Understanding precisely what’s in the food you eat is an important part of following a ketogenic diet. Unless your diet is high in fat and exceptionally low in carbs, you’ll quickly be kicked out of ketosis, losing the unique benefits for your physical and mental health.
If you’ve been keto for long, you’ve no doubt consumed alternative flours, whether or not you realize it. They’re found in pre-made keto meals and snacks that you buy at the store and they’re a great way to make tasty treats at home. People use a variety of keto-friendly flours for things like muffins, cookies, and as a thickening agent in dressings and stews.
One alternative flour that’s popular amongst those who are gluten-free or paleo is tapioca flour. This popularity amongst the health-conscious has led many people following the ketogenic diet to wonder whether or not it’s a good option for them. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about tapioca and the keto diet.
What Is Tapioca Flour?
Tapioca is a starch that’s extracted from the cassava root, a tuber native to South America. While cassava is an important food source in many African and South American countries, in the US, we rarely consume the actual root. Instead, we use the extracted starchy component as a food additive and as flour in gluten-free baking.
Tapioca can take many forms, including flour, flakes, or pearls (like those used in boba tea). Because tapioca flour is a gluten-free and grain-free flour substitute, it’s popularity in the US has been growing in recent years. When most people in the US mention tapioca, they’re referring to tapioca flour, not the other tapioca products.
Tapioca flour also goes by the name tapioca starch. Cassava flour is different from tapioca flour as it contains more than just the starchy component of the cassava root. However, you will most often come into contact with tapioca starch when at the grocery store.
Is Tapioca Starch Healthy?
Because it’s gluten-free and grain-free, many people assume that tapioca flour is a healthy alternative to traditional flour. Truth be told, this flour is a source of empty calories and isn’t particularly healthy for you. It’s nearly void of protein, fat, and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. In fact, a ¼ cup of tapioca starch contains more carbs than a ¼ cup of traditional flour, which isn’t something you want when you’re in ketosis.
Why Do People Use Tapioca Flour?
Given that tapioca flour isn’t packed full of healthy fats, protein, or other nutrients, you might wonder why it’s found in so many products and why health-conscious people are using it. When it comes to packaged foods, it’s included for two primary reasons: cost and dietary restrictions.
Tapioca starch is inexpensive and versatile. It can be used to thicken condiments, soups, and other liquids, and it’s an effective binding agent, keeping foods like chicken nuggets from crumbling apart. In baked goods, it can help keep the center chewy and moist and the crust crunchy. Plus, it’s safe for people who follow a gluten-free diet, and some people who follow the paleolithic diet deem this tuber-based flour to be more acceptable than grain-based flours.
Because gluten-sensitive and paleo dieters will purchase products that contain tapioca, there are many low-carb packaged foods that contain tapioca as an ingredient. And with the limited low-carb food options out there, many who follow the ketogenic diet wonder if they should give it a try, too.
Why You Should Avoid Tapioca on a Keto Diet
Many people new to the keto diet ask whether or not tapioca starch is okay for the keto diet. The short answer is no, tapioca isn’t a good option when you’re following a keto diet. It’s high in carbs and low in fats, the exact opposite macronutrient profile that keto followers are looking for. This means that it’s highly glycemic and can quickly kick you out of ketosis.
Plus, it lacks nutritional value, so you’re much better off finding a healthier source of carbs for your small daily carb allowance. There are other flour alternatives that are higher in fat and nutrients, making them a better option than tapioca flour. With the excess carbs you save by avoiding tapioca, you can add some dark, leafy greens and berries into your daily diet to optimize your health.
So, why is there so much confusion when it comes to tapioca flour and the keto diet?
The main reason is that tapioca is often used in foods labeled “low-carb.” But it’s important to understand that not all low-carb foods are acceptable for someone who is in ketosis. These foods can still contain enough carbs or protein to kick you out of ketosis, slowing your well-deserved progress.
How to Limit Tapioca Flour in a Keto Diet
Limiting tapioca starch is as simple as adding it to the list of ingredients that you try to avoid. Every time that you purchase a new flour or food at the grocery store, read the label and see if it has tapioca flour; if it does, try to find a better alternative. Some of the best keto flours include:
- Almond flour
- Almond meal
- Coconut flour
- Flax meal
- Psyllium husk
And remember, tapioca is in a lot of low-carb baked goods and prepackaged foods. This includes things like salad dressings, frozen meals, burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza crusts, and soups. Read every label so you can find the most keto-friendly foods available.
Tapioca flour is a high-carb, low-fat food that doesn’t have a place in the ketogenic diet. When cooking at home, use more keto-friendly flours, such as coconut and almond flour. And when you go out to buy pre-made food, read the ingredient list and try to opt for foods that don’t contain tapioca. There are plenty of delicious, nutritious, and keto-friendly products available to satisfy your palate and your dietary restrictions.
Author: Nicole Gleichmann