Sweet Sensation-the Sweet Potato

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes may be one of nature’s unsurpassed sources of beta-carotene. Several recent studies have shown the superior ability of sweet potatoes to raise our blood levels of vitamin A. This benefit may be particularly true for children. In several studies from Africa, sweet potatoes were found to contain between 100-1,600 micrograms (RAE) of vitamin A in every 3.5 ounces—enough, on average, to meet 35% of all vitamin A needs, and in many cases enough to meet over 90% of vitamin A needs (from this single food alone).

It’s important to have some fat in your sweet potato-containing meals if you want to enjoy the full beta-carotene benefits of this root vegetable. Recent research has shown that a minimum of 3-5 grams of fat per meal significantly increases our uptake of beta-carotene from sweet potatoes. Of course, this minimal amount of fat can be very easy to include.  By adding 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil each of serving of sweet potato provides 3.5 grams of fat.

 Some nutritional benefits from sweet potatoes simply may not be achievable unless you use steaming or boiling as your cooking method. Recent studies show excellent preservation of sweet potato anthocyanins with steaming, and several studies comparing boiling to roasting have shown better blood sugar effects (including the achievement of a lower glycemic index, or GI value) with boiling. 

 Sweet potatoes don’t have to take a long time to prepare. Cutting them into 1/2-inch slices and Healthy Steaming them for just 7 minutes not only brings out their great flavor but helps to maximize their nutritional value. And you can add cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cloves for extra flavor and nutrition.

 Sweet potatoes aren’t just for casseroles anymore.  Nutritionists hail the sweet potato because it is full of vitamins, potassium and fiber.  Passionate eaters like it for many different reasons.  The homely tuber makes memorable pies, earthy fries and luxurious chips.  Sweet potatoes have long starred as street-cart food inNew York City, where they are roasted dark and caramel-sweet, then served sliced in half, ready to eat out of hand as a snack.

 Of all the dishes made from this versatile root vegetable, the most familiar is the good old sweet potato casserole.  Not all the great ones are topped with melted marshmallows. Some are blanketed with chopped pecans, others sweetened with crushed pineapple.  There’s sweet potato bread and rolls sweet potato biscuits, and sweet potato layer cake.  Sweet potatoes for breakfast?  Yes indeed!  You can have an omelet with a side of sweet potato browns – like home fries but with a sweetness to them.  Try them with a dollop of apple butter or jam.  Then you can try sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup.  Isn’t it grand that a vegetable so nutritionally virtuous tastes so sinfully good?

 How to Select and Store:
Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and do not have any cracks, bruises or soft spots. Avoid those that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce department since cold temperature negatively alters their taste.

Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place, where they will keep fresh for up to ten days. Ideally, they should be kept out of the refrigerator in a cool, dry, dark place not above 60ËšF /15ËšC, which would fit the characteristics of a root cellar. Yet since most people don’t have root cellars, we’d suggest just keeping your sweet potatoes loose (not in a plastic bag, but if desired, a brown paper bag with multiple air holes punched in it will work) and storing them in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated cupboard away from sources of excess heat (like the stove).

A Few Quick Tips on How to Enjoy:
Purée cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts. The fat content of the walnuts will help you get optimal absorption of the beta-carotene in the sweet potatoes.

Steam cubed sweet potatoes, tofu, and broccoli. Mix in raisins and serve hot or cold with a curried vinaigrette dressing. Once again, the oil in the vinaigrette will help you improve the bioavailability of the sweet potatoes’ beta-carotene.

Baked sweet potatoes are delicious even when served cold and therefore make a great food to pack in to-go lunches.

Thanks to Taste of Home, February/March 2012 and to www.whfoods.com for information used in this article.

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