Superfood: Sweet Potatoes
With their brightly-coloured flesh and sweet, earthy flavour, sweet potatoes are a popular choice in hearty winter soups, vegan-friendly curries or even just as a more vibrant alternative to regular, white potatoes. But did you know that sweet potatoes are also one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat? Each potato is crammed full of vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant compounds that form an essential part of any balanced diet.
Sweet potatoes are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and while they are relatively high in carbohydrates, these are ‘good’ complex carbohydrates that pack in plenty of vitamins and minerals, making them an excellent choice for your recommended daily intake of carbs. They are also a good source of dietary fibre, which is great for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
There are two sweet potato types - the familiar, orange-fleshed varieties, and the less well known purple varieties. Orange sweet potatoes are rich in a compound called beta-carotene, which gives them their orange colouring, while purple sweet potatoes are rich in anthocyanins, which give them their purple colour. Both of these compounds are antioxidants. Purple varieties in particular are prized for their antioxidant properties. Studies show that sweet potato peel is particularly rich in antioxidants, so if you want to get the full health benefits from your sweet potatoes, scrub them rather than peeling.
The beta-carotene in orange sweet potatoes also provides important nutrients, as the body converts it into Vitamin A, which is important for a healthy immune system and for creating light-sensing receptors in the eyes. By converting beta-carotene, one cup (200g) of orange sweet potato, including skin, can provide a massive 769% of your USDA-recommended daily value of Vitamin A. This makes sweet potatoes a smart choice for vegetarians and vegans, as many other sources of Vitamin A contain meat products.
Purple sweet potatoes, while lower in Vitamin A, may also be beneficial to eye health. Test tube studies suggest that the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes may help maintain healthy vision by protecting against cell damage to the eyes. Animal studies show that anthocyanins can help protect the brain from cell damage too, while other studies show that purple sweet potato extract can help learning and memory in mice. More studies are needed in humans, but early evidence suggests that the cell-protecting properties of purple sweet potato may have benefits for both eye and brain function.
Sweet potatoes also contain a wealth of other vitamins and minerals, with one cup providing 65% of your USDA daily value of Vitamin C, for healthy skin and immune function, 50% of your daily value of manganese, for stronger bones, 29% of your daily value of Vitamin B6, to aid metabolism and help with the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters, and 27% of your daily value of potassium, for a healthy nervous system. They are also a good source of pantothenic acid, copper and Vitamin B3.
With all these health benefits, sweet potatoes certainly deserve the title of ‘superfood’. That said, it’s important to remember that no one foodstuff can work miracles all by itself. To get the most out of sweet potatoes, you should eat them as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Sweet Potato Leaves
Sweet potatoes are best known for their tasty and nutritious tubers, but in fact, you can also eat the leaves. Already a popular leafy green in their own right in parts of Africa and Asia, they can be found in your local Asian supermarket, and if you grow your own sweet potatoes, now you have two vegetables instead of one! They taste a little like spinach, and come with several health benefits of their own.
Like their tubers, sweet potato leaves are a good source of beta-carotene, meaning that they too have cell-protecting antioxidant properties, as well as providing a good source of Vitamin A for a healthy immune system and eyesight.
Sweet potato leaves are particularly high in Vitamin K, which is vital for coagulation, or clotting of the blood, preventing excess bleeding. It also plays an important role in maintaining strong, healthy bones, and helps prevent calcium build-up inside the arteries, potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.
Other nutrients that can be found in sweet potato leaves include Vitamins B1, 2, 3 & 6, all of which play an important role in how the body converts food into energy, zinc, to help with metabolism, digestion and nerve function, iron, for transporting oxygen around the body, and calcium for healthy teeth and bones.
If you want more sweet potato goodness in your life, check out these delicious sweet potato recipes.
For a tasty alternative to regular mash, try mashed sweet potatoes. Our recipe is seasoned with a hint of cinnamon to enhance the sweet earthiness of the sweet potato.
If you’re looking for a healthy vegan lunch or side dish, these baked sweet potatoes with beetroot cream combine all the benefits of sweet potatoes with beets - another highly nutritious veggie.
Add some veggie goodness to your favourite sweet treat with these sweet potato cupcakes with beetroot topping. They’re healthy, indulgent, and gluten-free.
Don’t forget to use those tasty and nutritious leaves, too. This delicious recipe for stir-fried sweet potato leaves from The Woks of Life enhances their natural, spinach-like taste with ginger, garlic and Shaoxing wine.