Can You Eat Cassava Products with Prediabetes? 

Somi Igbene PhD ANutrMarch 14, 2022

Getting a diagnosis of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes can leave you wondering if carbohydrate-rich foods are suitable to eat. If your traditional diet is carbohydrate-heavy, you may also be panicking about what to eat. 

Garri, fufu, and tapioca (abacha) are cassava-derived staples in Nigerian and Ghanaian cuisine. While carbohydrate-rich, they are inexpensive and easily accessible sources of essential nutrients. You can eat garri, fufu, and tapioca if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, but you must carefully incorporate them into your diet to avoid blood sugar spikes. 

This article explores how these cassava products affect your blood sugar and how to eat them safely with prediabetes.  

The Nutritional Value of Cassava

Cassava, also known as manioc or yucca, is to Africans as rice is to Asians or wheat and potatoes are to Europeans. It is a staple food in many African and developing countries because it is drought-intolerant, and its mature roots can maintain their nutritional value for long periods without water. Remarkably, cassava provides more energy than many other staple African foods, including maize, sweet potato, rice, sorghum, and wheat. 

Its roots and leaves are the most valuable parts of the crop, but Africans often eat the roots. On average, 100g of cassava root provides 160kcal, 38g of carbohydrates, 1.4g of protein, 1.8g of fibre and 0.28g of fat. 

The roots are a source of calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc and manganese. They are excellent sources of vitamin C, but processing into garri, fufu, and tapioca results in leaching into the water. Unlike its roots, cassava leaves are rich sources of protein, vitamins B1, B2, and C, and carotenoids. They are also rich in iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and calcium sources. 

Cassava Products in Nigeria and Ghana

Traditional cassava processing involves peeling, drying, milling, roasting, sieving, steaming, pounding and mixing in cold or hot water. Specific combinations of these processes create different cassava products. Notably, these steps are necessary to reduce the cyanide content of cassava and improve its taste. 

In Nigeria, cassava is processed into three main products – garri, fufu, tapioca. Garri and fufu are typically eaten with nut, seed or vegetable-based stews, while tapioca is eaten as a snack, sometimes with coconut.  

Garri

Garri is the most popular product made from cassava in Nigeria. Its production involves peeling, washing, and grinding or grating the roots. The grated roots are put into jute sacks for up to five days to ferment (removes cyanide and makes garri sour) and then pressed to remove excess water.

The resulting sediment is sieved and fried into granules that can be stored long-term. Sometimes, a small amount of palm oil is added while frying to make yellow garri. In Nigeria, sour garri (fermented for longer than average) is known as Ijebu garri.

Garri can be eaten as a snack with cold water, sugar and peanuts, or it is stirred in hot water to form a stiff dough (eba) eaten with a nut, seed, or vegetable-based soup. 

Fufu

Fufu is fermented cassava and is another popular food in Nigeria and

Ghana. To make it, natives peel raw cassava and cut it into large chunks, and they then soak it in water for up to five days to soften.

The softened cassava is sieved and allowed to settle for about four hours, and then the water is tipped out. The sediment is packed into a cloth bag, tied and squeezed under heavy pressure to drain excess water. 

The resulting meal is rolled into balls and cooked in boiling water for about 30 to 40 minutes. The cooked mass is then pounded with a mortar and pestle to form a stiff dough that is eaten with a nut, seed or vegetable-based soup. 

Tapioca (Abacha)

Cassava is peeled, washed, boiled, cut into thin pieces, and soaked in cold water to preserve. It can be eaten with coconut or palm nuts. In other cultures, tapioca is eaten as a pudding, pancakes or crepes. 

Those with a low score raise blood sugar the slowest, while those with a high score raise it the quickest. Glucose raises blood sugar the fastest and has a GI rating of 100. Scientists compare other foods to glucose to derive their GI score. 

How Cassava Products Affect Your Blood Sugar

Scientists determine how carbohydrate-containing foods affect blood sugar by measuring their glycaemic index (GI). The GI ranks food on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 100 (highest) based on how quickly it raises your blood sugar.

“Garri has a GI rating of 92, fufu a GI of 84 and tapioca a GI of 78, meaning that all three foods raise blood sugar very quickly. “

To determine a food’s GI score, scientists give healthy individuals a portion of the food containing 50g of carbohydrates and then measure their blood sugar levels at regular intervals (usually every 30 minutes) for two hours. They then average the glucose response and compare it to glucose.

Scientists have measured the GI rating of garri, fufu and tapioca, and they have found that garri has a GI rating of 92, fufu a GI of 84 and tapioca a GI of 78. These scores mean that all three foods raise blood sugar very quickly

How to Eat Cassava Products Without Blood Sugar Spikes

Even though garri, fufu and tapioca are high-glycaemic foods that can cause blood sugar spikes, you can still them if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. But you must be careful how you eat them.

Essentially, you should eat moderate portions of garri, fufu or tapioca and pair them with high-quality proteins, high-quality fats, and vegetables to prevent blood sugar spikes. Proteins, fats, and vegetables slow down digestion, slowing the release of insulin and glucose into the bloodstream.

The correct portion of these foods varies from person to person and depends on your age, weight, lifestyle, and health goals. For help determining the right portions for you, check out the personalised portions planner

The Bottom Line

Cassava is a staple food in many African developing countries, including Nigeria and Ghana. Because of its drought-resistant nature, it can be stored and retain its nutritional value for long periods. 

Cassava roots are commonly processed into garri, fufu and tapioca in Nigeria. While these foods are good sources of minerals, including calcium and potassium, they have a high GI rating and can cause blood sugar spikes if they’re eaten incorrectly. 

You can eat garri, fufu and tapioca with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. But, you must eat a moderate portion and pair them with high-quality proteins, fats, and vegetables. 

What is your favourite cassava product? 

REFERENCES

  1. Montagnac, J.A., Davis, C.R., & Tanumihardjo, S.A. (2009) Nutritional value of cassava for use as a staple food and recent advances for improvement. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety; 8: 181-194.
  2. Ogbuji, C.A., & David-Chukwu, N.P. (2016) Glycemic indices of different cassava food products. European Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences; 3 (3) 

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