The Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

By Michael A. Smith, MD

You know the holiday dish that’s usually covered in brown sugar and topped with marshmallows? It supposedly has some sort of vegetable underneath all of that sweet gooeyness. Turns out the vegetable underneath all of the sweet goodness just happens to be a nutritional powerhouse — the sweet potato.

What is a “Sweet” Potato?

The sweet potato is the tuberous root of a dicotyledonous plant. Dicotyledons, also known as dicots, are a group of flowering plants whose seeds typically have two embryonic leaves or cotyledons. This means that when the seed germinates, it produces two young leaves which will eventually form the base for large petal flowers, usually white in color, resembling magnolia.1

Dicots produce a thick root deep within the soil, allowing for a higher mineral content and fibrous flesh. Ipomoea batats is the dicot plant that produces the orange colored root of the sweet potato, which actually has less sugar and more fiber than its brown cousin, the russet potato.

Sweet Potato Nutritional Facts

Sweet potatoes are virtually fat-free, low in sodium, and high in fiber. Not only that, they're loaded with vitamins A and C — as a matter of fact, their orange color comes from their high vitamin A content. Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of antioxidants. And, as is often the case, the skin contains most of the antioxidants and fiber. Don’t throw it away!

One medium sweet potato (about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide) has only 100 calories, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and very little fat. They're nutritionally similar to white potatoes except they have about 10 fewer calories and twice the fiber, at about 4 grams per medium potato.

Here’s a breakdown of the micronutrients in 1 cup of cooked sweet potatoes with the skin left on2:

  • Vitamin A (beta-carotene) — 30,000 units
  • Vitamin C — 40 mg
  • Calcium — 100 mg
  • Magnesium — 54 mg
  • Potassium — 950 mg
  • Zinc — 1 mg
  • Sodium — 72 mg
Despite their seasonal appeal, sweet potatoes are available year round. They're also appearing on more and more restaurant menus these days. Unfortunately, the popular baked dishes you’ll find usually are covered in butter and cinnamon sugar. You’ll also see sweet potatoes sliced and fried as a French fry alternative. However, we suggest that you avoid them in their fried form: Keep them healthy by baking them.

Even I Can Bake a Sweet Potato

I can’t cook — you’ll have to just trust me on this one. However, a chef friend of mine sent me these simple instructions for baking sweet potatoes. I think even I can handle this:

  1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Pierce each potato several times with a fork. Place potatoes on a baking sheet covered with foil, on the middle rack of your oven.
  3. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes. Cooking time varies based on the potato size. They're done when you can stick a fork into the center easily. If the potatoes are very large, consider halving them.
And the best thing about sweet potatoes is this: They taste great plain! But if you must, just add a pat of butter for a little flavor and season with salt and pepper to taste. But please, stop there. Marshmallows were never meant as a vegetable topping!

My chef friend also taught me that the freshest ones have smooth skin, are free of cracks, and don’t have soft spots or blemishes. Like other potatoes, you can store them for at least two weeks in a cool, dry place.

Healthy Gooey Sweet Potato Casserole

Since it’s the holidays, it’s okay to have some sweet gooeyness. But if sweet gooeyness is something you’ll never eat, then omit the brown sugar and cut your own fresh sweet potatoes. The following recipe makes about 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1  40-ounce can sweet potatoes in syrup, drained
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup fat-free egg product
  • ¼ cup fat-free (skim) milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
Topping:

  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon tub margarine
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 1½-quart casserole with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mash sweet potatoes. Stir in granulated sugar, salt, egg product, milk and vanilla; spoon into casserole.

In a small bowl, mix all topping ingredients except pecans until well-blended. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Nutrition per Serving:

  • 250 calories
  • 5 grams fat
  • 3 grams protein
  • 47 grams carbohydrate
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 220 milligrams sodium
Enjoy!

References

  1. Woolfe, J.A., 1992, "Sweet potato: an untapped food resource", Cambridge Univ. Press and the International Potato Center (CIP). Cambridge, UK.
  2. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2667/2

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1 comments:

how to make sweet potato fries said...

Those are some great recipes of sweet potato. I would love to try both, especially the last one. Thanks.

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