Nutritionists have been calling the humble sweet potato a super food because of its nutritional power. In fact, sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients that help fight inflammation and help the immune system. Some even call them a perfect food.
And yet, many people don’t know much about this tuber. It grows all over and yet we can’t even agree on what to call it. Most people know it as a sweet potato. But you have also heard them called “yams.” Both are misleading.
Sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes. Potatoes are members of the Nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Sweet potatoes also are not yams, a different vegetable all together. Sweet potatoes are in the same family as the Morning Glory, a plant adored for its flowers. And any talk of them not being good for you is utter nonsense. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients that help fight inflammation and help your immune system.
They Do Not Come With Marshmallows
Many people are only exposed to this vegetable in the guise of brown sugar and marshmallow. But sweet potatoes really are a little sweet all by themselves. That means there are other ways to serve sweet potatoes than just the traditional Thanksgiving casserole. Another benefit of sweet potatoes, they are inexpensive.
Nutritionists put sweet potatoes in the “Healthy Carb” category for those who worry about eating too many carbohydrates like regular potatoes. But a medium sweet potato has around 140 calories and 5 grams of fiber. They have a low glycemic index, meaning the sugar takes longer to be absorbed by your body, preventing blood sugar spikes, which is as important for regular folks as it is for diabetics.
Add Color To Your Plate
Sweet potatoes are from an herbaceous perennial vine that originated in the tropical regions of Central America. They come in a variety of color, from the tradition orange to a fiery red to a bright purple. Nutritionally, these different colors have different nutrients, unlike white potatoes (which we call Russets, Red, and Gold).
Orange sweet potatoes are full of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin A, a key component in your body’s ability to fight off disease. Also, they give you a healthy chunk of the potassium your body needs to help lower blood pressure. And, they are rich in niacin, vitamin C and flavonoids that can help control inflammation.
Then What Are Yams?
True yams are an African root vegetable that looks like a larger version of the sweet potato. The outside is bark-like brown and the flesh is an off-white. Sweet potatoes are now flourishing in many places in Africa thanks to efforts to increase the continents ability to produce nourishing foods. Sweet potatoes have found a place in cuisines from around the world. In Africa they often find their way into a peanut stew. In the Caribbean , they use the drier and less sweet white boniato or batata, usually served mashed or as part of desserts. Purple sweet potatoes are a major food in Okinawa, where many people live to 100 years or more.
But are sweet potatoes better than the usual Russel Burbank potato, the one we all love baked or fried? Both have about the same amount of calories and both can be prepared in the same way. However, nutritionally, the sweet potato wins. But there is room in our life for both.
What Else Can You Do With Them?
We have a few different recipes for using sweet potatoes here on our Recipes page. But that doesn’t begin to touch the surface of possibilities. You can make a healthier version of sweet potato fries or chips, cutting the amount of sodium and saturated fat. Cut the sweet potatoes into matchsticks, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven (or air fryer) at 400℉. Or, for a more potato chip style, use a mandolin to create thin slices, spread evenly on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 400℉ until they are crispy and lightly browned.
For a change of pace, I like to make Sweet Potato Wedges, French Fry style but in the oven. The recipe is here.
Steaming and roasting are healthier options than baking with all that sugar. Instead, bake them they way you would a white potato. This can be a canvas for toppings that easily turn this wholesome vegetable’s natural flavor into a full meal. Try them with black beans and spoonful of guacamole and salsa in a salad or just a tortilla. You can season them with cumin and chili powder and toss into a bowl with beans, grain and sautéed spinach with garlic. For a really delicious meal, top your baked sweet potato with shredded chicken, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and chives. A good vegetarian option is to top them with cinnamon, nutmeg and a drizzle of tahini. In other words, your own imagination is the only limit.
We know soup is good food and sweet potatoes can add a rich flavor and texture to the pot. You can use them to thicken the consistency to that of a chowder or bisque by simply spooning the cooked sweet potatoes into a blender and returning them to the pot. It gives you a creamy textured soup without any cream.
And if you are a pumpkin spice fan, cooked sweet potatoes leftovers can turn into a nutrition smoothie by just adding a little milk and a combination of allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
We are not saying anything against the Sweet Potato Casserole we all know and love. Once a year is about right for all that sweetness. But there are so many good ways to enjoy this humble root vegetable all year long.