Sweet potatoes, not to be confused with yams, have been cultivated for thousands of years. These root vegetables are believed to have originated in Central and South America. North Carolina, which is now the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, claims the sweet potato as their state vegetable.
Sweet potatoes provide a number of health benefits and are easy to add to your diet.
There are more than 400 varieties of sweet potatoes around the world! You are probably most familiar with the delicious, orange-fleshed variety, but there is also a beautiful purple sweet potato that is worth trying. Sweet potatoes are mainly composed of carbs. Most of the carbs come from starch, followed by fiber. This root vegetable is also relatively low in protein, but still an important protein source in many developing countries.
Did you know they are considered a superfood ? The nutritional profile of a sweet potato is pretty robust. Here’s a rundown of its health benefits:
- One of nature’s best sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene, a single cup provides 43 percent of our daily vitamin A needs with a modest 102 calories.
- They are also excellent source of vitamins C, B5, and B6
- Supply an array of minerals – including potassium, manganese, and calcium
- Provide 4 grams of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is 14% of the recommended daily intake
Sweet potatoes are among the healthiest common whole-food sources of potassium, which every cell in our body requires to function. When picking out varieties at the supermarket, remember that a sweet potato’s nutritional content is tied directly to the intensity of its color. The more yellow or orange its flesh, the healthier it may be, and purple sweet potatoes are even healthier!
One caveat – sweet potatoes can have a high glycemic index and glycemic load when cooked and prepared in certain ways. Keep this in mind if you’re a diabetic or need to control your carb and sugar intake.
Most people enjoy candied sweet potatoes around the holidays, which are loaded with brown sugar, butter, marshmallows, and added fats and sweeteners. But they are naturally sweet, hence their name “sweet” potato. Their sweetness is enhanced by heat, so cooking them brings about an inherent goodness without the need for excessive added sugars. Here are some creative, healthy ways to prepare sweet potatoes that are delicious.
Healthy Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a steamer with a tight-fitting lid. Steam two medium-sized peeled and sliced sweet potatoes in steamer basket, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until tender. When tender, mash with potato masher, adding 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and white pepper to taste.
Roasted Purple Sweet Potato Wedges
Fire up the oven to 400 degrees. Cut two medium purple sweet potatoes and three large carrots into one inch by two-inch pieces. Chop one tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and thyme. Put potatoes, carrots, rosemary, and thyme into large bowl along with four tablespoons olive oil, one teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. In an artistic fashion spread the purple sweet potatoes and carrots on a cookie sheet and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Serve warm all by themselves or as a side dish.
Spicy Sweet Potato Chips
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Stir together two tablespoons olive oil, two tablespoons maple syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Brush slices from three large sweet potatoes with the maple mixture and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake in preheated oven for eight minutes, then turn the potato slices over, brush with any remaining maple mixture, and continue baking until tender in the middle, and crispy on the edges, about seven minutes more.
Baked Sweet Potato
One of the easiest ways to serve a sweet potato is simply baked. Using a fork, poke some shallow holes throughout. Then place on a baking tray – uncovered – and bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. Add a dollop of low-fat sour cream, Greek yogurt, or healthy butter choice, and sprinkle a coating of brown sugar and/or cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and you’ve got yourself a “super” side.
Sweet Potato Soup
Nothing says comfort food like a warming soup – this one is full of autumn flavors. First, gently saute one medium-sized onion and two cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add a touch of cinnamon, chili powder, and nutmeg, followed by two large diced sweet potatoes. Cover the potatoes mixture with a blend of four cups of broth and water and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor.
Don’t limit eating sweet potatoes to the Thanksgiving and holiday season. They are available all year and pack a lot of health benefits. Add them to your normal meal plan for variety and added color. Sweet potatoes are versatile and can be used an add-on for many recipes. You can toss cooked, cubed sweet potatoes in a salad, supplement one-pan poultry recipes, roast with other vegetables in an oven medley, and so much more.
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder Proactive Health Labs Inc.
edited by Maria Pietromonaco