Sago is a type of starch extracted from tropical palms like Metroxylon sagu.

It’s versatile and a primary source of carbs in some parts of the world.

Sago contains antioxidants and resistant starch and has been linked to many benefits, including improving risk factors for heart disease and enhancing exercise performance (1, 2, 3).

This article provides an overview of the nutrition, benefits, uses, and downsides of sago.

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Sago is a type of starch extracted from the core of certain tropical palm stems.

Starches are complex carbs that consist of many connected glucose molecules. Glucose is a type of sugar that your body uses as an energy source.

Sago is mainly extracted from Metroxylon sagu, or sago palm, which is native to many parts of the world, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea (4, 5).

The sago palm grows quickly and tolerates a wide variety of soils. A single sago palm can contain 220–1,760 pounds (100–800 kg) of starch (5).

Sago is a dietary staple in areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. It’s not very nutritious but rich in carbs, an important source of energy for your body (5).

It can be purchased in two main forms — flour or pearls. While the flour is pure starch, the pearls are small balls of sago that are made by mixing the starch with water and partially heating them.

Naturally gluten-free, sago is a good substitute for wheat-based flour and grains in baking and cooking for those on restricted diets (6).

Summary Sago is a staple starch in some areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. While it’s not very nutritious, it’s gluten-free and rich in carbs.

Sago is almost pure starch, a type of carb. It only contains small amounts of protein, fat, and fiber and lacks many vitamins and minerals.

Below is the nutritional information per 3.5 pounds (100 grams) of sago (7):

  • Calories: 332
  • Protein: less than 1 gram
  • Fat: less than 1 gram
  • Carbs: 83 grams
  • Fiber: less than 1 gram
  • Zinc: 11% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)

Other than zinc, sago is low in vitamins and minerals. This makes it nutritionally inferior to many types of flour like whole wheat or buckwheat, which typically contain more nutrients, such as protein and B vitamins (7, 8).

That said, it’s naturally grain- and gluten-free, making it a suitable flour replacement for people with celiac disease or those following specific, grain-free diets such as the paleo diet (6).

Summary Sago is almost pure carbs and low in most nutrients. It’s naturally gluten-free and suitable for those on grain-free diets.

Sago may be linked to the following potential health benefits.

Contains antioxidants

Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. When free radical levels become too high in your body, they can cause cellular damage, which is linked to conditions like cancer and heart disease (9).

Test-tube studies have found that sago is high in polyphenols like tannins and flavonoids, which are plant-based compounds that function as antioxidants in your body (1, 10).

Research has linked diets abundant in polyphenols to improved immunity, reduced inflammation, and a reduced risk of heart disease (11).

One animal study observed fewer signs of free radical damage, higher antioxidant levels, and a reduced risk of atherosclerosis — a disease associated with narrowed arteries due to cholesterol buildup — in mice fed sago-rich diets, compared to mice fed low-sago diets (12).

This may be because of sago’s high concentration of antioxidants. However, there are no human studies on sago antioxidants, so more research is needed.

Good source of resistant starch

Sago is approximately 7.5% resistant starch, a type of starch that passes through your digestive tract undigested (2).

Resistant starch reaches the colon undigested and feeds your healthy gut bacteria. These bacteria break down resistant starch and produce compounds like short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) (13).

Numerous studies have linked resistant starch and SCFAs to health benefits, including lower blood sugar levels, reduced appetite, and improved digestion (14, 15).

In one animal study, sago was used as a prebiotic, which feeds healthy gut bacteria. Sago raised SCFA levels in the gut and reduced insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes (16).

While some types of resistant starch have been shown to benefit those with diabetes and prediabetes, human studies are currently lacking. More research is needed to better understand the potential impact of resistant starch on blood sugar control (17).

May reduce heart disease risk

High blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels are risk factors for heart disease (18, 19).

In one study, researchers showed that mice fed sago had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than mice fed tapioca starch (20).

This was linked to sago’s high amylose content, a type of starch with long, linear chains of glucose that take longer to digest. As the chains break down slower, they release sugar at a more controlled rate, which may improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels (20).

In fact, human and animal studies show that diets higher in amylose have been linked to lower cholesterol and blood fat levels, as well as improved blood sugar control — another risk factor for heart disease (21, 22, 23).

May enhance exercise performance

Several studies have analyzed sago’s effects on exercise performance.

A study in 8 cyclists showed that drinking beverages containing sago and both sago and soy protein during exercise delayed fatigue and increased exercise endurance by 37% and 84%, respectively, compared to a placebo (3).

Another study in 8 cyclists found those who ate a sago-based porridge after a 15-minute time trial performed 4% better in a subsequent trial, compared to those who ate a placebo (24).

Yet, one study noted that taking a sago-based drink before cycling in humid conditions did not improve performance. Still, cyclists who consumed the drink sweat less, did not show rises in body temperature, and tolerated heat better than the placebo group (25).

Sago may have these effects because it’s a convenient and quick source of carbs.

Research shows that consuming carbs prior to or during exercise may prolong endurance activity, while consuming carbs after exercise may enhance your body’s ability to recover (26, 27).

Summary Sago provides antioxidants and resistant starch, and it may be linked to health benefits, including reducing your risk factors for heart disease and improving exercise performance.

Sago is a staple food in Southeast Asia, along with many other parts of the world. It’s often mixed with hot water to form a glue-like mass, which is commonly eaten as a source of carbs with fish or vegetables (28).

It’s also common to bake sago into bread, biscuits, and crackers. Alternatively, it can be used to make pancakes like lempeng, a popular Malaysian pancake (28).

Commercially, sago is used as a thickener due to its viscous properties (28).

In the United States, sago is often sold in flour or pearl form at Asian grocery stores and online.

The pearls are small starch aggregates that look similar to tapioca pearls. They’re often boiled with water or milk and sugar to make desserts like sago pudding.

Summary Sago can be eaten mixed with water, used as a flour in baking, or as a thickener. Sago pearls are commonly used in dessert dishes.

Nutritionally, sago is low in protein, vitamins, and minerals compared to many other carb sources like brown rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, and whole wheat (8).

Although it’s free from gluten and grains, it’s not one of the most nutritious carb sources. Other gluten-free, grain-free carb sources like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and regular potatoes deliver more nutrients (8).

Additionally, although the sago sold in supermarkets is safe to consume, the sago palm itself is poisonous.

Eating sago before it’s processed can cause vomiting, liver damage, and even death (29).

However, the starch derived from the palm is processed to remove toxins, making it safe to eat (29).

Summary Commercially purchased sago is safe to eat. However, it’s low in nutrients compared to other types of flour, and it’s not the most nutritious carb choice.

Sago is a type of starch that’s commonly extracted from a palm called Metroxylon sagu.

It’s mainly composed of carbs and is low in protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, sago is naturally grain- and gluten-free, making it suitable for those following restricted diets.

In addition, it’s antioxidant and resistant starch contents have been linked to several potential benefits, including lower cholesterol and improved exercise performance.