Tapioca is a starchy product that derives from cassava tubers. These tubers are native to Brazil and much of South America. Tapioca is available in a variety of forms, including flour, meal, flakes, and pearls.

People commonly use tapioca to make tapioca pudding and bubble teas. Tapioca is also useful as a thickener in pies.

Tapioca consists entirely of starchy carbohydrates. People on a carb controlled diet and those who are concerned about the effect of starches on their blood sugar levels may see tapioca as unhealthful.

However, for people who do not need to monitor their intake of carbs or starches as carefully, tapioca can boost health in several ways.

In this article, we look at the benefits of tapioca.

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Tapioca is naturally gluten free.

Tapioca is free of gluten, nuts, and grains, so it will not cause a reaction in people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and nut allergies.

The manufacturers of many gluten free products use tapioca flour in the production process. It is also a good option for allergen free baking at home.

Tapioca flour serves as an alternative to white flour for thickening soups, sauces, and pie fillings.

Tapioca has a reputation as being gentle on the stomach. Many people find it easier to digest than flours that producers make from grains or nuts.

Doctors may recommend tapioca as a suitable source of calories for people with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diverticulitis that can cause flares of digestive symptoms.

People who need to gain weight quickly may benefit from including tapioca in the diet. One cup of tapioca pearls provides 544 calories and 135 grams (g) of carbohydrates.

Eating a couple of bowls of tapioca pudding a day improves a person's likelihood of gaining weight without also increasing the risk of adverse effects from consuming too much fat and cholesterol.

People can also add tapioca to other dishes to increase their carb and calorie content.

Find out about other foods that can support safe weight gain.

Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth. It also supports a range of other bodily functions, including:

  • contraction and dilation in the blood vessels and muscles
  • communication between nerves
  • blood clotting

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, people lose calcium each day through the skin, sweat, urine, and feces. The body cannot replace lost calcium without dietary supplementation.

Therefore, people should take care to consume calcium through their diet. One cup of tapioca pearls provides 30.4 milligrams (mg) of calcium.

Read more about calcium here.

Most people in the United States eat too much sodium, or salt. The recommended daily intake is less than 2,300 mg. On average, people in the U.S. consume 3,440 mg per day.

Dietary salt does not just refer to the salt that people sprinkle on their snacks and meals — manufacturers also hide it in processed snacks, soups, and condiments.

A high sodium diet has links to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Tapioca provides only 1.52 mg of sodium in a one cup serving.

Read more about how salt can contribute to heart problems.

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Regular consumption of tapioca may improve a person's iron levels.

Tapioca is a good source of iron. One cup of tapioca pearls provides 2.4 mg of the daily recommended value, which ranges from 7–18 mg depending on age and sex. It increases to 27 mg for women during pregnancy.

To optimize the absorption of iron from tapioca, it is best to consume it alongside vitamin C sources. These increase the amount of iron that the body absorbs.

Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. If a person does not have enough iron in the blood, they may develop iron deficiency anemia.

This condition may cause serious side effects, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain.

Here, learn about iron deficiency anemia.

Tapioca is high in carbs and calories, so it is not a traditionally healthful food.

However, it can help a person meet the recommended daily allowance of several important nutrients. It can also be a tasty, nutritious food choice for people who need to gain weight.

In moderation, tapioca can play a role in a healthful eating plan. People should keep in mind that many tapioca recipes, such as tapioca pudding and bubble tea, have additional calories and fat from added sugar, milk, or cream.

People can use almond milk or fat free milk to make a bubble tea that is lower in fat and calories. They can also replace sugar with liquid stevia or erythritol to add sweetness to tapioca dishes.

Q:

What is the difference between bubble tea and standard tea?

A:

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea based drink that contains tapioca balls — sometimes called boba — and typically has a thick foam layer on top.

It tends to be sweet and milky. Although people often add milk and sugar to standard tea, it does not contain any tapioca.

Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.