How jicama promotes healthy weight, cardiovascular function, and more
With a mild, sweet flavor and a satisfying crunch reminiscent of water chestnuts and apples, jicama is gaining popularity in the United States. Indigenous to Mexico, this tasty root vegetable now thrives in warm-weather climates around the world - including in Central and South America, Asia, and the Philippines.
As with the word “tomato” (famously pronounced in the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” as “to-may-to” and “toh-mah-to”), two different pronunciations of “jicama” (“HICK-ah-mah” and “HEE-kah-mah”) are considered acceptable. You may also hear jicama referred to as the yam bean, the Mexican potato, the Mexican water chestnut, and the Chinese turnip! Clearly, jicama is a vegetable of many names and many nutritional virtues and health benefits. Let’s look at three of the most compelling.
Jicama is a prebiotic food that supports microbial balance and healthy weight
Because jicama is high in fiber and water - yet low in calories and fat - it has “the right stuff” to help maintain a healthy weight or support a weight loss journey. Dietary fiber can contribute to a feeling of fullness and may help to prevent binge eating. Jicama packs a whopping 6.4 grams of fiber per cup – much of it in the form of inulin. (While inulin is not the same substance as insulin - the hormone integral to blood sugar control - it is sometimes known as “natural insulin” due to its ability to lower blood sugar.)
And, inulin has a nifty trick. Although it can’t be absorbed or even digested in the stomach, it can be fermented by beneficial bacteria in the intestines, thereby providing them with fuel. By helping to encourage “friendly” bacteria while discouraging “unfriendlies,” jicama helps to balance the microbiome or community of bacteria in the digestive tract. The microbiome plays an important role in boosting immune health and promoting healthy weight and metabolism.
In addition, dietary fiber in jicama adds bulk to bowel motions to encourage healthy, regular elimination – which is, of course, a good thing. In fact, in one meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials involving participants with constipation, inulin increased the frequency of bowel movements by almost one-third! And, jicama contributes these digestive and metabolic benefits while “costing” only a scanty 50 calories per cup. No doubt, jicama is a caloric “bargain.”
Nitrate-rich jicama promotes heart health
Jicama is rich in nutrients that contribute to a healthy “ticker.” For example, its store of soluble dietary fiber helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, while potassium and magnesium in jicama are vital electrolytes that help to regulate blood pressure and support a strong and steady heartbeat. Jicama also contains iron, which is needed to produce red blood cells that help transport life-sustaining oxygen throughout the body. In addition, jicama contributes important antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene - the same healthful plant pigment found in carrots.
Perhaps jicama’s most important “gift” to heart and circulatory health is its content of nitrates. When associated with cured meats, nitrates have been linked with cancer. However, nitrates derived from vegetables increase the synthesis of beneficial nitric oxide, improving circulation and potentially helping to enhance athletic performance. In fact, in a recent study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers credited nitrate supplementation with lowering systolic blood pressure and increasing antioxidant status in healthy young men.
Jicama supports stable blood sugar levels
Good news for those concerned about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. By delaying the absorption of dietary carbohydrates, the fiber in jicama can help to limit undesirable after-meal “spikes.” In addition, jicama has been associated in animal studies with improving insulin sensitivity, making it easier for glucose to enter the cells - where it can be used for energy.
In one study, an extract made from powdered, dried jicama reduced after-meal blood sugar spikes in mice with elevated blood sugar – as well as in mice with “normal” blood sugar levels. While more human studies are needed, researchers are hopeful that jicama could prove to be a safe and effective natural strategy to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Enjoy versatile jicama raw or cooked, in crudité trays or casseroles
Jicama’s pleasant, mild taste means that it “plays well with others” and can be incorporated into many of your favorite dishes.
After peeling off the jicama’s (inedible) papery brown skin, you can slice or dice the inner flesh and add it to salads of all kinds – from tuna and chicken salads to mixed greens to tropical fruit cocktails. Or, use jicama “sticks” like celery to scoop up salsa, hummus, or guacamole. (Pro tip: If you’re craving something piquant and spicy, try nibbling on fresh raw jicama drizzled with lime juice and chili powder). You can even steam, grill, or stir-fry this easy-going veggie!
Full of prebiotic fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, jicama makes an extraordinary addition to your healthy diet. So why not try it today?
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