During the land’s wintry deep sleep, when the hardy greens of spring are only garden plans on a page, I turn my culinary and nutritional attention to root vegetables.
They’re what’s in season, and I love them all. Roasted carrots, parsnips, beets and sunchokes. Baked and stuffed russet potatoes. Celery root salad.
But the sweet potato is hands down my favorite root vegetable. It’s delicious, soul satisfying and amazingly nutritious. And they’re cheap. A real nutrition bang for your buck.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes deliver an amazing amount of Vitamin A due to its carotenoid pigments – 214% of the RDA in just one cup of baked sweet potato. The beta-carotene in this root veg has also been shown to be more bio-available than the beta-carotene in greens.
Concerned about your bio-accumulation of heavy metal residues (like mercury, cadmium or arsenic) from the environment? Antioxidant anthocyanin pigments found in sweet potatoes, along with other colorful phytonutrients, may help lower potential health risks posed by these toxins.
About 80% of the protein in a sweet potato is a type of protease inhibitor with potential anticancer effects. These proteins suppressed the growth of leukemia cells and colon cancer cells in a petri dish, and sweet potato consumption has been associated with lower gallbladder cancer rates.
Blood Sugar Regulation
You may be reading this and thinking you need to avoid sweet potatoes because they’re starchy and you don’t want elevated blood sugar. Well I have good news for you! Sweet potatoes actually improve blood sugar regulation, especially when boiled – even in persons with type 2 diabetes. This may be due to its beneficial affect on a protein hormone called adiponectin – an important modifier of insulin metabolism.
Shopping & Storage Tips
Any sweet potato containing the word “gold” or “red” in the name is an orange-fleshed variety. A “Red Garnet Yam” or “Jewel Yam” is actually a sweet potato (not a true yam.) The sweet potato is nothing like the common potato or yam. It is from a completely different botanical family. It is truly a unique root vegetable.
Select sweet potatoes that are firm without cracks, bruises or soft spots.
Avoid cellophane wrapped packages of sweet potatoes in the refrigerated section, as this changes their taste.
Store in a cool, dark place if possible. I like to store my potatoes in the basement on a bakers rack. If this isn’t possible, you can place them in a paper bag with holes, and keep them away from heat.
Cooking Sweet Potatoes
So what is the best way to cook a sweet potato for optimum nutrition?
Fortunately, you have a variety of options.
Boiling – Cooking sweet potatoes in a soup or stew thins the cell walls and increases the bioavailability of beta-carotene while lowering the glycemic index value by about half, causing less of a sugar spike.
Sautee – Cooking diced sweet potatoes in a small amount of oil over low heat will also increase bioavailability of beta-carotene.
Microwave – Yes, you can microwave a sweet potato and still enjoy the nutritional benefits. Microwaving is actually much gentler to the potato compared to baking it in the oven, allowing it to retain more antioxidants. Eat your fast and fabulous microwave baked sweet potato with a small amount of butter, olive oil or chopped nuts (I like pecans). Much of the nutrition in sweet potatoes is fat-soluble.
Steaming – Steam ½ inch slices for about 7 minutes and toss with a dressing.
Slow-Cooker – Place whole, plain sweet potatoes in a slow-cooker on low heat. Eight hours later you will have slow-roasted sweet potatoes.
Sources: The World’s Healthiest Foods; NutritionFacts.org
Ready to enjoy more sweet potatoes? Here are some delicious recipes from around the web:
Sweet Potato Recipes
Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Yogurt Dipping Sauce
Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique
Cranberry and Sweet Potato Bake
Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole
Crispy Sweet Potato Green Onion Cakes
Smoky Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili
Gingered Sweet Potato Soup with Toasted Coconut and Pumpkin Seeds
Grilled Sweet Potato Black Bean Quesadillas
Sweet Potato, Eggplant and Spinach Madras Curry
Sweet Potato Pie with Spiced Cream Topping