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Sweet “trifecta” – These "special" potatoes help protect against three deadly diseases

Sweet “trifecta” – These "special" potatoes help protect against three deadly diseases

Organically sweet, rich and creamy, sweet potatoes are sometimes referred to as “nature’s candy.” But, unlike the sugar-laden, nutrient-poor, highly processed concoctions marketed as commercial candy, sweet potatoes offer up a cornucopia of important micronutrients. (In fact, if you asked any group of natural health experts and nutritionists to rank their Top Ten superfoods, it’s likely that sweet potatoes, botanically known as Ipomoea batatas, would top many lists).

Not only are sweet potatoes packed with natural goodness, but emerging evidence shows they can help protect against some of the most debilitating chronic diseases facing us today.

Great news! Sweet potatoes may help manage type 2 diabetes

Although sweet potatoes may taste like candy – and eating them feels like a diet-busting indulgence – these healthy root vegetables are categorized as relatively low on the glycemic index. Unlike other starchy foods, they release their sugar slowly, minimizing insulin resistance and helping to regulate high blood sugar.

Sweet potatoes are so beneficial to blood sugar control that a sweet potato extract is used to lower cholesterol and manage blood sugar in diabetics. A placebo-controlled study of 61 patients published in Diabetes Care, the American Diabetes Association journal, confirmed the ability of the extract to decrease fasting blood glucose and lower levels of HbA1c, a marker of blood sugar control over time. Scientists believe that healthy amounts of insoluble fiber in sweet potatoes contribute to this therapeutic effect. (Of course, diabetes should be managed with the help of your professional healthcare practitioner).

Sweet potatoes help protect against heart disease

Sweet potatoes are packed with the essential minerals potassium and magnesium, both of which help to regulate blood pressure (thereby reducing risk of stroke and heart attack). And, they have anti-inflammatory effects as well – due to their high content of a nutrient known as choline. (Purple sweet potatoes are particularly rich in choline, by the way).

Sweet potatoes are also high in a soluble fiber known as pectin, which can decrease appetite and food intake. This allows sweet potatoes to act against obesity, a known risk factor for heart disease. In addition, sweet potatoes may help strike another blow against heart disease by lowering levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood) and harmful LDL cholesterol.  Finally, sweet potatoes are high in vitamin C, which helps to produce the collagen needed for arterial health.

Sweet potatoes contain cancer-fighting antioxidants

Purple sweet potatoes may have special abilities to work against cancer, due to their content of anthocyanins - natural plant pigments with potent disease-fighting properties (Anthocyanins are also found in blueberries, another top superfood). Anthocyanins have been shown in cell studies to reduce cancer cell proliferation – and are considered particularly promising in inhibiting the growth of cancers of the breast, stomach and colon.

This is not to say that carotenoids, found in both orange and purple sweet potatoes, aren’t contributing to the battle against cancer. Beta-carotene in sweet potatoes has been found to help prevent colorectal cancer, and has been linked to lowered risk of prostate cancer as well.

Sweet potatoes deliver award-winning amounts of vitamin A

The sweet potato was recently ranked Number One by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (a consumer advocacy group seeking to provide information on nutrition and health) for its content of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein and complex carbohydrates. In fact, a one-cup serving of sweet potatoes provides a whopping 769 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, which the body converts from beta-carotene. Vitamin A is essential for immune function and for the formation of pigments responsible for light absorption and healthy vision.

While vitamin A is a standout micronutrient, sweet potatoes also contribute healthy amounts of B vitamins - including riboflavin, niacin and thiamin – which are needed to covert food into energy.

Use sweet potatoes to add richness and flavor to recipes – or enjoy as a side dish

Much like conventional white potatoes, sweet potatoes may be baked, roasted, steamed and mashed, and can be used in soups, stews and casseroles.

You can also prepare sweet potato chips by brushing thin slices with olive oil and baking at 350 degrees until lightly browned and crispy. (If you’re craving sweet potato fries, simply slice into strips).

Top baked sweet potatoes with yogurt or tahini - and sprinkle with diced walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pecans.

While sweet potatoes are often associated with Thanksgiving, there’s no need to wait until November to enjoy their rich bounty of health-sustaining “goodies.” We can be thankful for sweet potatoes all year long.

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