Thanksgiving is around the corner, and that means lots of food. It’s easy to overeat and feel horrible later.
Fortunately, as more and more of us become aware of how what we put in our mouths affects our mental and physical health, there are better alternatives and recipes to go with them. That encourages healthy eating, even on this stuff-yourself-silly holiday.
Even if you’re going with a more traditional meal, there’s one vegetable that’s always been center-stage, and it’s grown up! Read on to learn more about how good it is for you, and how to prepare it without ruining its wonderful benefits!
Sweet potatoes: The nutritional giant
The sweet potato (not to be confused with yams – more on that in a bit) is a root vegetable. Other examples of root vegetables are beets, white potatoes, carrots and turnips.
Remains of sweet potatoes have been found dating as far back as 8000 B.C. Today, they are a valuable staple food in many cultures around the world, including China and Ethiopia.
In the United States, the South is known for its sweet potato dishes. Overall, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that we’ve been eating less and less of this richly nutritious vegetable in the last few decades.
That’s a shame, because the sweet potato has much to offer in the way of supporting your health…
A medium cooked sweet potato has only 103 calories along with 2.3 grams of protein. It’s rich in the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A – 438% Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin B6 – 16% DV
- Vitamin C – 37% DV
- Potassium – 15% DV
- Magnesium – 8% DV
That sweet potato also contains 9% DV of copper and 28% DV of manganese. Both these minerals are more difficult to get from your diet, but are vitally important. Manganese is crucial for normal brain and nerve function, as well as for blood clotting.
6 ways sweet potatoes are good for you
Eaten regularly, this humble-looking vegetable can work wonders on your health.
They stabilize blood sugar. Sweet potatoes have been shown to reduce and control blood sugar, so they are a good choice for people with diabetes.
One study from the University of Vienna gave 61 participants either four grams of sweet potatoes or a placebo daily for three months. The group who ate sweet potato (in this case, the caiapo, a variety known for its anti-diabetic qualities) had significantly lower blood sugar levels.
They’re heavy on antioxidants. Like blueberries and dark chocolate, sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidants that protect us from metabolic syndrome , the cluster of health conditions that lead directly to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Sweet potatoes, like their fellow root veggie, the carrot, are full of beta carotene , an antioxidant that protects vision, supports the liver, and reduces disease-causing inflammation.
They make your brain work better. Several animal studies have demonstrated that eating sweet potatoes can help boosts working memory, protect against brain aging, and improve focus.
Studies have also shown that the carotenoids in this orange vegetable can help improve brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment.
They strengthen your immune system. The mega-dose of Vitamin A contained in one sweet potato will skyrocket your chances of staying healthy this winter.
Vitamin A helps in the production of the immune cells that fight disease. In fact, many studies have shown that this vitamin can help reduce the risk of death from certain infectious disease. Some animal studies have even indicated it can help fight tumors. This is one powerful vitamin!
They sharpen your eyesight. Vitamin A is also a crucial factor in keeping your eyes healthy. Dry eyes, night blindness, and even vision loss are symptoms of a Vitamin A deficiency.
And beta carotene, which is actually necessary for the formation of Vitamin A, is known to be important in maintaining healthy vision.
They can help you lose weight. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and protein, and low in calories, making them the ideal food for filling you up without filling you out. Just one cup of sweet potato gives you 6.6g of fiber. Here’s more on the sweet potato weight loss secret!
Sweet potatoes vs. yams
Just to clear things up: the sweet potato and the yam come from two different families.
Sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory flower. They come from South America, and range in color from bright orange to deep purple. They’re smooth-skinned, taste sweet, and are high in protein and nutrients.
Yams, on the other hand, are related to lilies. They come from Africa and Asia, and are white in color. Their skin is rough, they have a starchy taste, and are higher in carbohydrates and calories.
How to enjoy sweet potatoes
Getting back to Thanksgiving… there’s no need to smother this wonderful vegetable in sugary marshmallows to make it a centerpiece of your holiday meal.
Sweet potatoes are delicious when baked and simply sprinkled with a little brown sugar. But, for something fancier, here are a few recipes you can impress your guests with:
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- Efficacy of Ipomoea batatas (Caiapo) on diabetes control in type 2 diabetic subjects treated with diet — Diabetes Care
- Mode of action of ipomoea batatas (Caiapo) in type 2 diabetic patients — Metabolism
- Effects of retinoic acid on the immune system: stimulation of T killer cell induction — European Journal of Immunology