8 Amazing Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes and a Recipe
Meet the Sweet Potato!
Sweet potatoes are large, sweet-tasting, starchy vegetables that actually belong to the morning glory family. Like beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and celeriac, sweet potatoes are considered to be root tubers. As such, they store water and energy, including starches and other carbohydrates, underground. They draw upon these nutrients to feed the aboveground parts of the plant.
The sweet potato is only distantly related to white, yellow, red, and Yukon gold potatoes. These are part of the nightshade family. If you suffer from arthritis or an autoimmune condition, you are likely already familiar with the edible nightshades and why you should avoid them.
Though often mislabelled, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing!
Sweet potatoes have tapered ends with smooth skin. They range in colour from dark red to brown to orange-yellow to white to purple. There are generally two different types of sweet potato - firm and soft. They also come in different sizes, shapes, textures, and tastes.
Yams, on the other hand, are related to grasses and lilies. They’ are usually cylindrical in shape with rough, black or brown bark-like skin. The flesh of a yam may be white, purple, or red.
Because soft sweet potatoes, like the common Garnet and Jewel varieties, resemble yams, they are often labelled as such.
Speaking of Garnet and Jewel sweet potatoes, these are the most common on grocery store shelves. They have reddish-orange skin and a deep orange flesh. They are nicely sweet and are great baked! When you try to make fries out of them, on the other hand, they often turn out soggy, as they are much softer than white potatoes.
My favourite variety of sweet potato for making fries is the Japanese or Asian variety (often referred to as “yams” in the grocery store). These have a purple skin but hard white flesh. Because they are much firmer than the orange-flesh varieties, they crisp up better in the oven. This variety is also sweeter than its orange-fleshed cousin (which I personally like). Plus, because the flesh of a Japanese sweet potato is firm and white, when I make Shepherd’s Pie, I enjoy using this variety - the texture and appearance mimic regular white potatoes, though the sweet taste gives them away!
Why is a sweet potato sweet?
If you’ve ever wondered what makes a sweet potato sweet, wonder no more!
When a sweet potato encounters heat, an enzyme is activated. This enzyme breaks down the starch in the sweet potato into a sugar called maltose. Though noticeably sweet, maltose is not as sweet as table sugar.
Interestingly, the cooking method you chose will alter the sweetness of your sweet potatoes!
You see, the enzyme that turns starch into maltose is activated when the sweet potato hits 135°F (57°C), and stops working when the temperature rises to about 170°F (77°C). So cooking your sweet potatoes slowly on low heat will allow the maltose-making enzyme more time to convert starch into sugar, making your sweet potatoes even sweeter.
Have you ever noticed the sweet intoxicating smell of slow-roasting sweet potatoes as they caramelize in the oven or bake in a pie? This enzyme is the reason why!
However, if you’re not a fan of sweet-tasting food or prefer your tubers a bit more savoury, you can cut their ultimate sweetness by cooking them quickly. Try quickly steaming them or cutting them into small pieces before roasting.
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Yes, sweet potatoes taste amazing AND they are good for you, too!
But what makes them healthy?
Well, it’s partly because of their high-fibre, antioxidant-rich nature. Yes, they get their orange colour from beta-carotene - the same antioxidant that colours carrots. If you’ve never heard of it, beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A - vital for the health of our eyes, skin, mucus membranes, and immune system. Plus, sweet potatoes are high in other vital nutrients including vitamin C, potassium, vitamins B5, B3 and B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.
What else are they good for? Take a look at the top 8 health benefits of adding sweet potatoes to your diet.
Sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar levels and work to keep you feeling full longer. I consider them to be a “smart carb” because they contain complex carbohydrates that are digested more slowly than the sugars found in white potatoes, white flour products, or white sugar. Additionally, they raise blood sugar levels more gradually to prevent the blood sugar roller coaster highs and lows.
They are good for your eyes. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, offering more than twice the daily recommended intake of vitamin A in a single serving. This vitamin, found in the carotenoids is a necessary component for proper eye health. It can improve both eye health and vision while protecting against night blindness and cancer.
Sweet potatoes support digestive health. This is because they are a great source of fibre and contain resistant starch. Fibre works to prevent constipation and keep your colon healthy, while resistant starch plays a role in feeding the healthy bacteria in your microbiome.
Sweet potatoes are good for the health of your heart. They contain a good amount of copper, which is needed to make red blood cells, potassium, which is needed to maintain healthy blood pressure, and fibre, that works to lower LDL cholesterol. All these nutrients combine to make sweet potatoes heart-healthy as they help prevent cardiovascular disease.
They boost your immunity. The antioxidants found in a sweet potato work to prevent free radical damage. Two specific antioxidants they are loaded with are vitamins C and A. They help with wound healing, tissue repair, and can stave off infections and disease.
They can boost your brain health. Sweet potatoes contain choline and manganese, two compounds that help your brain function at its best. Choline is needed for brain growth and development, as well as for the synthesis of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter that sends messages between cells. Manganese is needed to bind to neurotransmitters and move electrical impulses faster. In addition, purple sweet potatoes contain a compound called anthocyanin which has been shown to have memory-boosting effects.
Sweet potatoes can help you relax. The magnesium contained in a sweet potato can help ease stress and anxiety while it works to calm the brain. Magnesium can also help stabilize moods, reduce depression, calm headaches, and ease muscle tension.
They can reduce inflammation. The high levels of vitamin C, magnesium, and beta-carotene in sweet potatoes provide powerful anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to their proven antioxidant benefits.
So with all the wonderful and amazing health benefits bound together in one delicious sweet potato, what are you waiting for? Grab some today! You may also want to try my amazing and surprisingly simple recipe for oven-baked sweet potato fries.
Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Makes 4 Servings | 10 Min. Prep | 30 Min. Cooking
Cutting board and knife
3 Tbsp Coconut Oil (melted)
2 Sweet Potatoes (large, sliced into 1/4 inch strips)
1/2 Tbsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 425ºF (218ºC) and line baking sheet with heavy-duty foil.
Grease with the melted coconut oil.
Arrange the fries on the baking sheet, being careful not to crowd the pan.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. (Optional: flip them halfway through.)
Season with a little more sea salt if desired, and enjoy hot.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and value your feedback. Let me know what you think of this recipe by dropping me a line or commenting below.
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