Health advocates consider the sweet potato as the rock star of the root crops. It is a highly nutritious vegetable that is a good source of Vitamins A, C and the B-complex vitamins, as well as antioxidants. It is also low in sodium and has zero fat.
The sweet potato is native to Central America and has been grown for hundreds of years. When Christopher Columbus made his voyage to the Americas in the 15th century, he found the sweet potato already being cultivated by the Native Americans. He brought the vegetable back to Europe, and traders consequently introduced the sweet potato to Asia.
Because it is healthy and easy to grow, it is not surprising that the sweet potato is one of the world’s widely consumed vegetables today. Below are a few details on the sweet potato that might help explain why it is so popular.
- According to statistics, over 260 billion pounds of sweet potatoes are produced globally every year, making it one of the most important food crops in the world.
- True to its name, the sweet potato is indeed sweet. The sweetness is due to the presence of an enzyme that is able to convert starch into sugar as the vegetable matures. This transformation continues after the sweet potato is harvested and even while it is being cooked.
- Under favorable conditions (cool and dry), sweet potatoes can be stored for up to ten months without spoiling or decreasing in nutritional value. Sweet potatoes should not be refrigerated since cold temperatures will break down its starches and alter the flavor and texture.
- Sweet potatoes come in different colors: orange, white, yellow, red and purple. The taste, texture, flavor and nutritional content differ among the varieties. Orange-colored sweet potatoes are the sweetest and contain the most beta-carotene. White sweet potatoes are starchier and more calorie-laden than the yellow ones. Purple sweet potatoes, due to their color, contain the antioxidant, anthocyanin.
- Despite its “sweet” label, sweet potatoes can be eaten by diabetics because of their low glycemic index; meaning, eating a sweet potato does not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.
- Although some may confuse sweet potatoes with yams, they are not identical. Yams are mostly grown in Africa and Asia and can vary in size from a few grams to more than 50 kilograms. In terms of texture, yams tend to be drier and contain more starch. In terms of nutrition, however, sweet potatoes are certainly healthier.
- There are ways of preparing sweet potatoes that make them more nutritious than they already are. Boiling and steaming do not make the vegetables as sugary as roasting does. Cooking sweet potato dishes with butter or olive oil will not only make them more tasty but more nutritious as well, since this makes beta-carotene, a fat-soluble nutrient, more bio-available.