Sweet potatoes provide some surprising and unique health benefits – antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and even improved blood sugar regulation.
Sweet potatoes are especially beneficial because they contain a wide variety of nutrients – everything from vitamin C, B6, and folate to trace minerals such as magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. Folate is important for the production of healthy cells and tissues, while potassium is needed to regulate heart function and to help stabilize blood pressure.
Sweet potatoes are also an amazing source of dietary fiber (approx.. 4 grams in just one potato!). Fiber is important for a healthy digestive track. Eating a whole sweet potato with the skin on can help relieve constipation and may be important in the long-term prevention of diseases like colon cancer.
Antioxidants & Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
Sweet potatoes contain a spectrum of carotenoid pigments, which function as antioxidants in the body and are noted by their vivid orange color. The intensity of the sweet potato’s yellow or orange flesh directly correlates to its beta-carotene content. The more vivid the color, the more beta-carotene the sweet potato contains. Carotenoids are also important because they are a precursor to vitamin A, which is known for doing a number of things in the body, most notably: strengthening our eyesight, boosting our immunity, and even warding of different types of cancer due to its antioxidant scavenger activity.
Purple-fleshed sweet potatoes contain a different series of compounds called anthocyanins, which like beta-carotene, are known for having a high level of antioxidant activity. Antioxidants work in the body to prevent inflammation which recent research is beginning to suggest may play a very important role in long-term cancer prevention.
How to Select & Store
Sweet potatoes can be found in most local markets year round, but are in season throughout November and December in the United States. Avoid sweet potatoes that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce section as colder temperatures can negatively alter taste.
Sweet potatoes should be stored in a dark, well-ventilated place that is below 60F (think cellars, basements, or even a brown paper bag with multiple air holes punched through it). This allows them to keep well for about 2 weeks after purchase.
Healthiest Way to Prepare A Sweet Potato
In order to retain the most nutrients it is best to steam sweet potatoes. Second best is boiling and microwaving. Baking and roasting, while incredibly tasty, tend to increase the glycemic load of sweet potatoes most. It’s also important to include some fat containing foods when eating sweet potatoes, as multiple studies have shown that beta-carotene is best absorbed when some fat (only 3-5 grams needed) is present.