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Taro plant is believed to be one of the first crops to be cultivated by humans and goes by many names, including Chinese potato, cocoyam, dasheen, dalo, and curcas.
It is a large herbaceous perennial plant with a corm-like structure underground and heart-shaped leaves that appear like an elephant’s ear growing out of long, stout petioles.
Taro has a fibrous root system that extends from the starchy corm just a meter below the soil surface. The corm grows to the size of a turnip and is oblong or cylindrical in shape. The root vegetable has a brown, irregular, and hairy outer surface, and the flesh within is generally white, cream yellow, or purple, depending upon the cultivar type.
If you know anything about Polynesian cooking, you cannot be a stranger to the globular fleshy taproot of the taro plant. This thick tuber stalk is the star ingredient of one of Hawaii’s most celebrated dishes – the creamy purple delicacy known as “poi.” In fact, Hawaiians love their taro so much that they even have an annual food festival in its honor.
Taro root has a close affinity to potatoes in terms of its starch content and the mildly sweet taste and texture it acquires on cooking. In fact, health-conscious people are increasingly substituting MSG-loaded processed potato chips with baked taro chips that are easily available in most health stores today.
Whether it be taro leaves, roots, or corm, every part of this plant can be used as a dietary ingredient. However, one must bear in mind that this healthy and easy-to-digest plant is fit for consumption only after cooking.
Note: Taro in its raw form is considered to be highly toxic due to its overwhelming oxalate content. Oxalates at this high of a concentration can trigger not only lip, mouth, and tongue swelling but also burning pain and gastric inflammation. Cooking the plant with baking soda or steeping it overnight helps dilute its toxic composition such that it becomes edible.
Benefits of Taro Roots
Here’s how taro root is good for your health.
1. Promotes blood circulation and health
Taro root contains two of the most important blood-building minerals, copper and iron, making it a recommended dietary addition for people with anemia and other conditions related to blood health and circulation. (1)
If you happen to have low hemoglobin, your body may lack sufficient iron and copper to manufacture healthy red blood cells. This can lead to symptoms like headaches, dwindled energy, and concentration issues. You can avert the risk of full-blown anemia by supplementing your body’s iron and copper needs through your diet.
An animal study published in the Journal of Medical Sciences revealed that there was a dose‑ and time‑dependent increase in hemoglobin, hematocrit, and red blood cells in normal Wistar rats and leukocytosis in both normal and anemic Wistar rats through the administration of crude methanolic extract of Colocasia esculenta leaves. (2)
Taro root is also touted to enhance blood circulation throughout the body, which essentially translates to better oxygen and nutrient supply to every organ of the body.
2. Keeps your skin healthy
Taro root is an excellent source of vitamin E and vitamin A, both of which protect you from various agents that cause skin damage. (3) These potent antioxidants scavenge free radicals that break down collagen, the protein responsible for keeping the skin taut, supple, and young.
The gradual degeneration of the skin’s support structure due to oxidative stress sets the ground for wrinkles, fine lines, skin sagging, and other signs of aging. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is perhaps one of the easiest ways to set back this kind of skin damage.
Both vitamins A and E work at the cellular level to improve your skin health, leading to fast healing of wounds and diminished appearance of blemishes and wrinkles. Moreover, they help reduce the skin’s sensitivity to the sun by providing some degree of natural protection against UV ray-induced redness and pigmentation. (4)
So, if you wish to keep your skin looking, working, and feeling good from the inside, start incorporating taro root in your diet.
3. Supports digestive health
Taro root contains both digestible and nondigestible carbohydrates, each of which serves its individual purpose in maintaining optimum nutrition and proper digestive functioning.
Dietary fiber accounts for around 12 percent of taro root’s carbohydrate content. This form of fiber may be soluble or insoluble, both of which play a key role in healthy digestion.
Insoluble fiber helps regularize bowel movements by adding bulk to your stools and making it easier for the food to pass quickly through the digestive system.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that adds weight to the ingested food and slows down its absorption and digestion within the digestive tract. As a result, you tend to feel full for longer, which aids in the suppression of your overall appetite, thus making fibrous foods a godsend for weight-watchers.
The fact that taro root can single-handedly supply a quarter of your daily recommended fiber intake makes it an excellent complex carbohydrate source. Replete with slow-digesting carbohydrates, this sought-after root vegetable has the added benefit of being low in sugar as well.
4. Helps with diabetes management and prevention
Due to its dietary fiber content, taro root consumption can help lower your risk of developing diabetes. Dietary fiber helps to slow the digestion of carbohydrates and the absorption of glucose molecules. This, in turn, helps the body to regulate the release of insulin and control glucose levels in the blood, thereby providing better glycemic control. (7)
This slow-digesting carbohydrate also has a low glycemic index, making it an ideal choice for diabetics. Taro can be considered a healthy carbohydrate that provides your body with sufficient energy over an extended period of time without causing a rapid spike in your blood sugar.
The taro plant also has a hypoglycemic or sugar-lowering effect, which can be traced back to its cyanoglucoside content. (8)
A study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease found that the intake of cocoyam (taro roots) at a concentration of 810 g/kg body weight decreased hyperglycemia or dangerously high blood sugar in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats by 233.42 percent. (9)
People with diabetes are generally recommended a fiber-rich diet to prevent the rapid elevation and plunges in blood sugar. For this reason, taro root can be extremely beneficial for people with preexisting and borderline diabetes.
Furthermore, not only can taro root help with the effective management of glycemic levels, but it also has enough dietary fiber to delay the onset of diabetes in high-risk groups.
5. Improves heart health
Taro root contains a significant amount of potassium, an essential mineral that is present in all body tissue as it is necessary for normal cell function. (3)
Potassium is an electrolyte that helps facilitate healthy fluid transfer between membranes and tissues throughout the body. It regulates the amount of fluid in the body by maintaining a proper water balance as well as acid-base balance in the blood and tissues.
