While sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably, they are not the same vegetable. They are both starchy root vegetables, but this is where the similarity ends. Yams don’t have the same nutritional content as sweet potatoes, and are particularly low in beta carotene, though they are higher in potassium. The characteristic deep orange color of sweet potatoes is due to its high beta-carotene content. A number of studies have found that sweet potatoes can raise vitamin A levels, especially in children. Vitamin A may help protect skin and eyes against damage caused by sun exposure. Sweet potatoes should be accompanied by a small amount of fat to help the body absorb and use the beta-carotene more efficiently. Adding just a tablespoon of olive oil is provides plenty of fat.
Not all sweet potatoes are orange, however. Some of them are a deep purple instead, due to a high content of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant anthocyanins. Some studies suggest that these compounds may be able to help remove heavy metals and free radicals from the body. The root isn’t the only part of the sweet potato plant that is edible. If you or someone you know grows sweet potatoes, give the leafs, shoots, or stems a try. In fact, sweet potato greens have been shown to halt prostate cancer growth in mice by as much as 75%.
Sweet potatoes are a great way to satisfy cravings for sweet treats. Sweet potatoes release their sugar into the bloodstream much more slowly than other starchy foods, so you won’t get the spikes (and subsequent crashes) in blood sugars that occur with most sweets. Part of the reason for this is because the high fiber content in sweet potatoes regulates digestion, so the sugars aren’t absorbed as quickly. Sweet potatoes also contain manganese, which helps regulate carbohydrate metabolism and keep blood sugar levels stable.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of magnesium, a mineral critical to hundreds of physiological functions. Magnesium supports the arteries, bones, muscles, and nerves and promote a sense of calm and well-being. In some people, magnesium can also ease the symptoms of migraines, muscle spasms, and restless leg syndrome. It is estimated that 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, due to most of our food being grown in deficient soil. Magnesium deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms, from restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps to migraines. They also contain potassium, an electrolyte that also helps regulate nerve signals and heart rate. Potassium also helps bring down swelling and protects the kidneys.
When most people think vitamin C, they think citrus fruits, not sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are a surprisingly good source of the cold and flu busting vitamin. Vitamin C also helps stimulate collagen production, which helps keep you looking younger and protects you against the effects of stress.
Sweet potatoes also contain the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D. Vitamin D is especially critical in the winter, when the sun’s rays are not as strong (and most of us spend much of our time indoors, where it’s warm). Vitamin D is a critical immune booster, and deficiency has been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Vitamin D also plays important roles in maintaining mood and energy levels and in promoting healthy nerves bones, skin, teeth, and heart.
Sweet potatoes do not need to be refrigerated, they will keep perfectly well on your counter and are easy to include in a healthy sweet potato recipe. The only limit to the ways sweet potatoes can be prepared is your imagination. They can be roasted, steamed, baked, pureed and added to soups and stews, grilled and added to salad, or even blended into an energizing smoothie. Try tossing a cup of cubed sweet potato and a couple of carrots into the blender with a bit of healthy fat, such as almond butter, a cup of coconut or almond milk, and a sprinkle of ginger and cinnamon. However, to get the most out of them, consider steaming or boiling. Studies show more of the anthocyanins are preserved with these cooking methods. And be sure to leave the skin on. Much of the fiber and nutrients are concentrated in the skin.
By: Kathy S. – Agoura Hills, CA