Is Tapioca Paleo?
Tapioca is an alternative starch that may or may not belong on the Paleo menu. As a matter of classification, let’s start by defining what tapioca is not: it isn’t a grain, legume or potato. It’s the purified starch of the cassava root and is both gluten- and dairy-free. Used in puddings, “flours” and boba tea; Tapioca is another way to add carbohydrate to a diet, if it’s needed or required.
So, is it Paleo?
Tapioca is the third-largest source of dietary carbohydrates in the world. Functioning as a staple for over half a billion people in the developing world. And while it’s a good source of carbohydrates, cassava is a lousy source of protein. In fact, a diet made up of primarily cassava root can lead to a condition known as protein-energy malnutrition.
Similar to other roots and tubers, cassava contains low levels of anti-nutrients and toxins. It also doesn’t offer much in the way of actual nutrients. One cup contains a modest 2.4 mg of iron and just 2% of the RDI for folate.
However, while tapioca doesn’t offer much more to a diet other than a source of carbs (without a whole lot of other nutrients), because it’s gluten- dairy- and grain-free; Some Paleo folks look to it as an alternative to sweet potatoes or squash, albeit one with much less nutrition.
What do the Paleo gurus say?
Mark Sisson says: “I wouldn’t go overboard with it, especially if it comes in pudding or boba tea form, but it’s definitely a “safe starch.” The major downside is that it’s just starch. It’s extremely low in anti-nutrients, sure, but it contains almost no nutrients, either. It won’t do you much harm, but it won’t do you much good, unless all you’re after is glucose.
Diane Sanfilippo says: [Sanfillippo ranks cassava high on her recommended list of vegetable sources for Paleo carbs for post-workout glycogen replacement to muscles after CrossFit or HIIT-style training or longer, endurance-based training.]. “For many people, increased carbohydrate intake seems to increase their appetite as well as the physiological response of insulin, our storage hormone for nutrients. This doesn’t generally support a strong weight-loss effort. However, for fueling athletic activities, increased carbohydrate intake is often recommended, and I would like for people to have a resource so that they’re not falling back on processed, refined foods and grain/legume products for their carb sources.”
Neely Quinn says: While tapioca is not technically on some Paleo experts’ lists of acceptable foods for Paleo eaters, it’s not a grain, and it’s not a legume. It’s certainly not dairy or refined sugar, and it’s not a potato, so I’m calling it good. I would be lying to you if I said it offered much in the way of nutrients to your diet besides carbohydrates.
With Paleo’s focus on nutrient-dense foods, tapioca’s weak nutritional profile wouldn’t place it on the ideal list of Paleo foods. However, if you need more carbs and sweet potato or squash just aren’t cutting it, small amounts of tapioca seem to be acceptable additions, say the experts.