These nutritional super stars speak for themselves: one medium baked sweet potato contains four times the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, over one-third the recommended daily requirements for vitamin C and manganese, and is one of the few virtually fat-free foods containing vitamin E. In addition to being a great source of vitamin B6, copper, iron, and potassium, sweet potatoes also contain significant amounts of folate. When eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes have more fiber than oatmeal and have anti-cancer properties as well as strong anti-inflamatory ingredients. All these benefits with only about 100 calories!
Among root vegetables, sweet potatoes offer the lowest glycemic index rating, meaning that the sweet potato causes a very gradual rise in blood sugar so that you feel satisfied longer. They should certainly be considered a “good carb.”
True yams do not contain the same great nutrition content as sweet potatoes, but no need to worry, as the yams sold in the United States are really an orange-fleshed sweet potato with a moister consistency and a sweeter flavor when cooked. Years ago when Louisiana introduced this orange sweet potato into the market they called it a yam to distinguish it from the other lighter skinned varieties. To prevent confusion, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) requires that the sweet potatoes labeled as “yams” also be labeled as “sweet potatoes.” True yams have rough, scaly skins, are common in Africa and Asia, and come from a different species than sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes have smooth, thin skins and are native to Central America. They come in many different colors ranging from white to purple. While the high vitamin A content correlates to the orange color, purple sweet potatoes are a good source of anthocyanins and have the highest antioxidant activity among the sweet potato varieties. In fact, the antioxidant activity in purple sweet potatoes is over 3 times that of blueberries. Regardless of its color, the skin contains almost three times the antioxidants of the flesh of the potato. Fortunately, sweet potatoes are unlikely to be contaminated with pesticides, so you don’t have to buy organic ones in order to eat the skin.
It seems that people either love sweet potatoes or they don’t. Given their sensational nutritional value, those who don’t immediately love them may want to give them another try. They can be kid-friendly and delicious if cooked correctly, and they are terrific roasted or baked because they begin to caramelize while cooking. Try baking whole sweet potatoes pricked with a fork and brushed with olive oil at 450 degrees until tender (35 to 45 minutes). Add salt and pepper; butter may not be necessary because they have so much flavor. Roast sweet potato chunks tossed in olive oil and salt at 425 degrees until golden and tender, or make Sweet Potato Fries. You can also steam and mash them with plain Greek yogurt, orange juice, applesauce, garlic, lime juice, chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, or maple syrup. Sweet Potato Latkes are a particularly delicious, family-friendly, and healthy addition to your future meals. Also try Roasted Sweet Potato Chowder and Sweet Potato Waffles with Apple Cider Syrup. The possibilities are endless, and with these nutritional jewels, it’s a must to try to find ways to prepare and enjoy them.