Sweet but Healthy: Interesting Facts About Sweet Potato

Posted on May 5th, 2016 by Dr. Mercola  |  No Comments »

sweet potatoesHave you ever tasted a sweet potato? Chances are you’ve eaten it as a side dish. Sweet potato tastes great when steamed or fried in coconut oil. But did you know that even though it’s a close cousin of the potato, there’s a world of difference between the two, in terms of both flavor and nutrient content?

Keep on reading to learn more about the sweet potato and how it can do wonders for your health.

The Humble Beginnings of Sweet Potato

People have been cultivating sweet potatoes since 750 BC, making it one of the oldest foods known to mankind. This root crop was brought by Spanish and Portuguese explorers to Asian and Africa. By the 16th century, it was a staple food in what is today the southeastern United States.

The sweet potato comes in different colors, including tan, cream, orange, yellow, purple, and pink. In fact, there are about 400 varieties available. This crop is usually in season during November and December, but it is available all year in most markets.

Sweet Potatoes versus Yams

Oftentimes, the sweet potato is mistaken for the yam, but these are two very different plant varieties. Yams are a starchy root vegetable from the Dioscoreae family, while the sweet potato belongs to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae).

Just like the sweet potato, though, yams come in numerous varieties, with the most common ones having dark, rough skin and white, purple, or red flesh. Yams are native to tropical regions, as well as Africa and Asia. Another distinction between the two is that sweet potatoes are the same size and shape as a regular potato, while yams, range from this size to over five feet long.

The sweet potato is safer to eat after frying than the regular potato. They will not put you at risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Sweet Potatoes Are Loaded With Antioxidants

Another notable difference between sweet potato and regular potato: the former is chock full of antioxidants.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene, with the corresponding bright orange coloration, which is a carotenoid that can ward off the free radicals that cause cell damage. Beta-carotene can also support your immune system, help slow down aging, and lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. When converted into vitamin A, it can contribute to optimal eye health and vision, as well as promote skin health.

Purple sweet potatoes are loaded with anthocyanins like peonidins and cyanidins, which are associated with reduced cancer risk. Studies have found that anthocyanins help suppress the proliferation of colon, lung, stomach, and breast cancer cells. Anthocyanins reduce your risk of blood clots, as they help prevent platelets from clumping together, and they may also help reduce the dangers of heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.

In addition, the sweet potato is a great source of vitamins C and B5, dietary fiber, copper, iron, niacin, and potassium.

What’s the Best Way to Cook Sweet Potato?

As with other foods, correct preparation can maximize the nutrient content of the sweet potato. Ideally, you should steam or bake them to improve nutrient bioavailability and make the antioxidants more accessible to your body. Boiling may destroy the beneficial compounds in this root crop, so limit exposure to scalding water.

Peeling makes the flesh of the sweet potato susceptible to oxidation, and dark spots. So it is advisable to cook it immediately after peeling.

Dr. Mercola recommends consuming the sweet potato with healthy fats such as coconut oil, raw butter, or avocados. Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient, and will be absorbed more effectively in your body when consumed in this manner.

One final tip: the sweet potato, is a low glycemic food but should still be consumed in moderation because of its natural sweetness. If you are diabetic or suffer from insulin resistance, consult your physician to learn if it’s safe for you to eat the sweet potato.

For more information about sweet potatoes and other healthy foods, check out Dr. Mercola’s Food Facts – a library of wholesome and nutritious foods that you can add to your diet.

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