What are Sweet Potatoes?
For some sweet potatoes and yams are used interchangebly but they are both quite different. The sweet potato is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the family Convolvulaceae. The roots of the sweet potato are large, starchy, sweet-tasting, and tuberous. The sweet potato leaves and shoots can be eaten as greens.
Yams are dark thicker skin, almost like bark, with a white flesh. Sweet potatoes are a light, more thin skin that is gold, purplish red, or copper colored with orange flesh
Nutritional content of sweet potatoes
It’s most common to see sweet potatoes being praised for their vitamin A content, but carbohydrate-related molecules called glycosides are also rich in sweet potatoes. Molecularly similar to starch, yet relatively unstudied, these compounds may possess antibacterial and antifungal properties, among other health benefits.
Anthocyanin is a phytochemical that is responsible for the purple pigment in a variety of purple-hued plant foods including purple sweet potatoes. Anthocyanin and similar pigments may be partly responsible for reducing inflammation in the brain and nervous tissue in animal studies. They may impact fibrinogen, a protein in the body which plays a role in blood clotting and inflammatory response. Anthocyanin and its counterparts reaffirm the importance of enjoying a colorful balance of fruits and vegetables everyday.
We would also be remiss to overlook the favorable glycemic index (GI) rating, the abundance of fiber, and the supreme digestibility of the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes improve blood sugar regulation. This is in part due to the nearly 7 grams of fiber per potato helping to slow digestion and therefore steady the pace of digestion. However research also shows sweet potato extracts to increase adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat cells to modify insulin metabolism. People with poor blood sugar regulation and insulin metabolism have low levels of adiponectin and vice versa. In short, there are various compounds in sweet potatoes that lend themselves to healthier blood sugar regulation. Efficient regulation subsequently leads to healthy weight management.
How to Prepare and Cook Sweet Potatoes
My favorite and most simple way to prepare sweet potatoes is four simple steps:
- Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly).
- Peel (or not, if you prefer to eat the skins, the peeling will fall right off after baking or steaming)
- Bake them at 400 degrees for one hour
- Mash the sweet potatoes
- Next I add butter and or coconut oil, but olive oil works great too. I just prefer my potatoes to stay sweet, and butter and coconut oil both do the trick. Adding an fat source is a good idea because the body’s uptake of the fat soluble vitamins in sweet potatoes is greatly increased.
- Finally I add a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon and top with vanilla greek yogurt. The pie route is a good way to go too, and all sorts of recipes are available online and in cook books.
While this looks like a slice of pumpkin pie, it’s actually made entirely from sweet potatoes.
Organic vs. Non-organic Produce
Whether or not to buy organic produce is always debatable. It’s often helpful to consider how the produce is grown when considering if it’s worth it to spend the extra money. Common sense might suggest that potatoes grow in the ground and are therefore very susceptible to absorbing chemical residues. However, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says differently. It is a nonprofit organization which advocates for policies to protect global and individual health and releases a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
The guide is current to the year (2014) and is based on research from Federal agencies’ research from the past nine years. It identifies the “Clean 15” foods that have the lowest pesticide load and are therefore the safest conventional produce to consume in terms of pesticide contamination – buying them organic is less relevant from a human health standpoint. Sweet potatoes are on this list. The reasons include the fact that they are almost always peeled, and also because the pesticides required to protect the aerial parts of the plant are less. The tuber remains largely safe in the ground and requires less chemical intervention. Many other health and nutrition specialists echo this sentiment. Of course nothing is wrong with purchasing organic and it may likely be preferable for a number of reasons. Organically grown produce impacts the environment less, which in turn promotes human health.
Amid an amalgam of generous daily values of minerals and micronutrients, sweet potatoes offer some exciting compounds of which science is just beginning to discover. They lend plenty of fiber and an excellent carbohydrate source to the diet. Moreover, they’re inexpensive, healthy and delicious. Let thy food be thy medicine. Sweet potatoes are a wonderful staple for any meal. Luckily for the health-conscious among us, they are as nutritious as they are comforting.
Ludvik B, Hanefeld M, and Pacini G. Improved metabolic control by Ipomoea batatas (Caiapo) is associated with increased adiponectin and decreased fibrinogen levels in type 2 diabetic subjects. PubMed.gov
Noda N and Horiuchi Y. The resin glycosides from the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L. LAM.). PubMed.gov
Yin YQ, Huang XF, Kong LY et al. Three new pentasaccharide resin glycosides from the roots of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo)HF- Sweet Potatoes
This article is written by Kevin McMahan, a Health and Wellness Educator for the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. Kevin has had a lifelong interest in health and wellness. After graduating from Carmel High School he went on to get an associates degree in social sciences from Monterey Peninsula College, and a bachelors in kinesiology from California State University Monterey Bay. He is a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your health is your wealth”, is something that he always likes to say. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.