The Not-So-Sweet Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

The Not-So-Sweet Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

I once thought sweet potatoes were potatoes and learned that these healthy foods actually belong to the morning glory family (convolvulaceae) and not the potato family (solanaceae).

If sweet potatoes can disguise themselves as potatoes, could they also be mistaken for healthy foods when they actually are not?

I know very well that healthy eating at restaurant chains can be fairly difficult. That’s why you won’t typically find me there. It’s hard to know if you are ordering a healthy option or a recipe for a heart attack waiting to happen. I would usually order sweet potato fries instead of French fries, thinking it was the healthier choice.

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When you are at your favorite restaurant, do you also rationalize your eating choice by scrapping French fries with sweet potato fries? You heard that sweet potatoes are healthy for you and you decide to give them a try. However, you still pile on highly processed ketchup and mayonnaise, not to mention that the sweet potato fries are also typically processed and fried in oils.

Are you really reaping the benefits of sweet potatoes when you get them at a restaurant? I always hear people explaining how healthy certain foods are, and while that may be true, with any of your healthy foods, preparation is key.

Dangers of Deep Frying

The worst way you can eat your sweet potatoes is fried. That’s how you lose the benefits of sweet potatoes. When you fry any food you destroy its nutrients. Restaurants usually use vegetable oils (saturated fatty acid oil) such as canola for deep frying foods. You can minimize the damage when you fry with the monounsaturated fat, extra virgin olive oil; however, only on low heat and using a pan. Cooking with oils on high heat can damage the oil, and possibly create destructive free radicals.

When sweet potatoes and other starchy foods are heated above 248 degrees F, they also release the chemical acrylamide, which is known to cause cancer. At a fast food establishment, you cannot control the release of acrylamide. When you rinse your sweet potatoes or potatoes, then soak them for a couple of hours, this process lowers the production of acrylamide.

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Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?

When making homemade sweet potato fries, it is healthier to bake them in the oven because it produces less acrylamide. After all, you want to reap the benefits of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are less likely to trigger a blood sugar jump because they are 85 on the glycemic index, whereas traditional potatoes are 119. Sweet potatoes are known to lower insulin resistance and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Sweet potatoes also contain the antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C, which help eliminate free radicals in the body. Colon cancer, diabetic heart disease, and atherosclerosis are conditions associated with free radical damage. Vitamin A is also useful for lung support.

Sweet potatoes also help with digestion—100 grams contains 3.1 g of dietary fiber. They are also good sources of iron, potassium, vitamin B6, copper, and manganese.

Best Sweet Potato Preparation

It is always best to make your food yourself—especially to reap the benefits of sweet potatoes. You can obtain all of the maximum nutrition benefits of sweet potatoes by steaming half-inch cubes in two inches of water for just seven minutes. Adding three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil will help you absorb the carotenoids found in sweet potatoes. You can also add more flavors to your steamed sweet potatoes by adding your desired amount of garlic. You can also mash them if you prefer after you steam your sweet potatoes.

When you want to get the benefits of sweet potatoes, there are better ways to prepare them. Subtract the fries and steam your sweet potatoes for optimal nutritional health. Enjoy them as a side dish today!


Sources:
Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007), 280, 282, 284, 292.
Murray, M., N.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 236.
Leong, K., “The Dangers of Eating French Fries,” Yahoo! Voices web site, Oct. 8, 2009; http://voices.yahoo.com/the-dangers-eating-french-fries-4557839.html?cat=5.