Five Reasons to Enjoy Sweet Potatoes This Season
It is officially fall, actually, it’s almost winter in some parts and I’m so behind posting blogs! But here I am, and it’s well into the time of year when people get excited for their favorite seasonal foods, Halloween, and the holidays. This year, be sure to include some delicious sweet potatoes alongside your pumpkin spiced latte on the table. They are a nutritional powerhouse and can be prepared in a variety of ways.
The history of sweet potatoes goes way back. Evidence shows they were one of many types of potatoes cultivated in Peru as early as 5,000 years ago. From there, it is said they have traveled around the world, becoming popular and in some areas, very important crops. They differ botanically from yams, their big cousin from Africa. Yams have a rough skin and can grow very large, sometimes weighting in at 150 pounds! The canned yams you see in the grocery store are actually sweet potatoes, and sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes! Sweet potatoes are a part of the morning glory family and the part we eat is the root of the plant. The more common white potato belongs to the nightshade family, which produces tubers, the underground stems that so many know and love.
Back to sweet potatoes. While it is interesting that they are one of the nearly 4,000 types of potatoes that come from Peru, what’s really important is their nutrient density. Wait- I should say first that they are delicious, then add that they are nutritious! Most people eat for flavor, and sweet potatoes have it. They can be served in a variety of ways, from sweet to savory, baked to fried, and every way in between.
1. Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate. This type of carbohydrate contains starch but it also contains fiber which slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller, longer. In addition, fiber plays a role in digestive health, helps to keep you regular, and some studies show fiber may reduce cholesterol levels.
2. Need some Vitamin A? Have a sweet potato. Just one half of a medium sized sweet potato provides all your Vitamin A needs for the day. The colorful compounds in these orange vegetables are called carotenoids. Beta carotene is the most important and in the human body, we convert it into Vitamin A. This is a critical vitamin for vision and it aids in proper functioning of both the cornea and conjunctival membrane. The most common reason for night blindness the world over is Vitamin A deficiency, so ensure you get your orange vegetables to protect against eye damage, both now and as you age.
3. Potassium. Most people in the United States do not consume enough potassium, a nutrient that is necessary to help muscles contract and communicate with nerves and to regulate mineral balance in our cells. It can also help maintain a healthy blood pressure and may be protective against bone loss as we age. We need about 4,700 mg/day and one medium sweet potato helps contribute to that daily goal, providing nearly 500 mg.
4. Sweet potatoes, like most other vegetables, are naturally low in fat. While it is important to limit the amount of overall fat we consume in the diet, a small amount of monounsaturated fat helps us to absorb the beneficial compounds found in sweet potatoes. When preparing your delectable dish, use some flavor enhancing olive, canola, or peanut oil, or add some avocado, peanuts, or other nuts and seeds to your meal.
5. Sweet potatoes are delicious. Their natural sweetness pairs well with both sweet and savory foods. Try roasting some with a spritz of lime and a sprinkle of chili powder, or bake some puréed potatoes into a pie this holiday season. Be aware of some toppings, however, as different syrups, brown sugar, and marshmallows all add extra calories with little nutrition. Enjoy the flavor this amazing vegetable has to offer by roasting or broiling it in the oven. The caramelization process enhances the natural sweetness of the potato and you will feel good knowing you’re providing your body with some healthy nutrients.
Get cooking today! Whether you make them baked, mashed, in French fry form, roasted, or into pancakes, pies, or casseroles, don’t leave out this gem of a vegetable over the holiday season, or any time of year for that matter!