Sweet potatoes offer a variety of unique and unparalleled health benefits. The sweet powerplant is neither a potato, nor a yam. The subterranean orange root tubers are actually thickened roots known as perennating organs.
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and contain a wealth of nutrients. They’ve been known to be an important factor in helping to keep Americans sustained through tough times, from colonial days through the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Great Depression.
In times of prosperity, people have welcomed them in a variety of recipes that call for butter and goopy marshmallows, but sweet potatoes have numerous health benefits beyond a holiday casserole or side dish.
Health benefits sweet potatoes offer
- Cancer prevention
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes may be one of nature’s matchless sources of beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes have the highest amount of beta-carotene of all vegetables and fruits. A number of recent studies have shown the excellent ability of sweet potatoes to raise our blood levels of vitamin A – an exceptional benefit for children.
Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition performed a study and found that sweet potato, as well as a number of other fruits and vegetables contain a rich source of beta-carotene, which is likely to help in preventing prostate cancer. In addition, a Japanese study revealed that beta-carotene might decrease the risk of colon cancer. Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble plant pigment that can be converted into vitamin A.
The National Institutes of Health reports that some studies have suggested that beta-carotene may reduce the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women and ovarian cancer in postmenopausal women. However, purple sweet potatoes may be even more effective than orange sweet potatoes in staving off cancer — purple sweet potatoes tend to have better cancer-fighting abilities.
- Help in conquering PMS depression and cramps
Excessive amounts of manganese aren’t healthy; however, experts estimate that up to 37 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended dietary intake of manganese in their diet. Increasing manganese intake has been found to promote good bone health.
In fact, one study found that boosting manganese intake from 1 mg to 5.6 mg of dietary manganese per day helped women with PMS to have fewer cramps and mood swings.
- Reduce chronic inflammation
Sweet potatoes are a great source of choline, a micronutrient in the B-vitamin family. Choline helps with sleep, muscle movement, memory, and learning, to name a few, but it is also important in reducing chronic inflammation.
Choline is found in liver, eggs, wheat germ, muscle meats, spinach, fish, nuts, and beans. But good plant-based sources are difficult to find – except when it comes to sweet potatoes.
- Great for the eyes
Sweet potato’s high antioxidant levels from vitamins C and E are very good to the eyes and may prevent degenerative damage. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, as well. Vitamin A is known for improving one’s eyesight and preventing night blindness from developing as people age. One cup of sweet potatoes handles 769 percent of the daily recommendation.
- Sweet potatoes help with blood pressure maintenance
Sweet potatoes are low in sodium and high in potassium, which lowers blood pressure. Additionally, the fiber content in potatoes is helpful in lowering cholesterol and improves performance of insulin in the body, which also helps in lowering blood pressure.
- Great for digestion and preventing diseases
One medium sweet potato with skin provides between four to 6 grams of fiber, which isn’t the highest fiber source from the plant world, but they are commonly included with foods recommended as great fiber source.
The National Institute of Medicine set the Dietary Reference Intake for fiber at 21 to 25 grams per day for women while men should get 30 to 38 grams per day.
Nevertheless, most people don’t reach these levels even though fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including diabetes, constipation, diverticular disease, and heart disease.
- Fantastic source for potassium
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cites less than 2 percent of American adults get the 4,700 mg of daily-recommended potassium. A medium sweet potato contains almost 500 mg, making it one of the higher potassium vegetables.
Potassium aids the body by helping muscles and nerves communicate.
Potassium also transports nutrients into cells and moves waste products out of them. A diet rich in potassium is beneficial in offsetting sodium’s harm to blood pressure. Additionally, a high potassium intake is also associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.
- Reduces stress
Sweet potatoes contain magnesium, the go-to mineral for reducing stress. It promotes a good mood, calmness, and relaxation, in addition to enhancing nerve, muscle, bone, blood, and artery health, according to Psychology Today.
Serving up sweet potatoes
Some nutritional benefits from sweet potatoes are easier achieved by steaming or boiling the vegetable as cooking method. Recent studies show excellent preservation of sweet potato anthocyanins with steaming, and several studies comparing boiling to roasting have shown better blood sugar effects with boiling.
Sweet potatoes don’t take a long time to prepare. Cutting them into 1/2-inch slices and steaming them for seven minutes brings out their great flavor and helps to maximize their nutritional value. Adding nutmeg, cloves, or cinnamons enhances nutritional value and flavor.
The sweet potato orange variety is the most common in the United States; however, sweet potatoes also come in yellow, white, purple, and pink varieties, according to the Library of Congress. Though the yellow and orange types contain the most vitamin A, the purple sort is an excellent way to get antioxidants, The Cleveland Clinic reports.