sweet potato benefits

Many people do not think of eating sweet potatoes except for on Thanksgiving. However, the sweet potato is an amazing, delightful vegetable that should not be taken for granted! From baked sweet potato fries, to roasted sweet potatoes and vegetables, sweet potato pancakes, or just a plain, baked sweet potato – there are many fun and easy ways to enjoy this deliciously sweet, healthful root.

Sweet Potato or Yam?

Sweet potatoes are native to Central America and are one of the oldest vegetables known to man. Christopher Columbus brought sweet potatoes to Europe after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Although sweet potatoes are sometimes called yams, they are not even distantly related. Rarely found in US markets, the yam is a popular vegetable in Latin American and Caribbean markets, with over 150 varieties available worldwide. Generally sweeter than the sweet potato, they can grow over seven feet in length. The word yam comes from African words njam, nyami, or djambi, meaning "to eat," and was first recorded in America in 1676.

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Packed with Nutrients

Sweet potatoes are nutrition powerhouses. One serving of baked sweet potato (1/2 cup, or about ½ of a small potato) is rich in beta-carotene, providing nearly four times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin A, 33% of the RDA for vitamin C, and 10% or less of the RDA for calcium, iron, and thiamine. They are a complex carbohydrate and are a good source of fiber and other important vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin E and potassium.

What do all of these numbers mean?

Beta-carotene and Vitamins C and E are antioxidants, which aid in muscle recovery and help protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and macular degeneration. Potassium helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in the body cells, as well as normal heart function and blood pressure. Eating the skin will help provide the health benefits of fiber.

How to Choose

For the most food value, choose sweet potatoes of a deep orange color, that are smooth and firm, without wrinkles or decay. Store them in a dry, cool place (55-60˚F). Do not store them in the refrigerator; they will develop a hard core and an "off" taste. You may brush off any excess dirt before storing, but do not wash them until you are ready to cook them. It is the moisture from washing that will increase their spoilage. Most sweet potato dishes freeze well. Save time and energy by making a sweet potato dish to serve and one to store in the freezer.


Sweet potatoes are a comforting and delicious dish, not just for Thanksgiving, but for any day of the year. Try these recipes to tempt your tastebuds for the holidays and beyond.

Smashed Sweet Potatoes

© Anna Berman

* 3 medium sweet potatoes
* 1 large onion, thinly sliced
* 3 cloves garlic, slithered
* 1-2 cups sliced mushrooms
* 6-10 ounces fresh spinach
* ¼ – ½ cup cream (optional)
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper
* Fresh dill for garnish

1. You may boil or bake the sweet potatoes.

To boil:
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Peel sweet potatoes and cut them into chunks. Add potatoes to boiling water and cook 12 to 15 minutes until very tender. Drain sweet potatoes in colander.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Scrub potatoes with vegetable brush. Place potatoes on baking sheet (covered with foil to ease clean up) and bake until soft to touch, rotating after 20 minutes. (total cook time 30-60 minutes, depending on size). Let potatoes cool; carefully cut in half and scoop out the inside.

2. In a sauté pan, add olive oil and start sautéing mushrooms – add some salt to draw out the water. Add the onions and garlic; continue to sauté. (Optional: Add some balsamic vinegar to add flavor and sweetness). Add spinach and sauté until wilted.

3. Mash the sweet potatoes. Add olive oil and/or cream if desired.

4. Fold in sautéed vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet Potato Fries

© Rebecca Allinson and Laurie Barenblat

* 6 sweet potatoes, each scrubbed and cut lengthwise into 6-8 wedges
* ¼ cup vegetable oil or cooking spray
* 1/8 teaspoon salt

* Optional: your favorite herbs and spices – try oregano and thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, cumin powder, or cinnamon….be creative!

* Your favorite dipping sauce – ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc.

1. Preheat to 400°F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, coat the potato wedges with oil, sprinkle with the salt (and any other added herbs or spices), and spread them evenly in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, or until light brown on one side. Turn them over with a spatula and roast for about 15 minutes more, until browned.

3. When the potatoes are roasted, arrange them on a platter with the dipping sauce in a bowl in the center and serve hot.

About Author: Laurie Barenblat is a Nutrition Educator and Healthy Lifestyle Coach in Dallas, Texas. She offers creative, yet simple ways to help her clients create a healthier lifestyle with a focus on weight loss. She helps people change their habits so that today, tomorrow, and far into the future they will be looking and feeling their best. In addition to coaching individual clients, Laurie is a speaker, writer, and frequent contributor to the media. Visit her website http://www.lauriebarenblat.com and sign up for her free monthly newsletter.


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