I have always loved the glorious sweet potato!! I ate them frequently as a child since my mother was very nutrition-conscious and wanted to provide us with the best foods. Many people I know grew up eating sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar—the thought of which is a disgrace to this incredibly nutritious root vegetable. They are so naturally sweet and tasty, why would anyone want to mask all their natural goodness? Perhaps the reason was because they were served out of a can, which hardly does them justice. A real baked sweet potato is a sight to behold, when you cut through the dull orange brownish skin to find the magnificent deep orange flesh underneath. We are fortunate to have access to locally grown sweet potatoes right here in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, since the majority of sweet potatoes in this country are grown in the south. Their peak season is from early fall though many of the winter months, provided they are stored in a cool dark place. There are reported to be 400 varieties of sweet potatoes, and they with yellow, white, cream, orange, pink, and purple flesh. But the deep orange sweet potatoes are most commonly grown here.
Sweet potatoes’ nutrition and health attributes are many so you can’t go wrong by eating this ever so special vegetable. Some of the main attributes are their rich antioxidant nutrients, their anti-inflammation and antibacterial properties, and their blood-sugar regulating benefits. They contain a wealth of vitamin A and are also a good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, potassium, and many B-vitamins. One medium-sized sweet potato provides four to six grams of fiber, which rates well in that category.
Now to get down to the real nitty gritty health benefits of this super root vegetable: research has shown that consumption of several of the plant compounds found in sweet potatoes can reduce the possible health risks associated with heavy-metal toxins (i.e., arsenic and mercury) and free unstable oxygen radicals. These free radicals circulate in the body, waiting to cause havoc and health problems, and none of us want to be exposed to heavy metals that could potentially cause health issues. Another amazing fact about this root is that they have specific storage proteins called sporamins related to their rich antioxidant content, which protect the actual root from physical damage out in the field. There is a strong possibility that when we consume the sweet potato these same protective benefits are transmitted to us in our gastrointestinal tract. As is obvious to the eye, the sweet potato has a wealth of various pigments. These play a role in their ant-inflammatory properties and research has shown that after ingestion of the sweet potato there is reduced inflammation in the brain and nerve tissues throughout the entire body. Another incredible fact about the sweet potato is that it has been shown to have minimal effect on the blood-glucose level compared to the white potato, and part of that is due to its high fiber content. It also appears that sweet potatoes increase blood levels of a protein hormone called adiponectin (made in our fat cells), which is associated with regulating and modifying insulin levels in our body. More specifics on this will become available as more research is conducted. Additional evidence is also unfolding about sweet potatoes’ antibacterial and antifungal properties, so stay tuned.
These are just a handful of the facts, but I hope they’re enough to entice you to add them to your diet on a regular basis during the next several months when they are readily available. They are just too good to miss out on and they don’t have to be eaten any fancy way—just baked, boiled, or oven fried. By the way, boiled sweet potatoes have been shown to have less effect on blood-glucose levels than baked or oven fried, but I prefer them baked or roasted most of all. If you want to be more adventurous with the sweet potato you can try the following simple recipe.
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist