Gari, otherwise branded as Cassava Flakes, is one of the main sources of carbohydrates and a popular staple food in Ghana and most West African countries at large. It is a local delicacy eaten across Ghanaian societies, usually mixed with sugar, milk, etc, and eaten however you desire. But this go-to-meal is one whose health benefits are unknown or not paid attention to by its consumers.
Gari, the science
Low in calories, fat, and sugar
To understand the health benefits of Gari and other cassava foods and others, it is advisable to understand the nature of cassava as the base ingredient. Some are confused due to the fact cassava is a starchy food. What they forget to understand is that starch in cassava is high in resistant starch, a type of starch that bypasses digestion and has properties similar to those of soluble fiber. For more on this read wide on resistant starch or my previous articles on cassava fufu and Konkonte. Thus eating foods that are high in resistant starch may benefit your health in several ways.
Cassava has less than 120 calories for a quarter-cup serving, making it lower in calories than some other gluten-free flour, such as almond or coconut flour. Overall, it has higher water content, lower fat content, and lower calorie density than other flours, including corn, wheat, plantain, almond, coconut, rice, and sorghum flour.
Gari makes a good choice for people with health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol since it’s extremely low in salt/sodium, sugar, and fat, plus free from refined carbohydrates and synthetic ingredients. Depending on what other ingredients you use cassava with, it can help you maintain normal blood sugar and provide a good source of energy.
Levy, J(2019) notes that though it is high in carbs and provides a similar amount of carbohydrates as most other grain-based flours, it can help support energy levels in people who are active but avoid eating other starches. Because it’s so high in carbohydrates, experts estimate that cassava plants provide the third-highest yield of carbohydrates per person in many parts of the world (after sugarcane and sugar beets).
Its composition is about 60 percent to 65 percent water moisture, 20 percent to 31 percent carbohydrates, and less than 2 percent protein and fat. In some parts of Africa, it provides up to 30 percent of total daily calories!
For good cassava soaking, it is best to use cassava gari to pair it with other nutrient-dense, complementary foods to boost the fiber, vitamin, and mineral content of recipes. For example, you can increase the amount of fiber in recipes by using cassava gari in combination with high-fiber foods like chia seeds or flaxseeds.
Cassava gari, loaded with vitamin C
Cassava gari is loaded with vitamin C — a significant antioxidant that prevents cancer, eye health, and skin health. However, some controversy exists on how much vitamin C is retained during cassava’s manufacturing process. This notwithstanding, one study by Montagnac et al.(2009) found that cassava is loaded with vitamin C juxtaposed to other staple crops (and grains) and contains more vitamin C than potatoes, yams, wheat brown rice, corn, and plantains.
Cassava gari aids digestion and colon health
Two studies (Korczak et al. 2017; Rachman et al. 2020) found that cassava gari, are rich in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber aids digestion, fecal frequency, and weight. It also reduces the colonic transit time of digested food.
Cassava gari is a resistant starch . As the resistant starch in cassava gari ferments inside the colon, it feeds the healthy bacteria there. During this process, the starches turn into short-chain fatty acids. One of these short-chain fatty acids is butyrate. Butyrate is an important component in the cells of the colon. Magallanes-Cruz et al.(2017) explained that resistant starch is starched that the small intestine does not digest. Nugent, A. (2005) explained that resistant starch works similarly to dietary fiber. They pass from the small intestines into the colon where they begin to ferment and finally promote gut health by feeding the beneficial gut bacteria as they ferment(Maier et al.2017).
Zimmerman et al.(2012) found that Butyrate can also reduce the levels of inflammation inside the colon. This can help protect a person against a variety of digestive issues, such as inflammatory colorectal cancer and ulcerative colitis. This means that, in theory, butyrate could also help protect a person from other inflammatory issues in the bowel and colon, including:
o Crohn’s disease
Cassava gari, loaded with antioxidants
Three studies (Chukwu, 2015; Nilusha et al. 2021; Senand Chakraborty, 2011) found that cassava gari is loaded with an antioxidant such as phenolics, carotenoids, and vitamin C. These antioxidants in cassava help fight skin conditions and organ functions.
One animal study by Maki et al.(2012) found that resistant starch can increase a person’s insulin sensitivity. In this study males who were overweight or had obesity ate 15–30 grams (g) of resistant starch each day. These males then showed increased insulin sensitivity in comparison to males who did not eat these resistant starches. By increasing a person’s insulin sensitivity, resistant starches can play a role in preventing disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. During the study, female participants did not show the same results. More research is necessary to determine why.
Dry gari flour
In its dry form, garri is used as an accompaniment for soft-cooked beans and palm oil. For a full meal, garri is usually cooked by adding it to hot water and then kneading it into the dough. This is eaten with different types of thick, leafy vegetable stews, melon seed stews, peanut stews, or beans.
Smooth garri (known as lebu to the Yoruba) can be mixed with pepper and other spicy ingredients. A small amount of warm water and palm oil is added and mixed with the hand to soften up. This type of garri is served with fried fish. It is served with frejon on Good Friday.
Two studies(Nwabueze and Odunsi, 2007; Alitubeera et al. 2019) reported that raw cassava contains the cyanogenic glycosides linamarin and lotaustralin. The researchers explained that Linamarin produces a toxic compound (hydrogen cyanide, HCN). It can cause dizziness, vomiting, tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing), syncope (fainting), and tachycardia (fast heart rate).
However, Alitubeera et al. (2019) assured us that we should not be afraid of the hazardous nature of cassava. This is because cultivated cassava has a much lower cyanogenic content than wild cultivars. Moreover, peeling the tubers, soaking them in water for 4 to 6 days, and sun-drying or roasting them reduces the levels of these compounds to acceptable amounts.
One study by Santos et al.(2011) reported some allergic reactions when some consume cassava such as urticaria (hives) and angioedema (painless swelling under the skin). Others reported life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
Cassava gari and other cassava-derived foods support our health in many diverse ways due to the numerous ingredients in cassava.
Cassava gari is gluten-free and rich in carbohydrates. Dietary fibers, vitamin C, vitamin B, and vitamin A are abundant in cassava gari. While the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in cassava gari may pose a risk, proper processing significantly reduces these levels.
Always do remember that the starch content in cassava products is a resistant starch and they are beneficial to our health, especially gut health. From the review of scientific studies, is drinking gari soaking food for the poor? Let’s the debate state!
Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.