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Sweet Potatoes: Roots of Nutrition

by Berkeley Wellness

Sweet potatoes are edible roots, not tubers like potatoes. In fact, sweet potatoes aren’t even related to potatoes. They are members of an entirely different family, the morning glory family. The resemblance to other members of the vining morning glory family is evident in the leafy vines that can be grown from sweet potato cuttings.

Native to the New World, the sweet potato plant (Ipomoea batatas) was introduced to Europe by Columbus and to Asia by other explorers. A valued food for Native Americans, the sweet potato was widely cultivated in Colonial America, where it often provided the main sustenance for early homesteaders and for soldiers during the Revolutionary War. In fact, the sweet potato was considered a fundamental staple food, the “vegetable indispensable,” as one colonial doctor put it.

Sweet potatoes have a rich natural sweetness, which is produced by an enzyme in the potato that converts most of its starches to sugars as the potato matures. This sweetness continues to increase during storage, and when the potato is cooked.

In spite of their appealing flavor and spectacular nutrition profile, many people eat sweet potatoes only on Thanksgiving. In fact, in the past 20 years, the per capita consumption of sweet potatoes has gone down instead of up.

Sweet potatoes are sometimes called “yams,” but they are not true yams. Yams are very large (up to 100 lb) starchy tubers of another genus, cultivated and eaten as a staple food in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Although yams are also members of the morning glory family, they are closer in texture and taste to the potato than to the sweet potato. In fact, true yam powder can be used similarly to instant mashed potato powder.

Types of Sweet Potatoes

From Batata to Jersey Sweets, there are a variety of sweet potatoes ideal for baking, roasting, and using in soups.

Sweet potatoes: nutrition

Sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious foods in the vegetable kingdom. High in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals, sweet potatoes supply substantial amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, and potassium. Also worth noting is the sweet potato’s vitamin E content: One sweet potato provides over 25 percent of the RDA, almost unheard of in a low-fat food.

The orange color of sweet potato flesh indicates the presence of carotenoids. One orange-fleshed sweet potato supplies over 100 percent of the daily requirement for beta carotene. The darker the flesh of a sweet potato, the more beta carotene. (The tropical white-fleshed varieties of sweet potato have little to no beta carotene.)

In addition, one sweet potato contains about 4 grams of fiber, and it’s low in calories. There are just 112 calories in a 5-inch long sweet potato.

Though many people assume that sweet potato skin is inedible, it is every bit as edible as white potato skin. This is important, because the skin boosts the amount of important nutrients in this delicious root vegetable.

For a full listing of nutrients, see Sweet Potato in the National Nutrient Database.

12 Recipe Ideas for Sweet Potatoes

Nutrient-rich sweet potatoes aren’t just for the holidays; they make an ideal side dish year round. Get tips for preparing sweet potatoes, along with tasty serving suggestions.

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