By Anselm Adodo
Cocoyam used to be an ordinary stable in Nigerian homes in the past. Then we went to school, and became ‘educated.’ The result is that we lost interest in our local food and developed a taste for processed foods. When you buy, and eat such processed food, you are regarded as ‘educated’ and ‘high class.’ If you eat cocoyam or tell people that you love eating cocoyam, be ready to be labelled as a ‘bushman’, ‘ajepako’, ‘village man or woman’ and all sorts of names. As a result, farmers hardly cultivate cocoyam, and now it has become a scarce food, even in the village.
Cocoyam possesses high nutritional values when compared with others like cassava and yam, with substantial vitamins, minerals and proteins contents. For me, the leaves of cocoyam are the most useful part of the plant. The fact that cocoyam leaves are edible often comes as a surprise for those who have only known this plant as a tuber. The leaves are not just good food product, but they are also able to provide you with plenty of useful vitamins and minerals. Like any leafy green vegetables, cocoyam leaves are as healthy and helpful for your body, especially for those who want to lose fat and improve their health condition.
Please be warned: cocoyam leaves cannot be eaten raw. They contain a toxin that irritates the throat if not properly cooked. This is why the leaves should be soaked in cold water for about 10 to 15 minutes before they are cooked. Cocoyam has more calories than potatoes. 100 g provides 112 calories. Its calories mainly come from complex carbohydrates known as amylose and amylopectin. However, the roots are very low in fats and protein than cereals and pulses. Their protein levels can be comparable to that of other tropical food sources like yam, cassava, potato, banana, etc.
Cocoyam, however, is free from gluten. They feature high-quality Phytonutrition profile comprising of dietary fibre, and antioxidants in addition to moderate proportions of minerals, and vitamins. They are one of the best sources of dietary fibres. Together with slow digesting complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of fibre in the food help gradual rise in blood sugar levels.
Cocoyam contains high levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and various other phenolic antioxidants, which help to boost the immune system and help eliminate dangerous free radicals from our system. Free radicals are the dangerous by-products of cellular metabolism that may result in healthy cells to mutate and turn into cancerous cells. By eliminating these free radicals, our general health is improved. Cryptoxanthin, which is found in cocoyam, is said to protect against both lung and oral cancers.
Cocoyam is very beneficial for overcoming rheumatoid arthritis because low levels of Vitamin B6 are related to increased signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Several researchers conclude that people with rheumatoid arthritis comparatively need more Vitamin B6 than healthy people because they experience constant muscle aches and joint pain due to chronic inflammation. Vitamin B6 benefits include curbing pain and can be useful in controlling aches in the muscles and joints due to arthritis.
Cocoyam consists of a considerable amount of potassium which is considered an essential mineral to remain healthy and efficient. Potassium not only enables good fluid transfers between membranes and tissues throughout the body but also helps to relieve stress and pressure on blood vessels and arteries. By relaxing the veins and blood vessels, blood pressure can be reduced, and stress on the overall cardiovascular system is reduced.
Cocoyam plays an essential role in boosting the immune system. Vitamin C is found in cocoyam roots, which helps the immune system to create white blood cells that help to defend the body from foreign pathogens and agents. Additionally, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which moderately prevents the development of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Consuming high-potassium foods is directly related to decreased muscle cramping and improved muscle strength. Muscle cramps are one of the common side effects of low potassium levels. This happens when an athlete becomes dehydrated and don’t consume enough potassium-rich foods before and after exercise.
Cocoyam also plays a vital role in digestion because it consists of a high level of dietary fibre. Fibre is very important for supporting our gastrointestinal health. Fibre improves bowel movements, thus helping food move through the digestive tract and facilitating improved digestion. Apart from that, it can help to prevent certain conditions like excess gas, cramping, bloating, constipation and even diarrhoea. A healthy, regulated gastrointestinal system can significantly boost overall health and reduce chances of various types of cancer.
Cocoyam consists of Vitamin B1, which is also known as thiamine and is a crucial vitamin for increasing focus, energy, fighting chronic stress, and for preventing memory loss. Several pieces of research have linked thiamine deficiency to difficulty in learning and retaining information. As we have previously mentioned, cocoyam is loaded with several antioxidants, like betacarotene and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants can also help to improve vision as well, by preventing the free radicals from attacking ocular cells and causing macular degeneration or cataracts.
Phosphorus, which is essential for both bone health as well as maintaining teeth and gum health, is present in cocoyam. Calcium, Vitamin D and phosphorus all play a crucial role in the formation and maintenance of dental hygiene by supporting tooth enamel, jaw-bone mineral density and holding the teeth in place, too — therefore, these minerals and vitamins can also help heal tooth decay.
Apart from proper bowel movement dietary fibre can also help lower the chances of developing diabetes because it helps to regulate the release of insulin and glucose in the body. If you consume sufficient amount of Cocoyam in your regular diet, then you can manage your glycaemic levels and lower your chances of developing diabetes. If you have diabetes, then fibre-rich foods like cocoyam can help prevent the spikes and plunges in blood sugar that can be so dangerous.
The presence of iron and copper in cocoyam make it an important food to prevent anaemia and boost circulation throughout the body. Both iron and copper are essential for the production of red blood cells that carry the all-important oxygen to our body’s systems and cells. By decreasing the chances of anaemia (iron deficiency) and boost the flow of blood through the body, you can speed overall metabolism, the growth of new cells, and general oxygenation of the body that is always good to keep the organs and systems functioning properly.