The Health Properties of Sweet Potatoes

These sweet-tasting super-spuds hold a real healthy surprise.

These sweet-tasting super-spuds hold a real healthy surprise. Eat a baked sweet potato instead of a baked white potato, and your blood sugar will rise about 30 percent less!

Compared to regular potatoes, a.k.a. blood sugar bombs, sweets rank relatively low on the GL scale. And the fact that they’re packed with nutrients and disease-fighting fiber (almost 40 percent of which is soluble fiber, the kind that helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol) makes them a sweet deal indeed. Sweet potatoes are extraordinarily rich in carotenoids, orange and yellow pigments that play a role in helping the body respond to insulin. And as unlikely as it may seem, coffee (another Magic food) and sweet potatoes have something in common: They’re both rich in the natural plant compound chlorogenic acid, which may help reduce insulin resistance.

You may not think of vitamin C when you think of sweet potatoes, but they’re actually an excellent source. That’s important when you’re battling high blood sugar, because the vitamin’s antioxidant powers may help keep arteries from being damaged. Vitamin C may also help fight heart disease and complications of diabetes, such as nerve and eye damage.

Like so many other good-for-us foods, sweet potatoes are one of those staples that we like to gum up with gooey ingredients that essentially turn it into candy; think maple syrup, brown sugar, butter, and even marshmallows. If this is the only way you’ve ever enjoyed sweet potatoes, give some of our menu suggestions a try. Steer clear of canned sweets, which are usually packed in sugary syrup.

Health Bonus
A recent study found that among almost 2,000 men studied, those whose diets were richest in beta-carotene and vitamin C — two nutrients plentiful in sweet potatoes — were more likely to survive prostate cancer than those whose diets contained little of the two nutrients.

The famous Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard Medical School found that women who ate lots of foods rich in beta-carotene, such as sweet potatoes, reduced their risk of breast cancer by as much as 25 percent. Eating sweet potatoes is a smart move for you if you have high blood pressure. That’s because they’re rich in potassium, a mineral known for bringing pressure down. You’ll get more potassium from a sweet potato than you will from a banana!

Glycemic Load: Medium

Choose sweet potatoes that are heavy for their size,with intact peels (no decay). If you’re going to cook them whole, buy potatoes that are similar in size so
the cooking time will be the same. Peel or scrub thoroughly before cooking. They’ll keep for a month if you keep them cool but not cold (don’t put them in
the fridge).

Menu Magic
Don’t relegate sweet potatoes to candy-like dishes served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. These spuds have a lot to offer all year round.

  • Bake a sweet potato just as you would a white potato and serve alongside your favorite protein dish (beef, chicken, fish, pork, or lamb).
  • If you’re hooked on regular mashed potatoes, try using half regular potatoes and half sweets.
  • For a Magic food trifecta, top mashed sweet potatoes with trans fat–free margarine, then season with cinnamon and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
  • Grill sweet potato slices to serve with pork loin chops.
  • Place sweet potato slices on top of your next casserole. Cover with foil to keep them moist and bake as usual.
  • Add sweet potato cubes to soups and stews 30 to 45 minutes before the dish is done.
  • Cube cooked sweet potatoes and use in stir-fries.
  • Make roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with thyme for a savory side dish. Combine olive oil, minced garlic, thyme, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper in a bowl. Arrange peeled, sliced sweet potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush with the mixture. Bake at 425ºF (220ºC) until tender and slightly brown.

Perfect Portion: 1 medium
A medium sweet potato (5 ounces/140 g) is big enough to satisfy your appetite without tipping the blood sugar scales.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest