9 Incredible Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

9 Incredible Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are root vegetables originating in South America. They are not only delicious, but also highly nutritious. They are large, sweet-tasting, and starchy. In some parts of West Africa, such as in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the young leaves and shoots are eaten as vegetables and prepared as a stew much in the same way as spinach. Sweet potato shoots are powerful sources of carbohydrates, while the leaves are loaded with vitamin, carotene, calcium, iron, zinc and protein.

History of sweet potatoes

When we talk about food items with rich history and scintillating origin, sweet potatoes make the top of the list. They are also some of the oldest kinds of vegetation known to man. Scientific studies have consistently shown that sweet potatoes were domesticated thousands of years ago in Central America. It is believed that Christopher Columbus took sweet potatoes back to his native home in Europe after his successful first voyage of the Americas back in 1492. [1]

The crop entered China in the late 16th century and spread across Asia, Latin America and Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it’s a staple food in most developing countries, especially West African countries due to its high versatility, broad nutrition content and the fact that its planting material is able to be multiplied faster from very few roots. [2]

Nutritional value of Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich sources of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). Also, they are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), potassium, and dietary fibre. Below is a table illustrating the percentage Daily Value (DV) of the nutrients contained in an average size sweet potato.

Nutrient % DV
Vitamin A 214
Vitamin C 52
Manganese 50
Copper 36
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) 35
Vitamin B6 34
Biotin 29
Potassium 27
Fibre 26
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 18
Vitamin B2 18
Vitamin B1 16
Phosphorous 15

Source: http://whfoods.org/

Varieties of Sweet Potatoes

According to the International Potato Centre, there are about 6000 varieties of sweet potatoes across the world. These varieties are based on:

  1. Skin colour

Sweet potatoes come in a wide range of skin colour including white, yellow orange, red, reddish-purple and tan.

  1. Flesh colour

Sweet potatoes also have a huge array of flesh colour including white, orange, yellow-orange, red and purple.

While there is a wide variety of sweet potato in the world, it’s pretty hard to find all of them in the market. Here is a table showing the main varieties consumed throughout the world and where they are predominantly grown:

Variety of Sweet Potato Skin Flesh Taste Largely grown
Hannah Sweet potatoes Cream coloured and very smooth Whitish colour – becomes yellow when baked Pretty sweet and considerably firm inside Africa, Europe, U.S. South America.
Jewel sweet potatoes Orange/copper Deep orange Mildly sweet and fairly firm inside India, United States, Asia
Japanese sweet potatoes Purple and fairly smooth/ skin has small eyelets Whitish/turns golden when baked Extremely sweet with a nutty flavour and hints of chestnut. Fairly firm inside Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea
Stokes purple sweet potatoes Deep purple Deep purple Not too sweet and pretty dry inside United States, North America. Africa, Southeast Asia, Korea and Caribbean
Garnet sweet potatoes Reddish/dark orange Orange Mildly sweet and pretty moist inside United States, China  and Japan

Sweet potatoes have incredible health benefits including:

  1. Impeccable immunity and anti-inflammatory properties

Because of the colour-pigmented vitamins, sweet potatoes are loaded with anti-inflammatory benefits. A single sweet potato consists of approximately half (45 milligrams) of the Required Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, which is 90 milligrams. [3]. Sweet potatoes also contain incredible amounts of vitamin A and some vitamin E, which support a healthy immune system and are considered potent disease-fighting antioxidants. While orange-fleshed sweet potatoes harbour a lot of vitamin A, purple-fleshed varieties are loaded with the antioxidant anthocyanin. Anthocyanin contributes to the purple, blue and red colours in vegetable and fruits. Drawing from a research study by the Linus Pauling Institute, antioxidants responsible for pigmentation harbour powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which are vital to overall human health and helps prevent inflammatory complications. [4]

  1. Lower the possibility of diabetes

Sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index scale measures the effect of any food on your blood sugar on a scale of 10. Foods that record high glycemic index have a dramatic effect on your blood sugar, which means consumption of such foods triggers your blood sugar to rise resulting in blood sugar crash. [5]. In fact, a recent research stipulates that sweet potatoes can minimise a series of low blood sugar as well as insulin resistance on diabetes sufferers. [6]. The fibre content in sweet potatoes plays a critical role too. Research studies have indicated that type 1 diabetes suffers who eat a lot of high-fibre diets (50 grams a day) exhibit lower levels of glucose and type 2 diabetes sufferers show improved blood sugar, and insulin levels. [7]. To realise the diabetic benefits of sweet potatoes, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 30 grams worth of fibre in adults should be met.

