Sweet Potato Health Facts

Several years ago, a family in our church left for several weeks to visit distant relatives. The father of the home, however, could not leave his job for such a stretch and was alone for a week before joining his wife and children. Consequently, we had him join us for supper one evening.

We learned a great deal about our friend that evening. But the most fascinating thing was that he did not recognize the baked sweet potatoes on the table.

“And what might these be?” he asked. When I answered in surprise of his ignorance he was utterly embarrassed. “I grew up on a Sweet Potato farm in Texas,” he confessed, “but I’ve never seen them out from under their marshmallow topping.”

To take one of the sweetest foods God created and mix it with brown sugar and marshmallows has always astounded me. I simply scrub the potato, bake for one hour at 350 degrees, and serve with butter. We love them that way; although steaming them, sliced, for just 7 minutes maximizes their nutritional value. Adding a little butter or olive oil assures that your body will assimilate the available beta carotene and convert it to vitamin A.

Why Eat Sweet Potatoes?

Depending on the variety—of which there are over 400—a sweet potato may be white, pink, yellow, orange, or purple. The intensity of the sweet potato’s color is directly related to its beta-carotene content. According to the Nutrition Almanac by Lavon J. Dunne, one sweet potato contains over 25,000 units of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. This is the same beta-carotene that protects us from cancer, infection, the common cold, and other diseases. It also has measurable amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and dietary fiber.

The anti-oxidant levels of sweet potatoes are phenomenal. Beta-carotene, antocyanin, cyanidin, and peonidin levels, especially in the purple variety, are many times higher than in blueberries. The anti-inflammatory properties of these color-related phytonutrients may help those with irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.

Ironically, sweet potatoes are under investigation for regulating blood sugar levels. They have shown to have a glycemic index rating of about 50 if boiled or steamed. Also, in persons with type 2 diabetes, the sweet potato may modify insulin metabolism by increasing the blood levels of a certain protein hormone.

Where to Get Sweet Potatoes

The best place to get sweet potatoes is your own garden. They are fairly easy to grow; although they require a long stretch of hot weather (100-150 days) and sandy soil. If you are interested in growing them, you will want to plant the slips 2 to 3 inches apart with the base 2 to 3 inches deep in a hot bed 5 to 6 weeks before transplanting them to the garden. Transplant them 2 weeks after the last frost. You will need 80 plants for 100 feet of row and about 25 plants will give you about 30 pounds of potatoes.

If you do not have the space to plant sweet potatoes, you can purchase them in most grocery store produce departments. Of course, you will pay 79 cents a pound and up depending on where you shop. I rarely pay that, however, and we enjoy sweet potatoes all year round. If my garden does not produce enough for the family, I buy my sweet potatoes by the box full at Thanksgiving and Christmas time when they are 29 cents a pound.

How To Store Sweet Potatoes

Wrap each sweet potato in a sheet of newspaper and pack them in a cardboard box. Put the box down cellar, in the basement, or up against an outside wall in your utility room. Last winter I tried storing them in an out-building with quilts piled on top and they froze. However, in the house, in an unheated utility room (about 40-45 degrees), on a concrete floor against the exterior wall, they have always kept nicely at least until February. You must keep an eye on them, though. Whenever you get some to eat, unwrap more than you need and check on them. When they threaten to shrivel, eat them. The added benefit or storing your sweet potatoes is that the beta-carotene content increases the longer they are stored.


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