Sweet Potatoes are finally getting their due. No longer a “holiday” dish served just at Thanksgiving, Americans (as well as Europeans) are now embracing the bright orange vegetable on a daily basis, including chips, and side orders at burger joints (such as DMK Burger Bar in Chicago where they are served up as fries flavored with lemon and Tabasco aioli, as well as salads combined with beets and kale, etc. for optimum health.
Although sweet potatoes were a popular dish in the US more than 1 hundred years ago, they began to fall out of favor in the 1930’s, replaced by a preference for the much more starchy white potatoes. And while the latter still remains the most consumed vegetable in America, the population is beginning to eat less of them. In fact, the USDA now estimates that consumption of white potatoes has fallen from about 124.4 pounds per person in 2005, to around 113.7 lbs per person in 2015.
Not only is their bright orange flesh appealing as eye candy, it is rich in beta-carotene sweet potatoes may be one of nature’s unsurpassed sources of beta-carotene (aka Vitamin A), vital for maintaining overall eye health and preventing blindness, as well as skin disorders such as acne, not to mention its antioxidant properties crucial for protecting the body against pollutants and the formation of cancer cells. In addition, beta-carotene has been found an important nutrient for the formation of bones and teeth, fat storage, and epithelial tissue maintenance; it also helps guard against respiratory ailments such as colds and the flu.
One point that should be brought out here before we continue, is that although often referred to as Yams, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same vegetables. In fact, they are not even related botanically, with the more than 600 varieties of yams actually more closely related to lilies and grasses.
They are also starchier, drier, and contain far less Vitamin A than sweet potatoes. The confusion is often credited to African slaves who thought the American tubers resembled the yams grown back on their own continent.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that research done in different parts of Africa have determined that every 3.5 oz. of sweet potatoes contains 100-1,600 micrograms (RAE) of vitamin A, a little more than 1/3 of the daily requirements recommended. In addition, scientists report that without beta-carotene, the body is unable to utilize proteins.
Different methods of cooking the tubers also affect its nutritional value. For instance, boiling sweet potatoes has been found to have preferential effects on blood sugar by lowering the glycemic index (GI) over roasting them. However, when baked, small changes in micronutrient density occur bringing about a higher content of vitamin C at 24% of the Daily Value per 100 g serving.
Another advantage of sweet potatoes is that they don’t take long to prepare. In fact, steaming ½” pieces for just 7 minutes is sufficient to bring out their flavor, which can be further enhanced by adding nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cloves, while achieving the value just mentioned.
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