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At first glance, the sweet potato may seem like any other food you can eat as a snack. However, these humble vegetables are about as healthy as they are sweet.
The sweet potato is a firm, orange-colored (sometimes white or purple) root crop covered in rough, brown or copper-colored skin, which can be consumed in various ways. The sweet and starchy flavor of the sweet potato often hides the plethora of health benefits it offers.
This particular root vegetable’s unique taste makes it an excellent substitute for the usual green leafy vegetables that dominate most dieting trends. Also, the sweet potato’s nutritional benefits mean that you won’t be sacrificing your health in exchange for its flavor.
What is a Sweet Potato?
Scientifically known as the Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato is a root crop, which means that the main part of the vegetable grows underground unlike other vegetables. It shares this trait with other root crops like turnips, carrots, and potatoes.
Despite its name, the sweet potato is not actually a potato. While the two share similar physical features like their shape and the color of their skin, their insides look and taste completely different from each other, as well as their nutritional values.
The sweet potato is also commonly mistaken for a yam. Both look almost the same except that the yam’s skin is darker and more tree-like. Its taste is also more neutral, as compared to the sweet potato’s sweeter flavor.
Health Facts About The Sweet Potato
The sweet potato is famous for being a healthy yet delicious snack that can be cooked in various ways. But what exactly are the things that make it so “healthy” in the first place?
1. It’s Packed with Nutrients
The sweet potato is a very nutritious vegetable. It’s notable for being rich in Vitamins A, B6, C, Fiber, and Potassium. It also contains decent amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. However, it also has a relatively high calorie count.
While the sweet potato contains a lot of healthy vitamins and minerals, people who are on a diet should take note of the amount of calories that it has, as it can be detrimental to weight loss efforts.
2. It’s a Good Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of three main vitamins found in sweet potatoes. This type of vitamin is especially useful for boosting your immune system among many other benefits.
It keeps your vision sharp, and it prevents your eyes from drying and inflammation. It is also essential for preventing blindness.
One hundred grams of sweet potato contains 960 micrograms of Vitamin A, which is slightly above the recommended daily intake for adult men (900mcg) and about 200mcg more than the recommended amount for adult women (700mcg). This means that the sweet potato is an excellent choice for preventing Vitamin A deficiency, which can cause a long list of diseases and complications.
Nonetheless, going over the recommended amount of the vitamin is still safe, as long as the intake does not exceed 3000mcg.
3. The Sweet Potato is Fiber-Rich
Many plants and vegetables are great sources of fiber and the sweet potato is no exception. One hundred grams of sweet potato contains 3.3 grams of fiber, making it a great addition to your daily fiber intake.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can make you feel fuller by slowing down the rate at which food is digested, while insoluble fiber will make the food pass through your digestive system faster. Both are equally important to your digestive health.
Sweet potatoes contain both kinds of fiber. The fiber content of sweet potatoes is anywhere between 15-23% soluble and 77-85% insoluble. This means that you’ll be able to feel the effects of both types of fiber in your body. Consequently, it can help in promoting better digestion and bowel movement.
4. It has Plenty of Antioxidants
Sweet potatoes are also rich in antioxidants, which prevents cell damage caused by free radicals. The average, medium sized sweet potato can contain up to 11509 micrograms of an antioxidant called beta carotene, which the body then converts into Vitamin A.
This root crop also contains other antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Chlorogenic acid and Anthocyanins. These antioxidants prevent free radicals from causing conditions such as asthma, diabetes, atherosclerosis and even cancer.
Taking just one sweet potato a day can give your body a significant boost against these diseases, especially the purple sweet potatoes, which have been found to be more effective in fighting free radical oxidation.
5. Sweet Potatoes are Good for Your Heart
Potassium is a mineral that comes in generous quantities with the rest of the nutrients found in sweet potatoes. While it is not as rich in potassium as bananas, sweet potatoes can still offer a decent amount that can give your cardiovascular system a good boost.
Potassium can help your heart function better by controlling blood pressure levels as well as other fluids in your body. This, combined with the other vitamins and nutrients mentioned above, means that sweet potatoes can protect you from cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis (plaque build-up) and similar other coronary diseases that cause your arteries to tighten.
6. It’s Diabetic-Friendly
Despite its sweet flavor, sweet potatoes have a rating of 63 in the glycemic index, effectively putting it under the medium category.
The glycemic index rating means that sweet potatoes will generally tend to be friendlier to people with diabetes compared to other food like cornflakes, white bread, or watermelons. Sweet potatoes can cause a slow yet steady growth in someone’s blood sugar level, as opposed to other types of food that can cause erratic or even sharp spikes in blood sugar levels.
There are claims that sweet potatoes can help diabetics by increasing their insulin sensitivity. However, evidence that support these claims are still few, so keep that in mind before using sweet potatoes as a way to help deal with diabetes. The vegetable’s medium rating in the glycemic index means that eating too much of it can cause complications.
It’s also important to note that the glycemic index rating of most food can change depending on how they are prepared. This is because glucose levels tend to alter depending on how the food is cooked.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
The sweet potato is generally harmless to most people, except for those with sweet potato allergies. It may also be harmful to those who have diabetes. Moreover, it should also be noted that sweet potatoes contain oxalates that can cause kidney stones.
Keep in mind that while sweet potatoes contain a lot of nutrients, they are not to be used as a primary means of treating diseases. Always consult a doctor if you’re feeling particularly sick.
Are Sweet Potatoes for You?
Since sweet potatoes provide a number of important vitamins and minerals, they can potentially be a great addition to your diet. Of course, many other vegetables can provide the same benefits, but the sweet potato stands out because of its unique taste.
This opens up a lot of options for dieters who want to change up their menus or for people who want a healthier substitute to the tried-and-true potato.