Gratitude for the Sweet Potato

Learn why the delicious sweet potato is one of the healthiest foods you can offer on your Thanksgiving table. 

By Emily Rhodes, MPH, RD, Food and Nutrition Writer, eSavvyHealth

My mom didn’t have to wade through research papers on PubMed to know that sweet potatoes are good for her family. To convince a certain daughter of hers to eat her sweet potatoes, she told me that eating the skins would help grow my hair nice and long, just like my favorite Disney princess. To my surprise and appreciation, it turned out she was right. 

A 2014 Review in The Journal of Medicinal Food found sweet potatoes to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic qualities1. Whether candied, casseroled, pied, roasted, mashed, or souffled, they have earned their place on the Thanksgiving table.  Here are several reasons why:  

  1. Rich in Nutrients: Sweet potatoes are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, providing 90% of nutrients per calorie required for most people (1). They are an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, which is crucial for maintaining healthy skin, vision, and a robust immune system. A single sweet potato can provide well over the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, which is especially important in supporting healthy vision. Additionally, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and dietary fiber.

  2. Antioxidant Properties: The vibrant orange color of sweet potatoes is indicative of their high beta-carotene content. Sweet potatoes with purple flesh are richer in anthocyanins, another powerful antioxidant. These antioxidants play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall well-being.

  3. Blood Sugar Regulation: Sweet potatoes have a have a milder impact on blood sugar levels than regular potatoes. The fiber content in sweet potatoes also aids in maintaining steady blood sugar levels, making them a good option for individuals managing diabetes or looking to regulate their blood sugar.

  4. Digestive Health: The fiber in sweet potatoes not only helps regulate blood sugar but also promotes a healthy digestive system. Adequate fiber intake is linked to a lower risk of constipation and other digestive issues. Sweet potatoes contain both soluble fiber, which absorbs water and softens stool, and insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to help things get moving. Including sweet potatoes in your Thanksgiving meal can contribute to the overall digestive well-being of your family and friends (especially important after over-indulging).

  5. Heart Health: Sweet potatoes are heart-friendly due to their potassium content, which helps regulate blood pressure. Potassium, along with the fiber and antioxidants in sweet potatoes, supports normal blood vessel function and reduces the risk of heart disease.

  6. Versatile Culinary Options: The versatility of sweet potatoes makes them a chef’s dream. Whether roasted, mashed, or incorporated into pies and casseroles, their naturally sweet flavor can complement both savory and sweet dishes. This adaptability allows for a range of creative and delicious recipes.

Boiling sweet potatoes with the skin on retains the most beta-carotene and increases nutrient absorption more so than any other cooking method2. Up to 92% of beta-carotene can be preserved by limiting cooking time; it takes about 20 minutes to boil a sweet potato with the lid on, while other cooking methods can take longer. Beta-carotene is fat-soluble, so preparing sweet potatoes with a healthy form of fat such as olive, coconut, or avocado oil can further help absorption. 

Beyond their delectable taste, sweet potatoes offer myriad health benefits, making them a thoughtful addition to our Thanksgiving feast as we express gratitude for the blessings in our lives.  

Emily Rhodes, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Clinical Nutrition Manager at Keck Medicine of USC in Arcadia, CA. You can find her at the barn or in the grocery aisle reading a label.

References:

  1. Remya Mohanraj and Subha Sivasankar.Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam) – A Valuable Medicinal Food: A Review.Journal of Medicinal Food. Jul 2014.733-741.http://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2013.2818 
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/sweet-potatoes/ 

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