Jicama-The Prebiotic Superfood

Most people are aware of “superfoods”-vegetables or fruits that are so healthy consuming them might actually combat disease.  Spinach, blueberries and the current golden child, kale are some examples that we try to force into our diet.  I’ve recently included a new vegetable in my diet that can be considered a superfood.  Jicama.  You might have heard of it, even seen it in the grocery store but have you tried it?  It’s crisp and has the texture and crunch of a raw potato but a mild flavor reminiscent of apples.  Where most superfoods are touted as having extreme amounts of a certain vitamin or phytonutrient as in the case of anthocyanins, jicama has multiple benefits from vitamins to antioxidants and most importantly, it’s a kind of prebiotic.

What Is Jicama?

jicama facts

Jicama, known as Mexican yam bean, Mexican turnip, or just yam bean is the large tuberous root of the legume  Pachyrhizus erosus.  Only the roots are eaten as every other part of the plant includes rotenone, a toxin used in pesticides and insecticides.  After the dark fibrous outer skin is peeled away, the resulting crisp flesh is eaten raw or cooked.

Jicama is a low calorie food with only 38 calories in a 100 gram serving.  That 100 gram serving is also low on the glycemic index making it an ideal food choice for diabetics.  In terms of jicama nutrition, one serving of jicama also includes a whopping 33% of the suggested daily intake of vitamin c, and decent amounts of the minerals potassium, magnesium, and iron.

One of the most impressive benefits of jicama is its fiber content.  That 100 gram serving contains 19% of the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber.  Benefits of fiber in the diet are pretty well known from helping to keep you “regular” to assisting in weight loss from the feeling of fullness after digestion.  Fiber can also help to control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar.  Fiber may also aid in lowering cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and inflammation.(1)  Most amazing is the presence of oligofructose inulin-a type of insoluble fiber that is known as a prebiotic.

What Is A Prebiotic?

Prebiotic is a general term to refer to chemicals that induce the growth or activity of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and fungi) that contribute to the well-being of their host”.(2)  In the case of insoluble fiber, it is fiber that does not get digested in the small intestine and makes its way to the large intestine where it is broken down by the bacteria that reside there.  There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the bacteria in our body influence digestion, how fast we gain weight, and our moods.  There are about 10 trillion bacterial cells in the body outnumbering human cells 10 to 1.  Poor diet and the overuse of antibiotics (get rid of that antibacterial soap!) can contribute to this web of bacteria being out of balance, i.e. the ratio of the different species of bacteria is out of proportion.  In fact, research is showing that this “microbiome” being out of balance can cause and contribute to allergies, autoimmune diseases, obesity and diabetes.(3)  So what is inulin and how does it affect the microbiome?  Specifically, inulin feeds the Bifidobacteria species in your gut.  When that inulin is broken down by the bacteria they produce short chain fatty acids.  Acetic acid and propionic acid can be used as fuel for energy by the liver.  Butyric acid has major anti-inflammatory effects, is thought to fight cancer and helps maintain the gut/blood barrier to avoid leaky gut syndrome.(4)(5)  Sounds like inulin fiber is a good addition to the diet just to feed these guys.  Eating prebiotics also assist in the absorption of vitamins and minerals and aid immune function. By helping to keep healthy levels of good bacteria in the gut, inulin supports overall health.  Prebiotic foods include garlic and onions, chicory root, and our new favorite superfood jicama.

Jicama Recipes

Jicama is eaten raw or cooked.  It can be substituted for water chestnuts in cooked dishes since it retains its crunch after cooking.  I like eating it raw and chopped, some people like to add a squeeze of lemon or lime and a dash of chili powder.  You can find a lot of recipes for jicama coleslaw on the internet, it seems like one of the more popular uses for the vegetable.  It goes real well in salads with it’s refreshing texture and crunch.  Choose firm jicama, never waxed.  It should keep in the fridge for at least a month.

While not exactly a recipe, here’s my favorite jicama salad:

Jicama Mango Avocado Salad

  • Greens (I like arugula and cilantro)
  • One Avocado
  • One Mango
  • One Medium Jicama
  • Onion
  • Fixings for a vinaigrette….vinegar, oil, herbs, citrus juice etc…

I like a lot of contrasting flavors,  and this salad starts out with a bed of peppery arugula and cilantro.  I like to take some spanish onion, slice it thin on a mandoline and let it soak in some balsamic vinegar for at least ten minutes.  This will tame the heat of the onion while adding more flavor.  Cut the jicama in half and with a sharp small knife remove the dark brown fibrous skin as if you were peeling string cheese apart.  Julienne the jicama into matchsticks.  Peel and dice the avocado and mango.  Plate your salad with these ingredients, maybe add some toasted almond slivers on top.  For a dressing, I like to do some variant of a lime vinaigrette.  Start with 2 parts oil (olive, avocado) to 1 part lime juice.  Add a little salt, pepper and maybe some minced garlic.  Adjust to taste.  Sometimes I’ll add some chopped cilantro or a little honey.  Perhaps the zest of that lime I just juiced.  Whatever strikes your fancy. Mix and enjoy!

jicamasalad

While researching this post, I stumbled upon the phrase “jicama diabetes”.  No, there is no jicama diabetes.  Jicama is good for you if you have diabetes.  It’s also fun to say 5 times fast.  Go on…say it…jicama diabetes…