One of the many exciting things about living a Paleo lifestyle is getting creative when it comes to recipes. Finding alternative ingredients to make familiar dishes can be quite the challenge. As you can see below, one of our readers reached out to us and inquired about several alternatives to flour.
Since it’s a common question we had our very own Dr. Cordain, founder of The Paleo Diet, respond to the question and we’ve decided to publish it to the site. Enjoy!
Dear Dr. Cordain,
Since you’re the only source that I trust for uncommon questions about what’s allowed in a truly Paleo Diet, I’d be grateful if you could tell me if:
• arrowroot flour
• organic tapioca flour
• and soluble tapioca fiber
are compatible with the Paleo Diet, especially gut-wise and antinutrient-wise.
Thanks so much, your support is appreciated.
Dr. Cordains’ Response
Many thanks for your good questions. Let me first address the question of arrowroot flour.
The scientific name for arrowroot is Maranta arundinacea. It is a perennial plant native to the Amazon rainforest and grows to a height of between 1 to 5 ft. Its main edible component is its starchy rhizome (underground stem). It was domesticated about 7,000 years ago in South and Central America (1), and today it is used worldwide as a thickener in many foods such as puddings, sauces and baked goods (2).
From a nutritional perspective, arrowroot represents a recent addition to the human diet, but so do hundreds of other western hemisphere plant species, as humans migrated from the old world to North and South America about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago. Arrowroot starch maintains a favorable nutrient cross section which is consistent with the plant foods that shaped the human genome throughout our species’ evolution.
Its caloric density is low (65.0 kcal/100 g) and like other plant foods which shaped the human genome, arrowroot starch maintains a low protein (4.24 g/100 g) content, a moderate carbohydrate (13.39 g/100 g) content and a low fat (0.20 g/100 g) content (3). Additionally, its glycemic index (14.0) is low (4.) Further, arrowroot’s nutritional characteristics are consistent with the old-world plant species that were central in early hominid diets. It maintains a high folate (338 ug/100 g) content, low sodium (26.0 mg/100 g) content and a healthful potassium (K+) to sodium (Na+) ratio of 17.5 (3). Further, arrowroot (per calories) is a good source of iron (2.22 mg/100 g) and magnesium (25.0 mg/100 g) (3).
Arrowroot flour is a source of prebiotic fiber that may have a positive effect upon the immune system (2). Hence, the nutritional evidence for arrowroot flour indicates that it is a healthful “Paleo” food.
Organic Tapioca Flour
Tapioca flour is a starch made from the roots of the cassava plant (Manihot esculenta) which is indigenous to the west central region of Brazil and eastern Peru (5). Like arrowroot, the domestication of the cassava plant, a major staple food in the developing world (6), occurred less than 10,000 years ago and represents a recent dietary addition for humans (5). Unlike arrowroot, raw cassava starch contains antinutritional factors (cyanogenic glucosides [linamarin and lotaustralin]) which are potentially toxic to humans in high concentrations. Boiling, soaking, fermentation, drying and processing of cassava roots reduces its cyanide concentrations, but does not completely eliminate this compound (6,7). Cyanide intoxication may promote goiters, has been linked to ataxia (a neurological disorder, also known as konzo) and pancreatitis (7, 8).
Starch from cassava (tapioca) roots can be replaced by starch from other less toxic plant sources without the risks to health that residual cyanogenic glucosides in cassava roots may promote.
1. Piperno DR. The origins of plant cultivation and domestication in the New World tropics: patterns, process, and new developments. Current Anthropology. 2011 Aug 4;52(S4): S453-70.
2. Kumalasari ID, Harmayani E, Lestari LA, Raharjo S, Asmara W, Nishi K, Sugahara T. Evaluation of immunostimulatory effect of the arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea. L) in vitro and in vivo. Cytotechnology. 2012 Mar 1;64(2):131-7.
3. Nutritionist Pro Software. https://www.nutritionistpro.com/
4. Marsono Y. Glycemic index of selected Indonesian starchy foods. Indonesian Food and Nutrition Progress. 2001; 8:15-20.
5. Olsen KM, Schaal BA. Evidence on the origin of cassava: phylogeography of Manihot esculenta. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1999 May 11;96(10):5586-91.
6. Chavarriaga-Aguirre P, Brand A, Medina A, Prías M, Escobar R, Martinez J, Díaz P, López C, Roca WM, Tohme J. The potential of using biotechnology to improve cassava: a review. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Plant. 2016;52(5):461-478
7. Adamolekun B. Neurological disorders associated with cassava diet: a review of putative etiological mechanisms. Metabolic Brain Disease. March 2011, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 79–85
8. Bhatia E, Choudhuri G, Sikora SS, Landt O, Kage A, Becker M, Witt H. Tropical calcific pancreatitis: strong association with SPINK1 trypsin inhibitor mutations. Gastroenterology. 2002 Oct;123(4):1020-5.