Have You Tried Jicama?

When I first came to Mexico as a child, I was aware of the many food items at the market that I had never seen before. And, as most children are, I was often hesitant to eat unfamiliar items. When I finally moved to Mexico full time, I quickly overcame my hesitancy towards most of the differences in food, as well as the multitude of cultural differences.

This past Monday, I was at the market with Celia, my chef and saw this strange looking object that I assumed was a turnip. I asked Celia what it was, and she told me it was Jicama. She put one in our basket and explained that I would like it. Of course, I had no choice in the matter, so I accepted my fate. When we returned to the house she cleaned the jimaca as she would any other vegetable or fruit and put it in the vegetable hopper at the bottom of the refrigerator.

On Wednesday, she removed the jicama from the refrigerator, cleaned it once more, and proceeded to slice it as one might cut a potato into french fries. She placed the cut pieces onto a chilled plate and brought it to my office as a midday snack. At first, I thought it was apple, but at first taste I changed my mind. There is a texture similar to an apple, but more similar to a cross between a potato and pear in flavor. I found it both juicy and crunchy, with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. So after I profusely thanked Celia for introducing me to jimaca, and as I enjoyed my snack I went online to research the wonderful new-to-me vegetable.

Much to my surprise I found that jimaca is an extremely healthy and nutritious vegetable, that can be prepared in a variety of dishes.

Jicama is a globe-shaped root vegetable with papery, golden-brown skin and a starchy white interior. It’s the root of a plant that produces beans similar to lima beans. However, the beans of the jicama plant are toxic.

Originally grown in Mexico, jicama eventually spread to the Philippines and Asia. It requires a long growing season with no frost, so it thrives in locales that are warm year-round.
Others compare it to a water chestnut. Other names for jicama include yam bean, Mexican potato, Mexican water chestnut and Chinese turnip.

1. Packed With Nutrients

Jicama has an impressive nutrient profile. Most of its calories come from carbs. The rest are from very small amounts of protein and fat. Jicama contains many important vitamins and minerals, as well as a significant amount of fiber. In fact, one cup (130 grams) contains the following nutrients:

• Calories: 49
• Carbs: 12 grams
• Protein: 1 gram
• Fat: 0.1 gram
• Fiber: 6.4 grams
• Vitamin C: 44% of the RDI
• Folate: 4% of the RDI
• Iron: 4% of the RDI
• Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
• Potassium: 6% of the RDI
• Manganese: 4% of the RDI

Jicama also contains small amounts of vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper. This root vegetable is low in calories and high in fiber and water, making it a weight loss-friendly food. Just one cup (130 grams) contains 17% of the RDI for fiber for men and 23% of the RDI for women.

Jicama is also an excellent source of vitamin C, an essential water-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in your body and is necessary for many enzyme reactions.

Summary: Jicama contains many important vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, potassium and magnesium. It’s low in calories and high in fiber and water. It also contains antioxidants, including vitamins C and E and beta-carotene.

2. High in Antioxidants

Jicama contains several antioxidants, which are beneficial plant compounds that help prevent cell damage. One cup (130 grams) of jicama contains nearly half of the RDI for the antioxidant vitamin C. It also contains the antioxidants’ vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene. Antioxidants help protect against cell damage by counteracting free radicals, the harmful molecules that cause oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress has been linked to chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline. Fortunately, diets high in antioxidant-rich foods like jicama can help fight oxidative stress and may decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases.

In fact, studies have linked antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s.

Summary: Jicama is a good source of antioxidants, like vitamin C. Diets high in these compounds have been linked to a lower risk of certain chronic diseases.

3. May Boost Heart Health

Jicama has numerous nutrients that make it an excellent choice for improving heart health. It contains a significant amount of soluble dietary fiber, which may help lower cholesterol levels by preventing bile from being reabsorbed in the intestines, as well as preventing the liver from making more cholesterol. A review of 23 studies showed that increasing fiber intake significantly decreased total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Jicama also contains potassium, which helps lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. For example, one study showed that potassium decreased blood pressure and protected against heart disease and stroke.

Additionally, jicama may improve circulation because it contains iron and copper, both of which are necessary for healthy red blood cells. One cup contains 0.78 mg of iron and 0.62 mg of copper.

Jicama is also a natural source of nitrate. Studies have linked nitrate consumption from vegetables to increased circulation and better exercise performance. Furthermore, one study in healthy adults showed that consuming 16.6 ounces (500 mL) of jicama juice reduced the risk of developing blood clots.