Potassium is also responsible for negating the adverse effects of sodium in the body and helps lower blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels and arteries. As a result, the stress on the overall cardiovascular system is significantly brought down, contributing to improved heart health and function. (10)(11)
6. Bolsters immunity
Taro root is known to exhibit a great deal of immune-boosting and disease-fighting potential due to its nutrient-rich composition.
It has antioxidative, hypoglycemic, hypocholesterolemic, immunomodulatory, and antimicrobial properties that can be attributed to a wide array of bioactive compounds present in taro, namely, glycoalkaloids, phenolic compounds, saponins, phytic acids, and bioactive proteins. These properties account for many of taro root’s health benefits. (1)
Taro root also has significant amounts of vitamin C to offer. This vitamin reinforces your body’s natural defense system and protects against common illnesses such as colds, cough, and the common flu.
7. Maintains optimum eye health and vision
Beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, both of which are forms of vitamin A, are two of the major antioxidant constituents of taro. Together they help improve your eyesight as well as your overall ocular health. (13)(14)
Dietary intake of vitamin A through foods such as taro roots can benefit your vision in more ways than one. This powerful antioxidant helps deter macular degeneration, which can progressively put you at an increased risk of vision loss.
Vitamin A also helps to lubricate dry eyes and works in conjunction with lutein to help improve conditions associated with the loss of peripheral vision.
8. Strengthens bones and teeth
An adequate dietary supply of magnesium, iron, and calcium is perhaps the most essential prerequisite for a strong skeletal structure. Concentrated amounts of these bone-strengthening minerals are found in taro vegetable, making it an important food for the formation and maintenance of bones. (15)
Calcium, in particular, helps in the normal functioning of nerves and muscles in humans and other vertebrates. (16) Thus, if you are prone to accidents or you fear that your bones might be too brittle, including taro root in your diet can lower your risk of fractures.
Your dental structure is another key component of your skeletal frame that is calcium rich. Thus, taro root holds a lot of promise for the restoration of your oral health by keeping your teeth healthy and strong.
9. Exhibits anticancer properties
People suffering from or at risk of cancer can benefit from consuming antioxidants that help prevent cellular damage at the hands of free radicals. It is this form of free radical-induced cell damage that progresses into rapid cell mutation or cancer if left unchecked.
Taro root is one such food that has a heavy supply of antioxidants including cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene, both of which may neutralize such unstable elements present in your body and combat the oxidative stress caused by them. (3)
The cryptoxanthin in taro root is known to reduce the risk of mouth and lung cancer in particular. (19)
Nutritional Content of Taro Roots
Nutritional content of taro root per 100 grams: (3)
Simple Ways to Incorporate Taro Root in Your Diet
Along with its toxic oxalate content, raw taro contains protease, which can make your mouth burn or sting. However, cooking the plant deactivates this enzyme, making it safe to eat.
Taro root is a versatile ingredient whose health-promoting potential can be optimized through the following recipes:
- Cut the corm into wafer-thin slices, bake them, and voila! You have yourself a low-calorie and highly nutritious alternative to regular chips.
- There’s nothing a potato can do that taro root can’t. If you are a fan of mashed potatoes but not a fan of the extra pounds that come along with it, steam and mash taro root instead for a perfectly healthy side dish.
- Taro can also be consumed as a beverage, either by blending it into a drink or steeping taro powder for a healthy brew.
- You can make fritters out of this sweet-tasting delight. Just season it with your favorite spice mix and fry it like you would any other fritter.
- Taro can also be added to stews and soups for added texture, flavor, and, of course, nutrition.
Side Effects of Taro Root
Taro contains a lot of carbohydrates and starch. Starch is usually broken down into glucose and converted to energy. As with all carbohydrates, overconsumption of carbohydrates and calories through taro would make the body convert carbohydrates into fat. The fat would then be stored, and this could lead to weight gain.
Although taro root is a recommended dietary addition for people with diabetes, it is important not to go overboard with its consumption. Healthy or not, one cannot undermine the considerable carbohydrate content of taro roots, more so if you are a diabetic.
Carbohydrates serve their nutritional purpose best when consumed in moderation. Excessive consumption of taro root will supply your body with more starch than required, thereby increasing your blood sugar level.
The low calorie count of taro root makes it a good bet for effective weight management. However, a lot of people tend to dilute its potential by adding ingredients such as butter, sour cream, and other fatty components; these ingredients increase the calories and your calorie intake.
If you wish to maximize the health benefits of this root vegetable, it is best to eat it either as a side dish or as an individual entree with a side of veggies. This kind of carbohydrate distribution will help balance out the meal without making it too heavy on calories.
Lastly, if you are new to taro roots, you should be aware that it can be quite dangerous if consumed raw. In its raw state, its calcium oxalate content has adverse side effects. The needle-shaped crystal form of calcium oxalate can produce a burning sensation and irritation when handled with bare hands or consumed without cooking.
So, to skirt such reactions, wear gloves while cooking taro root, use baking soda in its preparation, and steep the root overnight before cooking.
Additionally, due to the high oxalate content, taro root consumption is also known to trigger the formation of kidney stones and gout. Thoroughly boiling the roots for an extended period is advised to avoid such health risks.
Taro root makes for a great addition to your diet not just because of its sweet vanilla-flavored potato-like taste but also because of its nutrient-dense composition.
This root vegetable is richly endowed with various minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, manganese, and copper, all of which play an essential role in human health. What makes the taro plant an even greater benefit for your health is the significant bulk of carbs and dietary fiber that it contains.
Taro root is appetizing and healthy in equal measures, something that cannot be said of most foods that are marketed as nutritious finds.