The beauty of nutritious sweet potatoes
Above: Chicken and sweet potato stew with cumin, turmeric and coriander.
With the fall well and truly with us, we are looking for soups and stews that have a soothing and warming effect on the body. This week, I will be looking at sweet potatoes as not only do they add a touch of colour to any dish but their rich and creamy flavour is a great addition to many meals.
In Okinawa Japan, where life expectancy is among the highest in the world, they have low levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease, which is thought to be, in part, the result of having sweet potatoes as a staple in their diet. Sweet potatoes have many health benefits, which will be discussed as well as their versatility in the kitchen. As with most vegetables, we tend to think of them as ‘sides’ to a meal when in fact they could easily become the star of the show.
Before going any further, it is important to know that although yams and sweet potatoes are often thought of as the same vegetable, they are not. Yams look more like tree roots – they are longer, brown and bumpy, whereas sweet potatoes tend to be rounder, with slightly thinner skin and orange flesh. There is also the Japanese sweet potato which has purple skin but on the same orange flesh inside.
Sweet potatoes have many health benefits which is why they should be part of your fall/winter recipes. They are very high in fiber and this has many advantages as fiber can help to stabilize blood sugar levels by providing the body with a stable source of energy. In turn, this will help to reduce those sugar cravings. Sweet potatoes are an ideal vegetable for those who are pre-diabetic or diabetic or those who are looking to lose weight. The high fiber content also means that it helps to feed the good bacteria in our gut – improving our gut microbiome this will while also support our digestive system. This means that we are more effective at absorbing the nutrients from the foods, maybe eating a little less than we thought we needed. A healthy gut microbiome is key to keeping out any toxins which try and make their way through the gut wall.
Sweet potatoes are also an amazing source of vitamin C which helps support the immune system, but they are also high in potassium this is an important mineral when looking to improve cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that gives sweet potatoes their orange flesh colour, they are also a powerful antioxidant which helps to reduce the damage done by free radicals in our body.
Beta-carotene is also a precursor to vitamin A. This vitamin is important in helping to maintain eye health and vision, healthy skin and the mucous membranes in the body such as the lungs, our gut, and nose, as these are the body’s first line of defence when it comes to keeping unwanted bugs and bacteria out.
Sweet potatoes are so versatile offering a variety of cooking options, they can be baked, mashed, steamed or fried, they can even be added to smoothies (once cooked). As with any root vegetable, cooking time can be considerably reduced by cutting sweet potatoes into small pieces. One of my favourite ways to do this is, is using a spiralizer or you can even use a normal vegetable peel to cut thin slices, which then only take minutes to cook making a hearty breakfast with eggs and spinach or added to an evening meal. This spicy-sweet potato, turkey and kale bowl is a tasty and simple dinner ready in under 30 minutes.
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