One of the reason I wanted to homeschool the boys was so I could teach them about food and nutrition among other things... although we didn't homeschool this year I have been trying to still teach them about healthy living and eating. We've started a 'food of the week'... we've done, leeks, okra, apples, spinach and more
This week is Sweet potatoes, each week I'll try to post info about the food and then a recipe you can try if you dare. :)
Sweet potatoes are actually a completely different vegetable than regular potatoes. They are not even in the same botanical family. While each is an important vegetable, deserving of a place in a healthy diet, these two foods feature different tastes and unique nutritional benefits. Sweet potatoes are considered an 'anti-diabetic food', offering a host of nutrients and an impressive array of antioxidants. They taste delicious, are easy to prepare and can be used in a variety of dishes, even in some that call for white potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are not "potatoes"
While there are over 100 varieties of edible potatoes that range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor, the sweet potato is not one of them. These two root vegetables are in fact from two completely different families. The potato's scientific name, Solanum tuberosum reflects that it belongs to the Solanaceae family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos.
Sweet potato history
Although sweet potatoes were introduced into U.S. supermarkets relatively recently in comparison to other staple foods, they are by no means new to the global grocery. Cultivation of sweet potatoes dates back about 4,500 years to farming practices in Central and South America. Even Christopher Columbus recognized their uniqueness, and he brought them back to Spain following his first voyage to North American in 1492.
The "sweet" part of the sweet potato is fascinating from a health perspective. Without a doubt, cooked sweet potatoes taste sweeter than cooked "white" potatoes. Usually when one food tastes sweeter than another, it's because it contains more sugar, which also gives it the potential to make our blood sugar less stable. With sweet versus regular potatoes, it's exactly the opposite. Sweet potatoes, despite their sweetness, appear to act almost like an "anti-diabetic" food in some respects, and do not appear to place our blood sugar at risk as much as their more common counterpart.
This "blood sugar friendly" character of sweet potato seems related to two aspects of its composition. First, sweet potatoes are about twice as high in dietary fiber as ordinary Russet Burbank white baking potatoes, and this doubled fiber slows down digestion and the release of sugar. Second, sweet potato has actually been examined in the lab for its specific "antidiabetic" effects. In an animal study, sweet potato has been shown to be comparable to a prescription drug in enhancing the effectiveness of insulin under certain circumstances.
Vitamins and minerals in sweet potato vs regular potato
Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes share some nutritional similarities, yet also share a host of unique features. Like potatoes, sweet potatoes are a very good source of vitamin C, and a good source of copper, fiber, vitamin B6, and potassium. While potatoes are a good source of manganese, sweet potatoes are a very good source of this trace mineral and a good source of iron.
When it comes to antioxidants, sweet potatoes may offer a bit of an advantage. Not only are they a more concentrated source of vitamin C, but they are an excellent source of vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene (potatoes contain hardly any beta-carotene). The vitamin C and beta-carotene in the sweet potatoes work as powerful antioxidants to help to eliminate free radicals, molecules that damage cells and cell membranes and which are associated with the development of conditions such as colon cancer, atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.
Yet, the antioxidant profile of sweet potatoes extends even further. Some of the proteins found in sweet potato, usually referred to as root storage proteins, have been found to have antioxidant activity. In fact, one of the compounds studied (an as yet to be named compound simply referred to as 33 kDa TI) has been shown to be about 1/3 as active as glutathione, one of the most active antioxidant compounds in the body.
Unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes do not contain nightshade alkaloids
For some individuals, the botanical difference between sweet potato and the more common baking potato might be particularly important. The Solanaceae family to which common Russet baking potatoes belong is also known as the nightshade family. Nightshade plants contain a variety of substances called alkaloids, and these substances can sometimes provoke allergy-related symptoms. The nightshade alkaloids are completely avoided with a change from baking potatoes to sweet potatoes, because sweet potatoes are not part of the nightshade family. Although not clearly demonstrated in research, a switch from potatoes over to sweet potatoes might be especially helpful for individuals with inflammatory joint-related problems like rheumatoid arthritis.
Practical tips - preparing sweet potatoes
If you purchase organically grown sweet potatoes (highly recommend) you can eat the entire tuber - skin and flesh. This way you can benefit from all the nutrition benefits and delightful tastes that this wonderful vegetable has to offer. If you buy conventionally grown ones, we recommend that you do not eat the skin since it may be contaminated with pesticides or other synthetic processing chemicals. You can either peel them before eating if you are cooking them in pieces or peel them just before cooking if preparing whole.
To keep the sweet potatoes looking fresh, you should cook them immediately after peeling and/or cutting them since the flesh darkens upon contact with air. If that is not possible, place the cut pieces in a bowl covered with water until you are ready to cook them as this will retard oxidation from occurring.
I'll post a recipe next...