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Prof. Nyarkotey: Ebbeh may lower colon cancer risk, support brain health?
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Prof. Nyarkotey: Ebbeh may lower colon cancer risk, support brain health?

After my article on attaya, there were several emails I received. It was refreshing when one of my colleagues, a Bar student at the Gambia Law School, Banjul, drew my attention to ebbeh, a popular diet in the Gambia. I decided to monitor the popularity of this food. Interestingly, I found that when one walks through the principal streets of the Gambia, one will come across women selling this particular local food.

On one occasion, he took me to one joint to have a taste of the food. Thinking that he was the only colleague waiting to read ebbeh’s article, I was surprised another confronted me asking when ebbeh’s research will be conducted.

I look at the ingredients in ebbeh, and I found that the write-up will be challenging; due to the many ingredients. But the good news is that there are two main ingredients for exploration used in ebbeh’s preparation. Hence, I have decided to explore this diet using the two key ingredients: Palm oil and Cassava.

Ebbeh: what is it?

Ebbeh can be found everywhere in The Gambia and is one of the most common-selling foods. It is so popular, it’s served in schools, restaurants, work canteens, street stalls, and markets. It is made with cassava, smoked fish, crab, tamarind, lime juice, palm oil, salt, pepper, bouillon cubes or seasoning of your choice.

I am told, once tender, the women remove half of the cassava from the pot and pound it in a mortar with a pestle until it forms a paste and return it to the pot. They then add palm oil, pepper, smoked fish, and many others. This article aims to examine the science behind ebbeh.

Ebbeh: Cassava
Nutritional Profile of Cassava

The fact is that traditionally made ebbeh is 100% cassava and this is my interest. What do you get from eating the cassava in ebbeh? One study answered this question: Hussein et al.(2012) found that Cassava contained the following: Protein 0.35-2.45%, ash (0.15-1.50%), fat (0.12-0.61%), fiber (0.01- 0.20%), carbohydrate (81.81-90.37%) and dry matter (81.792.69%).

According to https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/(2020), a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked cassava root contains 191 calories. This means that 84% comes from carbs, while the rest comes from protein and fat. Additionally, one serving also provides some fiber and a few vitamins and minerals.

I provide a summary of the following nutrients present in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked cassava according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2020):

330 calories
78.4 grams of carbohydrates
2.8 grams of protein
0.6 gram fat
3.7 grams fiber
42.4 milligrams vitamin C (71 percent Daily Value)
0.8 milligram manganese (40 percent DV)
558 milligrams potassium (16 percent DV)
55.6 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
43.3 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
1.8 milligrams niacin (9 percent DV)
0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (9 percent DV)
0.1 milligram riboflavin (6 percent DV)
55.6 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
3.9 micrograms vitamin K (5 percent DV)
0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)

A recent study by Abdullah et al.(2022) is in agreement and found that Cassava root is mainly high in vitamin C, an important vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, supports collagen production and enhances immunity, among other benefits. The National Health Institute (2021) also found that cassava is rich in copper, a mineral necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis, energy production, iron metabolism, and more.

Glycemic Index, Ebbeh.

The Healthy Home Economist (2016) also calls cassava-resistant starch “the healthiest starch for your gut:” what does this mean to our health when we eat ebbeh? Hear them:

“Resistant starch is a type of starch that does not break down (it literally “resists” digestion), instead of being absorbed as glucose like most starches. Instead, resistant starch travels through the small intestine to the colon where it is turned into beneficial, energy-boosting, inflammation-squashing, and short-chain fatty acids by intestinal bacteria. The main reason why resistant starch is so beneficial is that it feeds the friendly bacteria in your colon, turns them into important short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate (known to help reduce inflammation), and is extremely helpful in cases of autoimmunity, IBS, colitis, and allergies.

Topping et al, (2003) also explained that resistant starch can be very beneficial. As it feeds beneficial gut bacteria, it can reduce inflammation as well as harmful bacteria. It may also lower your blood glucose level after meals (Diabetes Care, 2006), improve insulin sensitivity (Robertson et al. 2005), help manage metabolic syndrome (Bodinham et al, 2010), and possibly help you eat less(Raben et al,1994). From this analysis, just imagine what eating your local cassava-related diet ebbeh could do to your health.

Cassava in Ebehh, the Science
Digestive and colon health

One study by Marandola et al.(2004) found that Cassava may also, by a different mechanism, be protective against cancer because it contains a chemical called tamarin which is responsible for the production of hydrocyanide. This tamarin has been shown in vitro to cause the death of cancer cells by self-toxicity with hydrocyanide. Another study by Tsumbu et al.(2011) found that Cassava Leaves and roots show promise against colon cancer. Irabor (2011) found that the low colon cancer in Nigeria could be due to the consumption of resistant starch foods such as cassava.

Reduce Blood Pressure

Compare to potatoes, cassava is exceptionally high in potassium. A cup of cassava has 558 milligrams, providing 16% to 21% of the daily recommendation, which ranges between 2600–3400 milligrams per day depending on age and sex.

Filippini et al.(2020) study found that Potassium lowers blood pressure levels and can help balance out sodium intake which raises blood pressure. Choosing a cassava-based side dish such as ebbeh instead of a grain-based one boosts the potassium intake of your meal.

Cassava is rich in flavonoids and fiber that can protect against the development of metabolic syndrome and its associated complications. This claim is especially true when cassava replaces wheat as a staple food(Nwose et al.2017).

Weight Management

One may be mistaken for thinking that due to the high calories in cassava, it may not be appropriate for weight management. However, don’t forget that cassava provides fiber and resistant starch that promotes healthy gut bacteria.

This has been confirmed by Hiel et al.(2019) who found that the fiber from root vegetables reduces cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods. The fiber in cassava also positively impacts the gut microbiome, promoting feelings of satiety.

Ebbeh: Palm Oil
Palm oil nutritional Profile

According to the US. Department of Agriculture, one tablespoon (14 grams) of palm oil contains approximately.
calories: 120
fat: 14 grams
saturated fat: 7 grams
monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
polyunsaturated fat: 1 gram
vitamin E: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)

The organization further explained that palm oil calories originate from fat. The fatty acid breakdown is approximately 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids.
On the other hand, a study by Tan et al.(2021) explained that Red palm oil’s reddish-orange pigment emanates from antioxidants known as carotenoids, including beta carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A.

Palm Oil, Scientific Benefits
Support Brain health

Palm oil is loaded with tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E that contains antioxidants that may support brain health.

One animal and human study (Gopalan et al. 2014; Ibrahim et al. 2017 ) found that the tocotrienols in palm oil can help protect the delicate polyunsaturated fats in the brain, slow dementia progression, reduce the risk of stroke, and prevent the growth of brain lesions.

In the human study, Gopalan et al. (2014) conducted for 2-years involving 121 people with brain lesions, the group who took palm oil-derived tocotrienols twice a day remained stable, but for those who received a placebo, their lesions grow.

Furthermore, Ishmail et al (2020) conducted a review of 18 animal and test-tube studies and found that palm oil and palm oil tocotrienols support neuroprotective effects against cognitive decline.

Cholesterol-lowering, Heart health

Though some study results have been mixed, this oil largely appears to have beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol (Fattore et al.2011; Ismail et al.2018; Lucci et al.2016; Voon et al. 2015)
In the case of Fattore et al.(2011), the study involved a large analysis of 51 studies and found that total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels were lower in people who consumed palm oil-rich diets than those who consumed diets high in trans fats or myristic and lauric acids.

Additionally, the case of Lucci et al.(2016) involved a 3-month randomized study from Columbia that examined the cholesterol-lowering ability of palm oil made from a hybrid of Elaeis guineensis and Elaeis oleifera trees.
In this study, people consumed either 25 mL (2 tablespoons) of olive oil or a hybrid palm oil daily. Based on a 15% drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol in both groups, researchers suggested this palm oil could be called “the tropical equivalent of olive oil”.

In a previous clinical trial, Zhang et al.(1997) also examined the effects of palm oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, and lard on cholesterol levels. The authors found that palm oil caused a 13.1 percent decrease in bad LDL cholesterol and a 6.7 percent drop in triglyceride levels in those with normal cholesterol.

Apart from Palm oil lowering your cholesterol levels, it also slows the progression of heart diseases. One clinical trial by Tomeo et al.(1995) examined the impacts of palm oil on heart disease for 18 months. They found that 28 percent of people with heart disease who were treated with palm oil demonstrated improvement and 64 percent remained stable. Equally, those in the placebo group also demonstrated improvement, however, 40 percent of cases got worse.

This means that Palm oil is a heart-healthy fat and should be part of a diet plan to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Enhanced vitamin A

One old study by McLaren(1999) and a recent review study by Tan et al.(2021)found that Red palm oil enhances vitamin A status in people who are deficient or at risk of deficiency because it’s rich in carotenoids that the body can convert into vitamin A.

Another small study of 16 participants by Sommerburg et al.(2015) found that people with cystic fibrosis, a condition that makes it difficult to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, experienced an increase in vitamin A blood levels after taking two to three tablespoons of red palm oil daily for 8 weeks.

A previous clinical trial by Radhika et al.(2013) also found that Palm oil is mostly used as a supplement to help improve vitamin A status in those who are at risk for deficiency. This study, emanated from the National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research in India, showed that treating pregnant women with red palm oil increased vitamin A levels for both women and their babies.

Another meta-analysis of nine high-quality studies by Dong et al.(2017)found red palm oil supplementation to increase vitamin A levels in both children and adults.

Take home

The combined ingredients in ebbeh may help the body in many ways. Science has proven the benefits of palm oil and cassava used in ebbeh preparations. All the minor local ingredients have scientific backing. As Africans, it is time we focus on promoting our local diet to support our economy and in turn improve our health. I hope my review helps.


Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. Currently BL Candidate at the Gambia Law School, Banjul.
E. mail: [email protected]. + 2207452652(for more information)


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