  1. Helps fight Cancer

A research study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology showed that proteins purified from sweet potatoes significantly inhibited the proliferation and spreading of human colorectal cancer cells. [8]. In a research conducted on the Japan population, Vitamin C was shown to reverse any development of Gastric cancer. [9] Vitamin C has powerful inflammatory properties that can weaken and kills cancer cells over time. [10]

  1. Helps with fertility

For women who are still able to bear children, consumption of plants that contain high amounts of vitamin A and iron is always encouraged to boost fertility. This is according to a research study by the Harvard Medical School’s Health Publications. Intake of vitamin A in sweet potatoes, in the form of beta-carotene (which is then converted to vitamin A in the human body), is also vital in the course of pregnancy and lactation for hormone synthesis. Iron is essential as the body uses it to make extra blood (haemoglobin) to cater for the mother and unborn baby. It also aids in the transportation of blood from the lungs to other parts of the body.

  1. Maintain water balance

Sweet potatoes are fibre-dense. The fibre holds a lot of water, which is transferred to the body after consumption. Daily consumption of sweet potatoes hydrates the body and maintains the water equilibrium in the body, alleviating the possibility of dehydration and enabling your cells to work optimally.

  1. Help cure stomach ulcers

Because sweet potatoes are soft, sweet, and fibre-dense, they provide a soothing effect in the stomach and intestinal walls. Simply stated, the dietary fibre assists the body in maintaining a healthy digestive tract, while regulating digestion. The nutrients found in sweet potatoes such as vitamin C, B-complex vitamin, calcium, potassium, and beta-carotene are able to cure stomach ulcers or reduce the pain associated with it. To add to that, the roughage content in sweet potatoes mitigates constipation, lowering the possibility of ulcers. The soothing and anti-inflammatory attributes of sweet potatoes play a significant role in lowering the inflammation and pain brought about by ulcers. [11]

  1. Maintains normal vision

According to a research study by Duke Ophthalmologist Jill Koury, MD, deficiency of Vitamin A leads to deterioration of the outer section of the eye’s photoreceptors, thereby inhibiting normal vision. [12]. To restore normal vision, it’s recommended that one consumes foods high in beta-carotene. Amongst fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes contain one of the highest amounts of beta-carotene, over 200% of the RDA of vitamin A in one serving.

Additionally, studies have consistently shown that the antioxidants vitamin C and E contained in sweet potatoes promote eye health and mitigate degenerative damage.

  1. Essential for maintaining a healthy heart

Sweet potatoes contain a decent amount of B6 vitamins, which are vastly capable of breaking down homocysteine. Homocysteine is a compound that is responsible for hardening of arteries and blood vessels (atherosclerosis), a condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke. [13]. The potassium content in sweet potatoes is also good for the heart since it reduces blood pressure by ensuring equilibrium in your body fluids. It does this by assisting your kidneys to send excess sodium out of the body. Low levels of sodium mean reduced possibility of blood pressure. Potassium is also an electrolyte, which means it’s also capable of controlling your heartbeat.

  1. Good for weight gain

Professional bodybuilders or strength training enthusiasts can benefit a lot in regard to weight gain by consuming sweet potatoes. How? They are naturally sweet and contain a substantial amount of complex starch as well as healthy minerals and vitamins. On top of that, they are pretty easy to digest. The substantial starch and natural sugar presence mean they provide lots of energy to the body and are remarkable bulk builders for individuals looking to gain weight naturally and fast. [14]

References

1) https://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2010/11/a-sweet-potato-history/

2) https://cipotato.org/sweetpotato/

3) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

4) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-E

5) http://www.livestrong.com/article/295025-the-glycemic-index-for-sweet-potatoes/

6) https://www.jenreviews.com/sweet-potatoes/

7) http://www.joslin.org/info/how_does_fibre_affect_blood_glucose_levels.html

8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23745032.

9) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1349-7006.1997.tb00387.x/pdf

10) https://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=3903&Title=Researchers%20find%20vitamin%20C%20inhibits%20cancer%20stem%20cell%20growth.

11) http://www.functionalfoodscenter.net/files/50426782.pdf

12) http://dukeeyecenter.duke.edu/node/3070.

13) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-b/

14) http://www.livestrong.com/article/449159-bodybuilding-benefits-of-sweet-potatoes/

 

 

 

 

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