Sweet potato is probably the first solid food most of us ever had. Naturally sweet and easily digestible, this is one of the least allergenic food substances known. This is what makes it our ideal first food. Though loaded with nutrients and easily available, this is not something which has been fully exploited in our cuisines.
Sweet potatoes grow well in tropical and warm temperate regions. They come in different colors such as purple, red, brown, white etc. Both the tuber and leaves of sweet potato are edible and extremely nutritious. Their characteristics also vary based on the color – the red one had drier flesh while the others have juice ones. Even their aroma changes based on their color, darker the color, stronger the aroma.
Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams and hence it is important to understand the difference. Sweet potatoes are smaller and have very thin peel whereas the larger yams have thick and rough peel.
Nutrients in Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes contain high amounts of Vitamin A in the form of beta-Caroten (a deep yellow or orange color indicates the presence of beta-carotene). Purple sweet potatoes are excellent sources of antioxidants called anthocyanins. They also contain many other nutrients such as vitamin C,. manganese, copper, niacin, vitamin B5, potassium etc. All these work together to give many health benefits.
Health benefits sweet benefits
Sweet potatoes are great for general health in many ways. As they have high concentration of anti-oxidants, they help in developing immunity. Vitamins and minerals present also act as immunity boosters. More specific health benefits of sweet potatoes are discussed below:
Benefits against Cancer : Vitamin A and vitamin C which are abundant in sweet potatoes help in prevention of cancer. Anthocyanins have been proven to decrease the harmful effects of heavy metals and free radicals.
Anti-inflammatory benefits : Vitamin C, B6, beta-carotene, manganese etc contained in sweet potatoes are effective against both internal and external inflammations. Consumption of sweet potato even helps to reduce inflammation in brain and nerve tissues.
Beneficial against Arthritis : Sweet potatoes contain substance called beta-cryptoxanthin which is effective against chronic inflammatory diseases. Just one serving a day can produce significant benefits against inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Sweet potatoes also contain vitamin C which is also beneficial against certain forms of arthritis.
Benefits for diabetes patients : Sweet potatoes contain large quantity of starch which raises the blood sugar slowly unlike simple sugars. This makes sweet potatoes an ideal health supplement for people having diabetes. Its blood sugar regulating property is attributed to increase blood levels of adiponectin, a protein which acts as insulin regulator. It also contains carotenoids which aids body in responding to insulin.
Benefits against heart disease : Vitamin B6 in sweet potatoes helps in resisting diabetic heart disease. The high soluble fiber content helps in lowering cholesterol.
Benefits for the stomach : The rich fiber content of sweet potatoes prevents constipation and acidity. Nutrients such as vitamins B and C, beta- carotene, potassium, calcium etc helps in healing stomach ulcers. Sweet potatoes are anti-inflammatory and hence pain and inflammation associated with ulcers are also reduced.
Beneficial against hypertension : Sweet potato is one of the best sources of Potassium which is an important nutrient required for maintaining the health of heart and for reducing blood pressure.
Sweet potatoes boost immunity : The abundance of anti-oxidant beta-carotene along with vitamins B and C, Iron and Phosphorus all work together to make sweet potatoes excellent immunity boosters.
Benefits against bronchitis : Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin C which helps cure bronchitis. They help warm the body and to ease congestion.
Other benefits : Sweet potatoes can help prevent emphysema and other lung diseases caused by deficiency of vitamin A. They also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Sweet potatoes being excellent sources of beta-carotene are good for ocular health.
How to select and store Sweet Potatoes
While selecting sweet potatoes go for the ones that are firm without cracks and bruises. Sweet potatoes can stay fresh for up to 10 days if stored in cool and dark places. Store them in open spaces with good air circulation. Avoid refrigerating since the taste may be affected adversely. Boiling can help raise vitamin A levels in children and produce beneficial effects against blood sugar rise. Stir-frying enables better absorption of beta-carotene. Steaming is perhaps the best option as it combines the benefits of both other methods.
How to use Sweet Potatoes
The entire sweet potato with the skin on can be eaten raw if we are using organically grown sweet potatoes. Since this may not be the case, peel the sweet potatoes before or after cooking. They can be boiled, stir-fried or steamed. Each of these methods presents additional benefits to the sweet potatoes.
Precautions while using sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes may contain substances called oxalates which when concentrated in body fluids can pose danger. Hence people with kidney or gallbladder problems may avoid eating sweet potatoes.
Health benefits of sweet potatoes are numerous. Try to incliude it in your diet according to nutrition requirements.