Sweet potato, also referred to as a yam in some regions, is a starchy root vegetable that has a wide distribution and can be grown worldwide. Several varieties of sweet potatoes are distinguished by their size and color. White, orange, and purple sweet potatoes get their characteristic color based on the compounds present in the particular potato.
Sweet potatoes are a staple food in many regions because they are rich in fiber, vitamins, potassium, proteins, and essential nutrients. They are rich in antioxidants that boost immunity and protect the health of essential organs, such as the heart and kidneys. They are also low in calories.
Sweet potato recipes include boiled potatoes, cooked with other vegetables, or made into french fries. You can also bake sweet potatoes for a healthier alternative. Boiling sweet potatoes with their skin increases their nutritive content.
7 health benefits of sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, B, A, and D and minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. There are various varieties of sweet potatoes. Some contain beta-carotene (a provitamin of vitamin A), whereas some contain carotenoids and anthocyanins, which are noted to be beneficial to the body.
The 7 health benefits of sweet potatoes include:
- Good for people with diabetes: Sweet potatoes help maintain good blood sugar levels because they have a low glycemic index and don’t increase blood sugar levels like other foods. A study suggested that sweet potatoes improve insulin sensitivity in people with type II diabetes.
- Reduce the risk of cancer: Sweet potatoes may reduce the risk of cancer, such as lung and prostate cancer. They are rich in beta-carotene (a provitamin) that is converted to vitamin A (an antioxidant). Carotenoids (orange pigment) and anthocyanins (purple pigment) in sweet potatoes have antioxidant properties. These antioxidants protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals that otherwise damage the cells and increase the risk of cancer. Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, and intake of high dietary fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
- High fiber: Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber that helps the body in many ways. Fiber improves digestion, prevents constipation, promotes regularity, and maintains good gut health. It also lowers the risk of type II diabetes.
- Regulate blood pressure: Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium. People with high blood pressure find it helpful to consume foods that are rich in this nutrient. Potassium aids in reducing sodium in the blood. Both these factors help maintain good blood pressure levels, which in turn maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association recommends people avoid foods high in sodium content.
- Heart health: Studies have suggested that sweet potatoes may reduce bad cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. All these factors protect and lower the risk of heart events.
- Prevent obesity: Purple sweet potatoes lower inflammation and help reduce body weight by preventing the growth of fat cells, which helps prevent obesity.
- Improve eye health: Beta-carotene in sweet potatoes converts to the active form of vitamin A, which is an essential element for the formation of light-detecting receptors inside the eye. Vitamin A and anthocyanins protect the eye cells from damage and lower the risk of vision loss.
What are the side effects of sweet potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, and when taken with medications that increase potassium levels in the body, such as beta-blockers, they may cause problems related to excessive potassium intake levels in the body.
People with kidney problems must avoid eating sweet potatoes because an improper functioning kidney cannot remove potassium from their body, causing high potassium levels that can be harmful to them. Sweet potatoes contain high amounts of oxalates that may increase the risk of calcium-oxalate kidney stones.
Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, and their excessive consumption can lead to hypervitaminosis A (vitamin A toxicity), in which excess vitamin A accumulates in the liver. Although it is not considered harmful, the color of the skin and nails may turn orange.
Additionally, sweet potatoes are rich in carbohydrates. Therefore, those on a carbohydrate restriction diet should avoid overindulging in them.
This doesn’t mean we have to avoid sweet potatoes, because they are always beneficial to the body when consumed in moderation.
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