Taro root, which is the thick, tuber stalk of the taro plant is an extremely important part of global cuisines and diets, as it has been for thousands of years. In fact, taro is considered one of the first cultivated plants in human history. Its scientific name is Colocasia esculenta and it has a truly fascinating history. It is believed to be native to Southeast Asia and southern India, but it is cultivated and used in many places all around the world. Fascinatingly, it seems as though every culture uses taro in a slightly different way, depending on how it is prepared and the variety of the crop that is grown. It is also one of the few crops that can grow in flooded areas, due to its petioles, which can transfer materials even whilst underwater. It is a staple food in African, Indian, and Oceanic cuisines, but it can be found everywhere from Japan, Egypt, and Suriname to the United States, Fiji, and Spain.
The most common form is dasheen, and the plant is also commonly known as “elephant ears”, due to the shape of the broad leaves, when it is cultivated for decorative or floral reasons. The leaves, roots, and corms can be used as dietary ingredients, but the plant must be cooked. It is actually toxic in raw form, due to the high content of oxalates, but those dangerous substances can be eliminated when cooked with some baking soda or if steeped overnight. The reason that this plant is so widely used is due to the ease with which it grows and the size/sustenance it can provide. More than 11.3 million metric tons of taro plants/roots are cultivated around the world each year. The health benefits of the plant are a happy bonus of the frequent use, which is why it is growing in popularity in certain health-conscious cultures and populations. Now, let’s take a closer look at what is actually inside of a taro root.
Taro roots contain a wealth of organic compounds, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for human health and can benefit our overall health in a number of different ways. Taro root contains a very significant amount of dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and folate, as well as magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, and copper. The plant also provides some protein in your diet, but the amount is almost negligible.
Health Benefits Of Taro Root
One of the most important functions of taro root in the diet is its role in digestion. The high level of dietary fiber found in taro root (a single serving contains 27% of the daily requirement of dietary fiber) makes it very important for supporting our gastrointestinal health. Fiber helps to add bulk to our bowel movements, thereby helping food move through the digestive tract and facilitating improved digestion. This can help to prevent certain conditions such as excess gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, and even diarrhea. A healthy, regulated gastrointestinal system can greatly boost your overall health and reduce your chances of various types of cancer.
Speaking of cancer, taro root also plays an important part for the antioxidant activity in our body. The high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and various other phenolic antioxidants found in taro root boost our immune system and help eliminate dangerous free radicals from our system. Free radicals are the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause healthy cells to mutate and turn into cancerous cells. By eliminating these free radicals, our general health is almost guaranteed! Cryptoxanthin, which is found in taro root, is directly connected to a lowered chance of developing both lung and oral cancers.
Dietary fiber can also help lower the chances of developing diabetes because it regulates the release of insulin and glucose in the body. If you have a sufficient level of fiber, which taro root provides, then you can manage your glycemic levels and lower you chances of developing diabetes. If you have diabetes, then fiber-rich foods like taro root can help prevent the spikes and plunges in blood sugar that can be so dangerous.
- Blood Pressure and Heart Health
Taro root contains a significant level of potassium, which is another of the essential minerals that we need to remain healthy and functional. Potassium not only facilitates healthy fluid transfers between membranes and tissues throughout the body, but also helps to relieve stress and pressure on blood vessels and arteries. By relaxing the veins and blood vessels, blood pressure can be reduced and stress on the overall cardiovascular system is reduced. Potassium has even been connected to increased cognitive function because neural connections can be boosted when blood pressure is reduced and fluid transfer between neural membranes is optimized!
As mentioned above, taro root contains various antioxidants, including beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants can help to improve vision as well, by preventing the free radicals from attacking ocular cells and causing macular degeneration or cataracts!
Between vitamin E and vitamin A, our skin is well protected when we add taro root to our diets. Both of these essential vitamins work to eliminate skin conditions and boost overall cellular health, meaning that our wounds and blemishes heal faster, wrinkles can be diminished, and a healthy glow can be returned to the skin. Taro root is nature’s little secret for healthier skin!
Perhaps the most important element of taro root for health is its role in the immune system. It has a very high level of vitamin C in each serving, which stimulates the immune system to create more white blood cells, which defend the body from foreign pathogens and agents. Furthermore, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which partially prevents the development of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
The mineral content of taro root has dozens of useful applications, but the dual presence of iron and copper in taro root make it a very important food to prevent anemia and boost circulation throughout the body. Iron and copper are both essential for the production of red blood cells, which carry the all-important oxygen to our body’s systems and cells. By lowering your chances of anemia (iron deficiency) and boost the flow of blood through the body, you can speed overall metabolism, growth of new cells, and general oxygenation of the body, which is always a good idea to keep organs and systems functioning at their optimal levels!
The only major problem with taro root is its extremely high calorie content. Every 100 grams contains 112 calories, which can be an issue for people trying to lose weight. It has more carbohydrates by volume than potatoes, so overdoing it with taro root can cause obesity if you aren’t careful. Eat taro root in moderation, to get the health benefits, without packing on the pounds!