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Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

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Updated July 07, 2014

After you check out the benefits of sweet potatoes, you may decide to make them much more than just a holiday side dish!

Though the primary nutrient in a sweet potato is carbohydrate, they are also good sources of fiber, beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C, and vitamin B6 -- and despite being primarily carbohydrate, some studies have shown that sweet potatoes can help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance. They are high in fiber and have a lower glycemic index rating (50). But it is other factors that may explain the unusual blood sugar lowering effects. Adiponectin is a protein hormone produced by our fat cells. People with diabetes tend to have lower levels of adiponectin, and sweet potato extracts have been shown to significantly increase adiponectin levels in persons with type 2 diabetes.

Research has also shown that phytonutrients in sweet potatoes may be able to help lower the potential health risk posed by heavy metals and free radicals. This is helpful not only for digestive tract problems like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, but also for anyone who wants to reduce the potential risk posed by heavy metal residues (like mercury) in their diet. Other benefits of sweet potatoes may include anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies have shown that phytonutrients in sweet potatoes can reduce markers of inflammation.

In general, sweet potatoes with darker orange flesh pack more nutrients than potatoes with lighter flesh. One potato provides about 100 calories, 2 grams of protein, 22 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of fat. Also notable: one sweet potato provides 260% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, 12.5% of vitamin B6, and 28% of vitamin C.

Find sweet potatoes raw in the produce section of your grocery store year-round. It's best to use the fresh variety if you can, but two other options are to look for vacuum-packed canned sweet potatoes (without any sweetener or liquid), or frozen sweet potatoes. If you're a gardener, consider growing your own sweet potatoes.

Try a baked sweet potato as a side dish topped with a tablespoon of Greek yogurt, as sweet potato fries, in place of mashed potatoes, or as a creative additive in other recipes such as this recipe for sweet potato and black bean burritos.

Sweet potatoes do contain moderate to high amounts of oxalates. Individuals with kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating sweet potatoes because they may increase the risk of oxalate-crystal kidney and gall stones.

Sources:

Ahmad MH, Morrison EY, Asemota HN. Food processing methods influence the glycaemic indices of some commonly eaten West Indian carbohydrate-rich foods. Br J Nutr. 2006 Sep;96(3):476-81. 2006.

Bengtsson A, Brackmann C, Enejder A et al. Effects of Thermal Processing on the in Vitro Bioaccessibility and Microstructure of ß-Carotene in Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Oct 1, 2010.

Chang WH, Huang YF, Yeh TS et al. Effect of purple sweet potato leaves consumption on exercise-induced oxidative stress, and IL-6 and HSP72 levels. J Appl Physiol. 2010 Sep 23. [Epub ahead of print] 2010.

Choi JH, Choi CY, Lee KJ et al. Hepatoprotective effects of an anthocyanin fraction from purple-fleshed sweet potato against acetaminophen-induced liver damage in mice. J Med Food. 2009 Apr;12(2):320-6. 2009.

Failla ML, Thakkar SK and Kim JY. In vitro bioaccessibility of beta-carotene in orange fleshed sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas, Lam.). J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Nov 25;57(22):10922-7. 2009.

Low JW, Arimond M, Osman N et al. A food-based approach introducing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes increased vitamin A intake and serum retinol concentrations in young children in rural Mozambique. J Nutr. 2007 May;137(5):1320-7. 2007.

Ozaki S, Oki N, Suzuki S et al. Structural Characterization and Hypoglycemic Effects of Arabinogalactan-Protein from the Tuberous Cortex of the White-Skinned Sweet Potato ( Ipomoea batatas L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Oct 29, 2010.

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