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Why Sweet Potatoes Are Healthy And How To Enjoy Them

By Dr. Michael Richardson
Updated August 22, 2016

Sweet potatoes are probably items you’ve seen in your local supermarket’s produce department and maybe at farmer’s markets too. But, if you’re not familiar with how to cook them, you may have passed them by, unaware of the incredible health and nutritional benefits you could get by eating them. Keep reading to discover several of the reasons why sweet potatoes should be kitchen staples.

Sweet Potatoes Are A Good Source Of Carotenoids

Sweet potatoes naturally have a lot of carotenoids in them. One that you’ve probably heard of before is called beta carotene. As a whole, carotenoids are good for the eyes, plus they help prevent cancer and could slow the aging process.

Furthermore, the distinctive orange flesh of the sweet potato is thought by some to be one of the best sources of beta carotene available in nature. Research has suggested that if you want to get the greatest carotenoid benefits from sweet potatoes, add from three to five grams per fat per each meal to increase the amount of beta carotene your body gets.

One easy way to add the necessary amount of fat in a healthy way is to mash the sweet potatoes and add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the recipe.

Sweet Potatoes Are Rich In Fiber And Good For Digestion

The amount of fiber in sweet potatoes is even more than what you’ll find in the more common types of potatoes. That means they aid the digestive process. Furthermore, the potatoes also have magnesium, which is similarly good for digestion. Because sweet potatoes are high in starch, you shouldn’t have trouble digesting them.

They Could Help You Avoid Seasonal Sicknesses

Since sweet potatoes are high in vitamin C and B-complex vitamins, they could help you steer clear of seasonal illnesses like colds and ‘flu. Even if those ailments are very common in your area during a given time of year, it’s important to continually keep your immune system as strong as possible to give yourself the best chance of staying healthy.

Sweet Potatoes May Help You Deal With Stress

Stress is inevitable. However, many people find ways to deal with it through activities they take part in and even things they eat. As mentioned above, sweet potatoes have magnesium, but they also contain iron.

These two things work together to help the body handle stress more readily. There is a good chance you’ll have to do things besides eating sweet potatoes to stay cool when the pressure’s on, but as people often say, “you are what you eat,” and sweet potatoes have two important things that could keep stress levels lower.

They Offer A Healthy Way To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

If you’re like many people, you love indulging in dessert, at least from time to time. However, the indulgence can sometimes get out of control and cause people to consume more calories and sugar than they thought. If you have a very active sweet tooth but want to break free from being so dependent on things like cakes, cookies and candy, sweet potatoes offer a health-promoting, tasty alternative to pursue.

They’re Loaded With Antioxidants

You’ve already learned about how the orange inside portion of sweet potatoes has carotenoids. Those are classified as antioxidants. However, there are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes, and the purple ones, in particular, have two types that some scientists have measured as having three times as many antioxidants as blueberries.  Antioxidants can have an anti-aging effect, prevent cancer and more.

They May Improve Blood Sugar Regulation

Sweet potatoes contain starch, and ordinarily, starch can be converted into simple sugars that can raise blood sugar. Additionally, the increase in blood sugar happens abnormally fast, which could be dangerous. However, scientists are discovering sweet potatoes may be particularly beneficial in lowering blood sugar for people with Type Two Diabetes.

Sweet potatoes have a medium glycemic index rating, but research indicates that while sweet potatoes help with the digestive process, as mentioned above, they also could raise levels of a protein hormone called adiponectin that’s produced by fat cells.

It acts as an essential modifier to the way the body metabolizes insulin, and researchers already know that people who have trouble metabolizing insulin correctly have lower levels of adiponectin in their bloodstreams, while people who can process insulin normally sometimes have more of it.

So far, the studies about this particular benefit have been relatively small, so scientists caution more research will be necessary before stronger conclusions can be reached. However, if you are diabetic, or just concerned about keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels, it may be a good idea to ask your doctor or nutritionist about adding more sweet potatoes to your diet in sensible ways.

How To Choose And Cook Sweet Potatoes

No matter where you buy your sweet potatoes from, always pick ones that feel firm and don’t have cracked areas or other large blemishes. Some grocery stores keep sweet potatoes in the refrigerated section of produce departments, but taking that approach isn’t ideal, as cold temperatures have a negative impact on how they taste.

With that in mind, once you get the sweet potatoes to your kitchen, keep them in a cool, well-ventilated and dark place that mimics the conditions of a root cellar as much as possible.

When it comes to cooking them, there are many options to consider. Steaming is a very healthy cooking method that allows you to avoid having to place the potatoes in boiling water. Contact with that kind of liquid could cause water-soluble nutrients to leech from the potatoes.

However, boiling isn’t a method that should be avoided at all costs, because studies have shown that cooking method may promote a more positive effect on blood sugar regulation than some other possibilities.

Baking is another delicious option, and it’s really easy to cook potatoes in that way. Simply place the sweet potatoes in an oven-safe container after slicing them lengthwise down the middle. You can also add spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg and appreciate how the flavors of those spices become especially evident after the potatoes are sufficiently warmed up.

Pin It These health benefits and ideas for how to select and enjoy sweet potatoes collectively offer just a small sampling of the kind of information that’s available. However, hopefully it’s now very clear why you should consider eating sweet potatoes instead of deciding not to buy them when you go grocery shopping.

For generations, they’ve been traditionally eaten around Thanksgiving and often used in casseroles when celebrating the holiday. Of course, you don’t have to wait until November to start and keep benefiting from some or all of the health perks mentioned above. Just be sure to pick up a few during your next shopping trip, and see if sweet potatoes become one of your new favorite foods.

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Katherine Hurst
By Dr. Michael Richardson
Passionate about sharing the latest scientifically sound health, fitness and nutrition advice and information, Dr Richardson received his Master of Science in Nutrition from New York University, and a Bachelor Degree from New Jersey University. He has since gone on to specialize in sports nutrition, weight management and helping his patients to heal physical ailments by making changes to their eating habits and lifestyles.

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