Sweet potatoes are a delicious crop enjoyed by many around the world, have incredible health benefits, a celebrated history, and can be cooked and eaten in many delectable ways. Sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and carotenoids. Carotenoids come from the phytochemical family of terpenes. Beta-carotene is considered to be a provitamin because it converts into vitamin A in the body, which provides an essential nutrient while also acting as an antioxidant. One cup of baked sweet potato provides over 100% of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin A. Most health studies involving sweet potatoes focused on beta-carotene and vitamin A.
Studies show that carotenoids found in the whole food such as a carrot or sweet potato may inhibit cancer cell growth in breast cancer and work as antioxidants to reduce the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer and improve our immune response.
Prevalence of bronchitis and dyspnea in smokers with COPD seemed to be lower in those who consumed a diet higher in beta-carotene however beta-carotene supplements do not help. Beta-carotene seemed to help prevent exercise-induced asthma.
Beta-carotene has been shown to reduce the risk of vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and increasing beta-carotene in your diet with whole foods can reduce the risk of developing AMD up to 43%.
Beta-carotene can prevent night-blindness in malnourished pregnant women, which is especially a problem in poorer developing countries such as Nepal.
A study examined that a diet high in beta-carotene is associated with improved muscular strength performance in the elderly.
A meta-analysis of individuals soaking up the sun and increasing beta-carotene intake concluded that beta-carotene could significantly improve sunburn protection.
Sweet Potato or Yam?
Sweet potatoes are often called yams in America because of grocery store labels, but technically speaking most yams produced and sold in American are sweet potatoes. The yam and sweet potato also have similarities in size, shape, and color, however a genuine yam, is a different botanical species altogether. Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America and were most likely tasted by members of Christopher Columbus’s 1942 expedition. Yams are native to Africa and Asia and mostly produced outside of North America, while most of the orange tubers grown in America (namely, North Carolina) are sweet potatoes. Genuine yams can still be purchased in America at health food stores or ethnic food stores
While North Carolina remains one of the top producers of sweet potatoes, the community of Vardaman Mississippi considers itself to be “The Sweet Potato Capital” and hosts the annual National Sweet Potato Festival the first week in November.
Before you bake, steam, or roast a sweet potato, make sure to scrub it well with water and pat dry. When cooking, I recommend leaving the peel on especially if using organic sweet potatoes. Adding a little dietary fat will increase the bioavailability of the beta-carotene in the sweet potato, but no need to add more than one tablespoon of oil. There are so many ways to enjoy this delicious tuber:
Wrap in foil, bake in the oven at 375°F for 40 minutes.
Slice lengthwise from top to bottom and then slice and cut into chunks or julienne slices (like fries) and season with some olive oil, paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt.
Steam ½ inch chunks of sweet potato in a steam basket with covered lid for seven minutes. Add chunks to a green bean dish, sautéed greens, or black beans.
Boil sweet potatoes (with the peel) and add or substitute them in your favorite mashed potato recipe.
Smoothie. Yes, you read the correctly. A cold cooked sweet potato can be added to a smoothie with a handful of berries, a few kale leaves, a frozen banana, and soymilk. TRY IT!!!
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