A Super ‘Pre’biotic

  • Jaspal Bajwa
  • India
  • Jan 16, 2015

In recent years the benefits of Probiotics – healthy bacteria in our gut – have become fairly well known. A probiotic deficiency can create an imbalance in favour of unhealthy bacteria - the ‘dangerous critters’, which thrive on sugars and junk foods. Poor diet and over-use of medications (including birth control pills, antibiotics and corticosteroids) can help tilt the scales. This can lead to extremely dangerous situations - acidity and Leaky Gut Syndrome can leach toxins, in place of nutrients, into the blood stream; and prolonged gut flora imbalance can even lead to colon cancer. Prebiotics are the lesser-known sibling of probiotics. These are indigestible fibres that are obtained from food. Consuming Prebiotics can help in digestion, because these feed, nourish and increase probiotic bacteria.
The more commonly known Prebiotics are oligosaccharides (several types of sugar molecules linked together) and inulin, and these are naturally found in chicory root. Some other examples of foods that contain Prebiotics are onions, leeks, whole grains and bananas. As a Prebiotic, inulin promotes ‘good bacteria’ growth, which helps maintain both a healthy colon and balanced immunity. 

Prebiotics have several other benefits (beyond the positive effects on digestive microflora). Several studies have suggested that Prebiotics lower cholesterol and triglycerides. These fibres may also help regulate blood sugars, and some Prebiotics may help reduce appetite, increase satiety, and thereby help in weight management. Prebiotics can promote bone health by enhancing absorption of calcium from other foods, thus protecting against osteoporosis. An important Prebiotic is a lightly sweet and crunchy root vegetable Jicama (pronounced hee-cama). It is an excellent source for delivering all the above benefits. Jicama is receiving increasing attention and is even being labelled as one of the ‘Superfoods’. In 2005, a report in the British Journal of Nutrition highlighted the role that inulin from Jicama can play in lowering colon cancer risk, by reducing exposure to the toxic impact of carcinogens in the gut. 

Tip of the Week 

The only edible part of Jicama is the interior pulp. Firm, round tubers should be selected and then stored in a cool, dark place for upto 4 weeks. After it is cut, it is best to stored in the fridge. It should not be stored for too long, as the starch can convert to sugar. 

Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Jicama or Pachyrhizus erosus

Jicama originated in Mexico, Central America and the Andes Mountain regions, which is why it is often called Mexican yam, turnip or potato. Jicama is now found in almost all tropical countries. Some of the local names it goes by are Dòush– (in Mandarin) or Bengkuang (in Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries). In India it is called Shankhalu in Bengali and Mishrikand in Hindi. Jicama, like Jerusalem artichokes, acts as a Prebiotic, to promote ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut. Additionally, it may help boost collagen and fight wrinkles, thanks to its high Vitamin C content. Jicama can also help lower cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss and reduce the risk of capillary damage. Importantly, Jicama shows a strong propensity to reduce homocysteine levels (thus reducing the risk factor for cardiac or renal disease); studies have shown that regular consumption of this vegetable can lower homocysteine levels by approximately 11%. Jicama is low in calories (only 35 per 100 gm serving) but high in vital nutrients, and is a powerful antioxidant that neutralises free radicals - thus helping protect against inflammation, viral cough, cold, infections and cancer. Jicama is an excellent source of fibre, which his also infused with oligofructose inulin. It is loaded with important minerals and vitamins. A 100-gram serving of jicama provides 34% of the daily-recommended allowance of Vitamin C (good for eyes and shin), and also provides potassium, iron and calcium. It has important antihistamine properties and helps boost the immune function. In addition, it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and can help people who suffer from asthma or frequent colds. Importantly, because it has a very low glycaemic index, jicama can be part of the diet regimen for diabetics. 

Jicama has a crisp, white, solid flesh. When consumed raw, it has a flavour similar to an apple or pear. When cooked, Jicama absorbs the flavours of all the other ingredients. Raw or cooked Jicama can easily be hopped, cubed or sliced. It can be consumed as a snack, as well as used in stir-fries, salads, slaws and soup. A favourite Mexican recipe is ‘Chilled Jicama slices sprinkled with chili powder, salt and lime juice’.

For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions



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