Who doesn’t love Grandma’s sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes make a vibrant edition to any meal but sadly aren’t used as often as regular potatoes. They always make an appearance around Thanksgiving and Christmas in the form of pie and are staples of good soul food cuisine. Many may not realize that they are arguably the healthiest potato out there. Let’s take a look at what sweet potatoes are and why you really should be eating them throughout the year, not just on the holidays.
Sweet Potatoes vs Yams
There seems to be a common misconception that yams are sweet potatoes and vice versa. In reality, yams aren’t that common in grocery stores and they certainly aren’t the traditional yellow-orange fleshed potatoes sold in stores.
True yams are in a totally different family of edible roots. They resemble a normal baking potato on the outside (rough skin) but are more elongated in shape like a sweet potato. True yams also have a white/cream flesh. The potatoes so commonly seen with a smooth sienna to red colored skin with a yellow to bright orange flesh are the true sweet potatoes. This is what you’ll see in most southern cooking or served up as sweet potato fries. (Side Note: Oddly enough, sweet potatoes can also have purple flesh.)
Why You Need to Eat More Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes shouldn’t just be saved for holiday pies. These potatoes are chock-full of health benefits and easily make traditional white Russet potatoes pale in comparison. Here are a few reasons why sweet potatoes are so superior.
Sweet potatoes are a great source of dietary fiber. There is roughly 6-7 grams in one medium baked potato. Many Americans are deficient in fiber and by introducing high fiber foods like sweet potato into the diet, they won’t need to take supplements.
- Low Calorie
If you are calorie counting to maintain a deficit you’ll be happy to know that a medium sweet potato has approx.112 calories. One medium Russet has about 169! Alos, sweet potato is very dense, so despite being lower in calories it is often far more filling.
- Low Carb
People on low carb diets find that sweet potatoes are a perfect alternative. One medium sized sweet potato has roughly 26 gram of carbs vs 38 carbs in a medium Russet. It would also have only about 5.4 grams of sugar and 3.9 grams of fiber. Those on Paleo diets can eat sweet potatoes as well, despite not being able to eat traditional potato varieties.
- Low Glycemic Index
Those struggling with blood sugar may be better able to digest sweet potatoes than white potatoes since they have a lower glycemic impact depending on how they are cooked. Even those without blood sugar problems can benefit from how slowly sugar from the sweet potato is released as spikes in blood sugar are associated with weight gain and other health problems. It’s all about portion size and how you cook this vegetable.
“The way you prepare sweet potatoes makes a difference in their GI. The GI of a 150-g sweet potato, boiled with its skin for 30 minutes, is 46. That number rises to 94 if the same sweet potato is baked for 45 minutes.”
“The glycemic load is a way to take a food’s carbohydrate content into account when figuring its impact on blood sugar. The GL considers both the quality and quantity of the carbohydrates in a food. A boiled sweet potato has a GL of 11, compared to a GL of 42 for a baked sweet potato. Because the GL doesn’t take a food’s nutritional content into account when measuring its metabolic effects, it’s important to consider the health benefits of the sweet potato’s vitamins and phytonutrients when making your food choices.” – Livestrong
It’s almost crazy how full of vitamins sweet potatoes are. They contain vitamin A, C, D, B1, B2 and B6. The beta-carotene associated with the orange flesh is especially a good source of vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes have manganese, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper and more. These minerals all have their own individual benefits that make them extremely important for overall health.
As mentioned, sweet potato is a great source of the mineral manganese. Magnesium is important for preventing the effects of stress and improve over heart, circulatory and nerve functions. Roughly 80% of Americans have a magnesium deficiency.
- Vitamin D
This vitamin is also a hormone and is prevalent in sweet potatoes. Not only does vitamin D support healthier bones but it also affects mood, similarly to magnesium. Consuming enough vitamin D will give you a life in spirits and prevent issues like SAD from occurring.
If you’ve been feeling tired and weak or have been getting ill easily, you’re probably lacking iron. Sweet potatoes give plenty of this immune system protecting, white blood cell count boosting mineral.
How to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato pie may be delicious but it certainly isn’t the only way, or the healthiest, to prepare them. You can easily substitute sweet potato in many potato recipes or bake one in place of a Russet. If you like to experiment in the kitchen, here are some recipe ideas to get you started.
- Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries
- Roasted Sweet Potato Soup
- Hasselback Sweet Potatoes
- Mashed Sweet Potato – This recipe calls for brown sugar, but you can use agave, maple sugar or stevia instead.
With its delicious flavor and numerous health benefits, having sweet potato once or twice a week is a wonderful idea. Pick up a few the next time you go shopping and try out a promising recipe.