A nutrient-rich veggie for all seasons Sure, it may be slathered in marshmallow, laden with brown sugar or both at…
A nutrient-rich veggie for all seasons
Sure, it may be slathered in marshmallow, laden with brown sugar or both at Thanksgiving. But undressed — sans the over-the-top sweeteners — the sweet potato is chock-full of nutrients that earn it a rightful place at the table year-round. Affordable and versatile, if at times misunderstood, this starchy tuber can be prepared in a variety of ways that don’t involve added sugar to provide a hearty helping of health benefits. Its characteristic full flavor and sweetness set it apart from other unearthed veggies. “The sweet potato is a nutritional powerhouse,” says Robin Tucker, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University. Here are seven ways sweet potatoes deliver the nutritional goods.
A great source of vitamin A — and good for your eyes
Sweet potatoes are a great source of the important antioxidant beta-carotene, which is nourishing to the eyes and a boon for vision, including focus. The body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, “which is good for your eyes and skin,” Tucker says. The vitamin A content in sweet potatoes “is remarkably high,” says Suzy Weems, a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor of nutrition sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Just one cup of cubed sweet potato contains 943 micrograms of vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and depending on the size of the sweet potato, just by eating one, you can far exceed your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, which is 700 micrograms for women and 900 micrograms for men. And no, more of a good thing that’s naturally derived from food isn’t a bad thing in this case.
It delivers on other vitamins as well.
Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, which is helpful for things like wound healing and immune function. It also provides a good dose of vitamin B6, which may benefit brain health and boost mood. According to the USDA, one baked, medium-sized sweet potato (that’s 5 inches long, 2 inches in diameter, if you’re measuring) — contains 22 milligrams of vitamin C and 0.326 mg of B6 (about one-fourth and one-fifth of what’s recommended daily, respectively). That’s for a sweet potato with the skin still on it, which is the best way to eat it to get the most nutrients, experts say.
It’s a low-calorie food that will fill you up.
A medium-sized sweet potato only has around 100 calories. “Sweet potatoes are low in calories and high in fiber, which can help keep you fuller longer,” Tucker says. And it can help sustain you whether it’s baked or made in another nutritious way.
“Sweet potatoes are dynamic,” says Jennifer Onopa, a registered dietitian and food, families and health educator for Penn State Extension in the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “They can be cubed and added to chili, spiralized into noodle-like shapes and sauteed or cut into fry shapes and sprinkled with cinnamon or chili powder and then baked in the oven for a healthier twist on sweet potato fries.”
Supports gut health
That healthy serving of fiber — about 4 grams of fiber for the same medium-sized sweet potato — is good for your midsection in more ways than one. “Eating foods high in naturally occurring fiber can promote healthy digestion and weight maintenance,” Tucker says. The Western diet tends to be high in processed foods and low in fiber-rich fruits and veggies — a recipe for constipation. Bucking that uncomfortable dietary trend and incorporating more fibrous produce, including this root veggie, can help prevent that.
“Sweet potatoes can be a great vegetable to have in a healthy diet,” says Jenna Anding, a registered dietitian and professor of nutrition at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “Like most vegetables, however, it comes down to how they are prepared.”
A healthy source of carbs.
Contrary to all the macronutrient demonizing by some extreme diets, experts emphasize that we still need all three macronutrients: protein, fat and — gasp — carbs. That said, there’s a reason this macronutrient sometimes gets a bad rap, as highly processed forms of it can make a person feel bloated and spike blood sugar. Whole foods provide a much healthier way to consume carbs. Sweet potatoes are a good source of carbs, Weems says, along with providing some protein. And even though baking sweet potatoes can raise the glycemic index — the measured effect it has on blood glucose levels — the starchy veggie’s glycemic index is still relatively low. It’s lower than white potatoes, and certainly well below that for processed foods and sugary sweets.
More potassium than a banana
Sweet potatoes (as well as those regular white potatoes) are also a good source of potassium — even edging out the banana, a high-profile source of the nutrient. According to the USDA, that medium-sized sweet potato contains 438 mg of potassium, while a medium-sized banana contains 422 mg of potassium. This mineral, a type of electrolyte, is integral to keep the body working properly, according to the National Institutes of Health. That includes helping your nerves to function, your muscles to contract and your heartbeat to stay regular. The NIH notes that diets rich in potassium can even help to offset some of harmful effects salt consumption has on blood pressure. (Not that you should load up on sodium.)
It could help prevent disease.
First, there’s no one superfood that will save you from a poor diet. Instead, it’s about making room on your plate for a diverse range of foods that are primarily plant-based. But with that framework, sweet potatoes carry their weight. Besides the cardiovascular benefits of potassium and immune system-boosting power of vitamin A, there’s some research in mice that suggests that incorporating sweet potatoes — due to antioxidants in them called anthocyanins — could help protect against cancer as well.
Of course more study in people is needed, but other studies looking at anthocyanins (also plentiful in berries, grapes and red cabbage) have observed cancer-inhibiting properties. What’s clear, experts say, is that a well-rounded diet can lower overall disease risk and improve longevity. And sweet potatoes are a good addition to a healthy diet — so long as you keep your maple syrup and marshmallow toppings in moderation.
To recap, here are seven ways sweet potatoes can boost your health:
— A great source of vitamin A, which is good for your eyes.
— A good source of vitamins C and B6.
— A low-calorie food that will fill you up.
— Supports gut health with microbe-friendly fiber.
— A healthy source of complex carbs.
— More potassium than a banana.
— Could help prevent disease, including cancer.
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Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts: 7 Ways This Root Veggie Is Good for You originally appeared on usnews.com