What Is Jicama (Yam Bean)? Why It Improves Your Health and Diet
7 minute read
Jicama is a tropical legume native to Mexico that grows on vines. It’s sometimes called a yam bean, probably because it resembles a yam in texture and sweet taste. It looks a bit like a potato and a turnip put together.
The nutrients found in jicama are pretty exciting. Jicama is loaded with vitamins, probiotics, and other nutrients while being very low in calories. Here is everything you should know about jicama.
Yam Beans 101
This legume grows aggressively, and its bounty might be why it has spread all over the world and become a staple for cuisine from Mexico, the Philippines, China, Japan, India and Vietnam.
The interesting thing about the jicama plant is that while the taproot (the big round bulb) is edible, every other part of this plant contains a dangerous toxin. The skin, leaves, stems, pods, and seeds should all be discarded.
If you’re going to try cooking with jicama at home, look for the same sort of firmness you want in a baking potato. Even though you won’t be eating the skin, you want it to look healthy and fairly blemish-free.
Once you’ve removed the roots and the skin, it’s completely edible and tasty when served both raw or cooked. On top of that, jicama has a variety of important health benefits that come for the powerful nutrients it contains, such as:
One of the most interesting things about the nutritional value of jicama is that it’s rich in inulin. Inulin is a fiber that cannot be digested by your small intestine so it continues traveling to the lower gut where it functions as a food for the good bacteria that live there. This makes it a powerful prebiotic.
Once your gut bacteria gets to work on the inulin, it is converted into short-chain fatty acids that nourish colon cells and give you other benefits that come from a well-nourished, healthy gut environment.
When it comes to vitamins, jicama might be a better method of getting vitamin C than oranges. Packed with this vitamin, jicama gives you a big boost to your immune system by stimulating cell production that helps protect your body from microbes.
It’s also a very powerful antioxidant, fighting off free radical damage that confronts your body every day.
If you’re aging and worried about stroke, cardiovascular disease and muscle mass, then jicama is the food for you. The potassium in jicama, and in other potassium-rich foods, is proven to boost health in these areas.
This vitamin is essential in maintaining healthy vision, a normal immune system, and helping with the growth and development of fetuses. Studies are ongoing but there is evidence to suggest that vitamin plays an important role in cancer treatment and prevention.
Folate is one of the B vitamins. It’s found in a wide variety of foods, which is good because it is essential for DNA and other genetic material that makes you who you are.
If you’ve heard of the term folic acid, this is actually the same as folate except that folate occurs naturally and folic acid is a dietary additive. Not only is folate key for DNA but it’s known to help improve hair and skin growth and appearance.
If you do not have enough folate in your body you may be at a greater risk for cancer, depression, heart disease and stroke, dementia and other cognitive issues.
Choline is an essential nutrient that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s needed by all plant and animal cells to preserve their structural integrity. In humans, choline produces a neurotransmitter that is necessary for memory, mood, muscle control and other nervous system functions.
Everyone knows that calcium is great for bone health. That is not the only reason it is so important, though; calcium maintains healthy blood pressure. With the addition of magnesium and potassium (both found in jicama) you’ve got three of the superstars needed for healthy blood pressure.
While milk gives you all of these important blood pressure nutrients, it’s better for your overall health to turn to plant-based foods like jicama for your calcium intake.
Obviously having good blood pressure is important, but did you know that lowering your stress and managing blood pressure can also be good for your weight? Less stress means less cortisol, a stress hormone that causes weight gain in the abdominal area.
Magnesium has a big job to do, playing a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body. It helps you with the metabolism of food, the synthesis of fatty acids and proteins, and the transmission of your nerve impulses.
Magnesium is one of seven essential macrominerals that should be consumed daily and in pretty large amounts. They help with bone health, your cardiovascular system, prevention of diabetes, relieving anxiety and can help relieve pain for chronic headache sufferers.
Phosphorus makes up about 1% of your total body weight and is found in every cell in your body. Most of the weight comes from phosphorus-dense teeth and bones.
Phosphorus’s primary purpose is to make those healthy teeth and bones, but it works with other nutrients, carbohydrates, and fats. Together they maintain your body’s cell growth and repair, support kidney function, enable muscle contractions, keep a healthy heartbeat, and optimize nerve signaling.
The Bottom Line
While the news is basically good for jicama, it should still be consumed with care and in moderate doses. It’s packed with nutritional goodies, but it also contains a lot of carbohydrates—eating it with this in mind is important.
You’ll love trying jicama with a variety of dishes from cold salads to cooked Asian and Mexican dishes.