nourishing food: sweet potatoes

Hello hello! Welcome to the first installment of October Food Focus! This month we will be focusing on sweet potatoes, one of my favorite fall foods. Just to clear something up from the beginning, sweet potatoes are not yams. I was totally confused about this growing up in the south as many people use the labels sweet potato and yam interchangeably – they are in fact different root vegetable species. Sweet potatoes in North America typically have white or orange flesh, are tapered at the ends and are very sweet. Yams are native to Africa and Asia and very popular in South America. They have a rougher, bark-like skin, come in a variety of sizes and have red, purple or white flesh. Yams are usually sweeter than potatoes. Sweet potatoes and yams can be found in grocery stores and farmers markets in America. I’ve seen a wider range of yams at international markets.

If you already knew that sorry to bore you but I found it very interesting. I remember discovering all of this information a couple of years ago when I set out to make sweet potato dumplings – turned out they were yams! Still delicious I might add ;) Ok enough chit chat lets get to the amazing health benefits of this root vegetable!

Sweet potatoes are incredible sources of antioxidants. The orange variety is high in carotenoids which our bodies convert into vitamin A. Beta carotene (vitamin A precursor) has been used for cancer prevention, to treat age related eye diseases, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Beta carotene is also great for the skin because it protects it from sun damage as well as repairs cell damage from previous sun exposure. One cup of cooked sweet potato can give us more than 400% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A. This is great news because many Americans have low levels of this important vitamin.

Anthocyanins are the water soluble pigments that help give the potato it’s orange color. They have been shown to reduce inflammation – key to our overall health, especially as we age. Sweet potatoes are also very high in vitamins B6 and C. Vitamin B6 is known for it’s ability to break down excess homocysteine in our bodies. Too much homocysteine has been linked to degenerative diseases and heart attacks. Vitamin C is necessary for overall immune function, cell formation and digestion. It also plays a big role in collagen production – another key factor to having young looking skin. In addition, vitamin C speeds up wound healing. Sweet potatoes are great sources of fiber, manganese, potassium and tryptophan.

Another important point to mention with sweet potatoes is their role in regulating blood sugar. I know for many people it is hard to imagine eating starchy, sweet root vegetables because they think they have way too much sugar. While many starchy vegetables are off limits to diabetics, sweet potatoes have been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve the response to insulin.

Sweet potatoes can be prepared in a number of ways. The healthiest ways are boiling and steaming. In order to fully absorb the carotenoids eat your potatoes with a little bit of fat, such as coconut or olive oil. Baking sweet potatoes is also an easy and healthy way to prepare them. It is fine to eat the skin as long as they are organic, otherwise I would peel them. Sweet potatoes can be eaten as part of a savory or sweet meal. For the rest of the month I am going to post delicious recipes using sweet potatoes as the star ingredient. I just finished my recipe list and am very excited to get them together and share them with you here! I hope you enjoy eating this yummy root vegetable as much as I do.




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