Upgrade your potato game with sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than common potatoes but usually have to travel from afar. So here’s a look at what they have to offer.
Where do sweet potatoes come from?
Sweet potatoes originally come from Central and South America and although they’re still grown there, the US, China, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Indonesia, Vietnam and India are the biggest producers. Requiring a warm climate, they are easy to cultivate in these countries. Sweet potatoes are also grown in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece but none of them are big producers so the ones we buy are usually American or Chinese.
Despite its name, sweet potato is not related to the common potato nor is it related to yams. It belongs to a different family entirely and is a root – a nutritious storage root – as opposed to being a tuber like the common potato.
Sweet potato nutrients
One medium, baked sweet potato weighing about 150 grams offers around 135 calories, five grams of fibre, 11 grams of starch and 10 grams of sugar. That means it gives you some fast energy from the sugars and the rest is released gradually from starch, slowed down by the fibre. And long-lasting energy is just what we all need.
This medium-sized potato also delivers three grams of protein and covers between 10 and 20 per cent of your daily B group vitamin needs, except for B12 (there’s none in sweet potatoes). It provides so much beta-carotene that it almost fully covers your daily vitamin A needs (your body makes vitamin A from beta-carotene). It also supplies about 50 per cent of your daily vitamin C requirement!
As if that wasn’t enough, the same serving size contributes to your calcium intake (slightly) and your magnesium, potassium and manganese intake (greatly). These minerals are important for the correct functioning of your nerves and muscles, for strong bones, immune system and healthy kidneys.
The most common variety of sweet potatoes is the orange-fleshed one but there are others, including white and purple. White has the least antioxidants, orange has a lot and purple has the most. Antioxidants are the powerful compounds found in fruit and veg that help protect our cells and tissues from damage and can also be anti-inflammatory.
Some test-tube studies suggest that sweet potato antioxidants may have anti-cancer properties but more research is needed. Even if sweet potatoes won’t make you cancer-proof, they will certainly boost your health in many other ways.
One of the antioxidants is beta-carotene and apart from being converted into vitamin A, crucial for healthy vision, it can also help to prevent macular degeneration – an age-related eye condition. Orange sweet potatoes have the most beta-carotene.
The key to long life
On the Japanese island Okinawa, one of five so-called ‘Blue Zones’ in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives, a whopping 67 per cent of their traditional diet is made up of sweet potatoes!
Sweet potato feast
Sweet potatoes are certainly a healthy food but they do have to travel from overseas. If you’re lucky enough to find European sweet potatoes in the shops, enjoy them guilt-free!
Needless to say, baked or mashed sweet potatoes are by far a healthier choice than sweet potato crisps and chips – the more added fat, the less healthy the meal. But sweet potatoes don’t have to be just a side dish! Try baking with them – they work great in cakes and biscuits – and they are also a perfect mashed or finger food for toddlers.