Summary: Jicama contains dietary fiber, potassium, iron, copper and nitrate, which may benefit heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure and improving circulation.

4. Promotes Digestion

Dietary fiber helps increase the bulk of stool. This helps it move more smoothly through your digestive tract. One cup (130 grams) of jicama contains 6.4 grams of fiber, which can help you meet your daily goals. Additionally, jicama contains a type of fiber called inulin. Studies show that inulin can increase the frequency of bowel movements by up to 31% in those with constipation. Jicama is also high in water, which may help ease constipation. Foods with a high water content like jicama can help you meet your daily fluid needs.

Summary: Jicama contains high amounts of dietary fiber and water, both of which promote healthy bowel movements.

5. Good for Your Gut Bacteria

Jicama is high in inulin, which is a prebiotic fiber. A prebiotic is a substance that can be used by the bacteria in your body, resulting in health benefits. While your digestive system is unable to digest or absorb prebiotics such as inulin, the bacteria in your gut can ferment them. A diet high in prebiotics increases the population of “good” bacteria in your gut and decreases the number of unhealthy bacteria. Studies have shown that the types of bacteria in your gut may affect your weight, immune system and even mood. Eating prebiotic foods promotes the growth of the types of bacteria that may lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and kidney disease.

Summary: Jicama contains a type of prebiotic fiber that feeds beneficial gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria reduce the risk of developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

6. May Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Jicama contains the antioxidant vitamins C and E, selenium and beta-carotene. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals that can lead to cell damage and cancer. Also, jicama is a good source of dietary fiber. One cup (130 grams) contains more than 6 grams of fiber. Dietary fiber is well-known for its protective effects against colon cancer. One study showed that people who ate more than 27 grams of dietary fiber per day had a 50% lower risk of developing colon cancer, compared to those who ate less than 11 grams. Additionally, jicama contains a prebiotic fiber called inulin. Prebiotics may reduce the risk of cancer by increasing the number of healthy bacteria in the gut, increasing the production of protective short-chain fatty acids and boosting the immune response. In fact, studies in mice have shown that consuming inulin fiber may protect against colon cancer. In addition to being a beneficial type of fiber, inulin has been shown to act as an antioxidant that protects the gut lining.

Summary: Jicama contains antioxidants, fiber and prebiotics, all of which have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer.

7. May Aid Weight Loss

Jicama is a nutrient-dense food. It contains a high number of nutrients but a relatively low number of calories. Jicama is high in both water and fiber, which helps fill you up. Additionally, the fiber in jicama may help keep your blood sugar steady. Fiber slows digestion, which helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too quickly after eating. Insulin resistance is a major contributor to obesity. It happens when your cells become less sensitive to insulin, making it harder for glucose to enter the cells where it can be used for energy. Instead, the glucose stays in your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar levels. Studies in mice suggest that eating jicama may increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar levels. Jicama also contains the prebiotic fiber inulin, which has been linked to weight loss and shown to impact hormones that affect hunger and fullness. Therefore, eating jicama may not only increase the type of gut bacteria that aid weight loss, but it may also help you feel more satisfied after a meal.

Summary: Jicama is a nutrient-dense food that is low in calories and high in fiber and water. Studies show that eating jicama can decrease blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity and help you feel full longer.

8. Extremely Versatile

Jicama can be eaten raw or cooked and used in a wide variety of dishes. After removing the tough, brownish peel, the white flesh can be cut into slices or cubes. Here are some ways to add jicama to your diet:

• Add it to a vegetable salad for extra crunch
• Combine with mango, pineapple or papaya for a tropical fruit salad
• Cut it into thick slices and serve with a dip like guacamole or hummus
• Add it to a vegetable platter
• Stir-fry it with sesame oil and rice vinegar
• Sprinkle it with lime juice and chili powder for a spicy snack

Summary: There are many ways to eat jicama. It can be eaten plain, with a dip, or incorporated into dishes like salads and stir-fries.

The Bottom Line

Jicama is a healthy food to include in your diet. It’s high in several nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, which may provide health benefits, including improved digestion, weight loss and a reduced risk of disease. Plus, jicama is tasty and crunchy and can be eaten by itself or paired with many other foods. Given all the benefits that jicama has to offer, you should consider incorporating it into your diet. I have instructed Celia to purchase two per week to replace my less healthy midday snacks.

About G. William Hood

G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
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