Winter means it’s time for root vegetables. Suitable for being grown in cold weather and stored for months at a time, root vegetables are a staple winter food. High in fiber and low in calories, they’re also a nutritious choice. Sweet potatoes are a common root vegetable, and like other roots, they’re chock full of beneficial compounds.
Sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene—the antioxidant responsible for the hue of the orange varieties—found in nature. Several African studies have found sweet potatoes to have 100 to 1,600 micrograms of vitamin A for every 3.5 ounces and to be an excellent way for school-aged children in Caribbean and African countries to get enough vitamin A in their diet. But beta-carotene isn’t the only antioxidant in rich supply in sweet potatoes. Purple sweet potatoes contain high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin. And unlike other foods, which contain the highest concentrations of and nutrients in their skin, purple sweet potatoes have ample amounts of anythocynins in their flesh. Sweet potatoes also have high levels of vitamin C and sporamins, which are “storage proteins” that help the vegetable to heal itself if physically damaged.
Blood Sugar Benefits
Unlike other starchy root vegetables, sweet potatoes can actually have a positive effect on blood sugar levels—even for those with type 2 diabetes. Eating sweet potatoes can raise levels of adiponectin, a hormone that helps regulate insulin metabolism, and low levels of which are often seen in people with type 2 diabetes. Additionally, sweet potatoes contain a moderate amount of fiber (about 3 grams) and have a low glycemic index rating.
Studies have shown that eating sweet potatoes decreases formation of substances that can lead to inflammation, thanks to anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants that can offset inflammation triggers. In animal studies, animals that consumed sweet potato had less inflammation in their brain and nerve tissue. One important component of sweet potatoes’ ability to fight off inflammation is beta-cryptoxanthin, which helps prevent the formation of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Although most people will think of the orange variety, sweet potatoes come in a variety of shades ranging from white and cream to yellow, pink and purple. Sweet potatoes can be prepared in a variety of ways. For inspiration, check out these recipes:
• Sweet Potato Colcannon
• Caramel Sweet Potatoes
• Southern Sweet Potatoes
• Savory Vegetable Stew with Lentils, Sweet Potatoes and Kale
• Sherried Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle and Sage
• Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Pecan Crunch Topping
• Sweet Potato and Parsnip Puree
To derive the maximum health benefits from your sweet potatoes, be sure to eat them with fat-containing foods, as fat helps the body absorb more beta-carotene from the sweet potatoes.
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