It’s safe to say that most people following the ketogenic diet have that one carb-heavy weakness that could easily knock them out of ketosis.
Who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it too, right?
Luckily, you can now find keto-friendly food that can satisfy your sweet tooth.
It’s astonishing how many great-tasting keto cookies, cakes, and protein bars have hit the market over the last few years.
It’s the best of both worlds: you get to enjoy that familiar guilty pleasure while keeping your body in a state of ketosis.
The problem is that not all those keto-friendly sweeteners are truly keto-friendly.
Soluble tapioca fiber has come under fire in 2019. That’s because there is a debate about whether it is a low-carb fiber or if it will spike blood glucose.
Let’s discuss what true soluble tapioca fiber is, why its name has been tarnished, and what you should look for when buying a keto-friendly product.
What is Tapioca?
Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root, a tuber native to South America.
The cassava root is relatively easy to grow and a dietary staple in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and has a minimal nutritional value. Though it’s normally gluten-free, it can be served as a wheat replacement in cooking and baking for people who are on a gluten-free diet.
Tapioca is a dried product and is usually sold as white flour, flakes, or pearls.
What is Soluble Tapioca Fiber?
Soluble tapioca fiber is a ketogenic-friendly sweetener that is being used in many of your favorite products.
It is made from non-GMO corn syrup that has been broken down through an enzymatic-based process, leaving you with a real keto-friendly fiber.
How is it Made?
Production varies by location but always involves squeezing the starchy liquid out of ground cassava root.
Once the starchy liquid is out, the water is allowed to evaporate. When all the water has evaporated, a fine tapioca powder is left behind.
Next, the powder is treated into the preferred form, such as flakes or pearls.
Pearls are the most common form, and you’ll see them in bubble tea, puddings, and desserts. Another way is to use it as a thickener in cooking.
Regardless of how you’ll use it, remember that the flakes, sticks, and pearls must be soaked or boiled before consumption. This is due to the dehydration process.
They may double in size and become leathery, swollen, and translucent.
Tapioca flour is often mistaken for cassava flour, which is ground cassava root. However, tapioca is the starchy liquid that’s extracted from ground cassava root.
What is it Used For?
Tapioca is a grain- and gluten-free product that has many applications:
- Gluten and grain-free bread: Tapioca flour can be included in bread recipes, although it’s often combined with other flours.
- Flatbread: It’s often used to make flatbread in developing countries. With various toppings, it may be used as breakfast, dinner, or dessert.
- Puddings and desserts: Its pearls are used to make puddings, desserts, snacks, or bubble tea.
- Thickener: It can be used as a thickener for soups, sauces, and gravies. It’s cheap, has a neutral flavor and excellent thickening power.
- Binding agent: It’s used as a binder for burger patty, nuggets, and dough to improve texture and moisture content. That’s because it traps moisture in a gel-like form and prevents sogginess.
Aside from cooking, the pearls are used to starch clothes by boiling the pearls with the clothes.
Tapioca can be used instead of flour in baking and cooking. It’s also often used for making desserts, such as puddings and bubble tea.
Health Benefits of Tapioca
Tapioca is grain and gluten-free, but it doesn’t have many health benefits. Still, here are the things you can enjoy from using tapioca:
It’s Suitable for Restricted Diets
Many people are allergic or intolerant to wheat, grains, and gluten.
To manage their symptoms, they need to follow a restricted diet.
Since tapioca is naturally free of grains and gluten, it may be a proper replacement for wheat- or corn-based goods.
For example, it can be used as flour in baking and cooking or as a thickener in soups or sauces.
However, you may want to combine it with other flours, such as almond flour or coconut flour, to increase the number of nutrients.
It May Contain Resistant Starch
Tapioca is a natural source of resistant starch.
As the name implies, resistant starch is resistant to digestion and functions like fiber in the digestive system.
Resistant starch has been linked to several benefits for overall health.
It feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut, thereby reducing inflammation and the number of harmful bacteria.
It may also lower blood sugar levels after meals, improve glucose and insulin metabolism, and increase fullness.
These are all factors that contribute to better metabolic health.
However, given the low nutrient content, it is probably a better idea to get resistant starch from other foods. This includes cooked and cooled potatoes or rice, legumes, and green bananas.
Tapioca can replace wheat- or corn-based products. It also contains resistant starch, which is linked to many health benefits.
Tapioca is relatively pure starch, so it’s almost entirely made up of carbs.
It carries only minor amounts of protein, fat, and fiber.
Furthermore, it only contains minor amounts of nutrients. Most of them amount to less than 0.1% of the suggested daily dose in one serving.
One ounce or 28 grams of dry tapioca pearls holds 100 calories.
Due to its shortage of protein and nutrients, tapioca is nutritionally inferior to most grains and flours.
Tapioca can be considered “empty” calories. It provides energy with almost no essential nutrients.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and contains only negligible amounts of protein and nutrients.
How Tapioca can Harm Your Health
When appropriately treated, tapioca does not seem to have many adverse health effects.
Most negative health effects come from consuming poorly processed cassava roots.
Furthermore, tapioca may be unsuitable for people with diabetes since it’s almost pure carbs.
There are few documented cases of allergic reactions to cassava or tapioca.
However, people allergic to latex may encounter allergic reactions due to cross-reactivity.
That means that your body mistakes compounds in cassava for allergens in latex, causing an allergic reaction.
This is also known as the latex-fruit syndrome.
Improperly processed cassava root can cause poisoning, but commercially produced products are safe. Allergic reactions to tapioca are rare.
Cyanide Poisoning, Konzo, and Death
Cassava root naturally holds a toxic compound called linamarin. This is converted into hydrogen cyanide in your body and may cause cyanide poisoning.
Ingesting poorly processed cassava root is linked to cyanide poisoning. It can also lead to a paralytic disease called konzo and even death.
There were konzo epidemics in African countries that use poorly processed bitter cassava in their diet.
On the other hand, commercially produced tapioca generally are safe to consume. That’s because they do not contain harmful levels of linamarin.
What’s the Issue with Soluble Tapioca Fiber?
Unfortunately, many brands are claiming soluble tapioca fiber is in their keto products. But in reality, they are mislabeling the products.
The most famous example of soluble tapioca fiber’s mislabeling involves an additive called Isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO).
What are Isomaltooligosaccharides (IMOs)?
Isomaltooligosaccharides, more usually called IMOs, are a starch-sourced syrup that is high in maltose.
It comes from corn or potatoes and is made up of short-chain carbohydrates. This gives them a distinct, slightly sweet profile.
Since IMOs are a fiber that tastes sweet, they are used for protein bars, supplement powders, and cooking ingredients. The only caveat is that it’s not a real fiber.
Recent studies have found that IMOs directly impact your blood glucose (blood sugar levels). Researchers found that subjects’ glucose rapidly increased to 125 mg/dL after consuming IMOs.
After the study, researchers deemed IMOs to have a glycemic index of 35. To put that into perspective, table sugar has a glycemic index of 65.
This means that eating a supposed keto-friendly product containing IMOs could knock you out of ketosis.
Is Tapioca Fiber Keto and Diabetic Friendly?
Tapioca fiber is a component that is sourced from the tapioca vegetable. Unlike tapioca starch, which is the starchy carbohydrate part of the vegetable, tapioca fiber is an isolated fiber.
Thus, you can use it for lower carbohydrate, higher fiber products like protein bars, high protein ice-creams, low sugar gummies, and more.
When reading the nutritional label, it’s usually identified as one of the following:
- Soluble tapioca fiber
- Soluble tapioca fiber powder
- Soluble tapioca fiber syrup
- Tapioca fiber powder
- Vegetable fiber
- Prebiotic fiber
- Prebiotic water-soluble fiber from tapioca.
But keep in mind that there are at least two different forms of tapioca fiber. And the way these ingredients respond in our bodies varies.
When looking at a package, there is no way to know what is included, given they are listed the same.
Until recently, both forms of tapioca fiber were identified as “fiber.” But when FDA had new fiber regulations, one of them was re-classified as carbohydrates.
Both varieties of tapioca fiber are classified as prebiotics. Yet, they have different dose specifications.
One variety of tapioca fiber is in the form of soluble prebiotic fiber. Called as isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO), you must consume up to 30g of this variety to reap its prebiotic benefit.
However, some studies are showing that IMO does not give many prebiotic benefits. And that it only acts more like a regular carbohydrate.
This IMO is partly digested. As a result, it doesn’t always work the same way you may expect a dietary fiber to behave in everybody.
This could mean that you can consume more of it and enjoy some prebiotic benefits. But it does not act as a dietary fiber and can cause your blood sugar to spike.
This type of soluble tapioca fiber has lately had its identification changed. It is now called isomalto-oligosaccharide on a label and does not fall under the fiber classification in a nutrition facts panel anymore.
On the other hand, there is a type of tapioca fiber in the form of tight starch. Meaning, it can endure digestion by your digestive enzymes and make its way to your gut. This is where it feeds the good bacteria and has a powerful prebiotic benefit.
It is believed that this type of tapioca fiber does not spike blood sugar levels. It can also make you feel full, so some products with tapioca fiber don’t spike blood sugar levels.
If you doubt which type of tapioca fiber is in a product, we recommend you reach out to the manufacturer and ask them which type they are adding.
Keep in mind that both varieties of tapioca fiber are technically prebiotics. Your gut health can benefit from both of them, although how it reacts in your stomach will differ from one person to another.
Moreover, its effects on your blood sugar are still debatable.
How to Cook with Tapioca
There are various uses of tapioca, including cooking and baking. However, most recipes are for sugar-sweetened desserts.
From a cooking perspective, this is an excellent ingredient. It thickens quickly, has a neutral flavor, and gives sauces and soups with a silky appearance.
Some even claim that it freezes and thaws better than cornstarch or flour. Therefore, it may be more suitable for baked goods intended for later use.
This flour is usually mixed with other flours in recipes to increase its nutritional value and texture.
Here you can find all sorts of recipes that use tapioca flour.
The pearls need to be boiled before you eat them. The typical ratio is one part dry pearls to eight parts water.
Take the mixture to a boil over high heat. Stir frequently to keep the pearls from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the pearls start floating, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 15–30 minutes while stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for another 15–30 minutes.
Cooked tapioca pearls are often applied in bubble tea, a cold and sweet beverage.
Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, usually consists of brewed tea with tapioca pearls, syrup, milk, and ice cubes.
Bubble tea is often made with black tapioca pearls like white pearls except with brown sugar blended into them.
Just note that bubble tea is usually loaded with added sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.
Tapioca can be used in various ways for cooking or baking, and it’s perfect for making desserts.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and contains very few nutrients. On its own, it has no impressive health benefits or adverse effects.
However, it may sometimes be useful for people who need to avoid grains or gluten. We hope you found this post informative and valuable!