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Say “Yes!” to yams - 4 compelling health reasons to eat this colorful root vegetable

Say “Yes!” to yams - 4 compelling health reasons to eat this colorful root vegetable

Often confused with their lookalikes, sweet potatoes, yams could be said to be suffering somewhat of an identity crisis.  But yams and sweet potatoes are not even closely related - although both of these tuber vegetables offer important health benefits. 

Although they resemble each other, it’s not difficult to distinguish yams from potatoes.  Botanically known as Diascorea batatas, yams tend to be larger than sweet potatoes, with darker, rougher skin and less tapered ends.  In addition, sweet potatoes have more intensely colored orange flesh.  Now that we’ve established some of the differences between the two, let’s look at some of the surprising gifts yams can confer to overall health.

Yams are chockful of minerals, vitamins, and fiber

These tasty tubers are a great source of potassium, a mineral needed to regulate blood pressure.  Bananas - renowned for their healthy potassium content - can’t compete with yams.  A 100-gram serving contains a whopping 670 mg - more than the amount found in two small bananas!  And, with 23 percent of the recommended dietary allowance per 100-gram serving, yams are also a good source of copper, which is needed to produce red blood cells.  In addition, yams contain the bone-building minerals phosphorus, manganese, and calcium. 

But minerals are not all yams have to offer.  The same serving contains a quarter of the RDA for antioxidant vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and helps create collagen for healthy skin and arteries.  Finally, a 100-gram serving of yams contains a healthy four grams of dietary fiber - quite a roster of micro- and macronutrients!  Yet, yams provide all these nutritional “goodies” at a reasonable 116 calories per serving.

“Pamper” the gut microbiome and maintain healthy weight with yams

Fiber-rich yams can support a weight loss journey.  For one thing, they can help control appetite as their fiber creates a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that can prevent cravings and excessive nibbling.  In addition, yams support the health of the gut microbiome.  This community of bacteria plays a vital role in supporting normal weight, boosting the immune response, and regulating mood. 

The insoluble fiber in yams passes through the stomach to the intestines, offering prebiotic support and promoting healthy microbial balance by fueling beneficial bacteria.  In other words, eating yams helps to keep the “good bugs” in your system happy.  And that’s a very good thing!

Yam ingredient may boost brainpower

As the large population of Baby Boomers in the United States ages, rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are soaring.  This is causing researchers to scramble to find natural interventions to boost and preserve cognitive function.  Yams may be able to help fill this bill due to the presence of a compound known as diosgenin.  Earlier studies have shown that diosgenin improves learning and promotes the growth of neurites or brain cells. 

A placebo-controlled study published in Nutrients had even more encouraging results, indicating that a diosgenin-rich yam extract enhanced cognitive function in healthy adults.  Specifically, this brain-boosting compound significantly improved semantic fluency - or facility with words - along with attention and memory.  Of course, the study used fairly high doses of a concentrated yam extract, so eating yams might not confer precisely the same results.  But if you’re looking to support sharp memory, clear thinking, and verbal fluency, enjoying some tasty yams certainly couldn’t hurt!

Yams ease menopause symptoms

For centuries, yams have been used as a traditional natural intervention for addressing uncomfortable menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, flushing, and night sweats.  In one small study published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Nutrition, postmenopausal women who had been consuming rice as a staple food were told to substitute yams.  After a month of eating yams at two out of every three meals, their blood levels of estrogen hormones increased significantly and their menopause symptoms improved.  The researchers suggested that regular yam consumption might also decrease the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

Yams slip easily into the role occupied by potatoes.  You can peel them, cut them into strips or wedges, sprinkle with chili pepper - or your favorite healthy seasoning - and serve them up as crunchy fries or chips.  And peeled, boiled, mashed yams make a satisfying side dish - not to mention a soothing “comfort food.”  Of course, you can also serve them baked or add them to soups and stews.  But - unlike potatoes, yams can’t be consumed raw and must be cooked before eating.

Versatile, convenient, and affordable yams are a fantastic addition to your healthy diet.

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