes the process of absorption of sugar into the bloodstream slower. It’s ideal for people who suffer from diabetes. They can experience satiety without worrying about the blood sugar level,” he explains.
Tabaro says cassava has also been shown to assist in the treatment of cancer.
How this happens, he explains, is that the drugs with the cancer-fighting effect used in chemotherapy could be promoted with a high intake of Vitamin C.
He says vitamin C targets only those cells that require these nutrients, whereas normal cells are also damaged by the drugs.
Researchers report that vitamin C is an effective remedy for the treatment of lung and ovarian cancer.
On the other hand, Uwiragiye says vitamin C has the ability to inhibit the damage caused by the pollutants, toxic chemicals, and free radicals.
He says the build-up of free radicals lead to health ailments, such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
“The free radicals develop during the process of breaking down of food or when exposed to tobacco, smoke and radiation,” he adds.
The combination of calcium, manganese, copper, and zinc assist to lower the loss of bone.
Uwiragiye further notes that in older women who are more prone to weak bones and bone fractures, consuming cassava can help prevent bone diseases.
He explains that the deficiency of manganese leads to bone ailments since the manganese enhances bone metabolism by assisting the formation of bone regulatory enzymes and hormones.
The studies have shown that the intake of manganese with vitamin D, zinc, calcium, copper, magnesium, and boron promote the bone mass which helps to treat osteoporosis.
Cassava also helps in boosting one’s immunity. Tabaro says vitamin B1 found in cassava assists to sustain the muscle tone on the digestive tract walls. The healthy digestive tract helps to absorb the nutrients from the food that is used to enhance immunity and prevents diseases.
Nutritionists say cassava can be boiled, steamed, mashed, baked, fried, grilled or added to the stews.
The root, they say, can be made into a flour or ground meal by washing, peeling, grating, pressing the juice and then drying the meal.
The young leaves and tubers are also edible, either by being boiled or fried.
The flour of cassava is used to make cake, bread or cookies.
According to HealthOnline, cassava may be dangerous if consumed raw, in large amounts or when it is prepared improperly.
This is because raw cassava contains chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide in the body when consumed.
When eaten frequently, these increase the risk of cyanide poisoning, which may impair thyroid and nerve function. It is associated with paralysis and organ damage, and can be fatal.
Those who have an overall poor nutrition status and low protein intake are more likely to experience these effects, since protein helps rid the body of cyanide.
Its high calorie count may do more harm than good for the general population.
Consuming high-calorie foods on a regular basis is associated with weight gain and obesity, so consume cassava in moderation and in reasonable portions.Follow Lydia_AtienoM