05 November 2007

Glorious sweet potatoes

So, I know yesterday's recipe is far from healthy, but you can certainly substitute healthier alternatives. I don't do that when it comes to dessert. So, how's about a little nutritional information on that glorious tuber the sweet potato.

First off, let us correct a pet peeve of mine. They are sweet potatoes, not yams. There is often much confusion between sweet potatoes and yams; the moist-fleshed, orange-colored root vegetable that is often called a yam is actually a sweet potato. The sweet potato is part of the Morning Glory family, while the Yam is in the Yam family. The Sweet Potato is smooth and has thin skin while the Yam is rough and scaly. The Sweet Potato is moist and sweet while the Yam is dry and starchy. The Sweet Potato has a high beta-carotene content, which gives it the orange color. The Yam has a low beta-carotene content that gives it a much whiter color.

Sweet Potatoes have recently been classified as an "antidiabetic" food. This label has been given because of some recent studies in which sweet potatos helped stabilize blood sugar levels and lowered insulin resistance. Some of its blood sugar regulatory properties may come from the fact that sweet potatoes are concentrated in carotenoids.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (beta-carotene) and a very good source of vitamin C; sweet potatoes have healing properties as an antioxidant food. Both beta-carotene and vitamin C are very powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals that damage cells and cell membranes and are associated with the development of conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease, and colon cancer.

These nutrients are also anti-inflammatory and can be helpful in reducing the severity of conditions where inflammation plays a role, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, which is needed to convert homocysteine, an interim product created during an important chemical process in cells called methylation, into other benign molecules. High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, so having a little extra vitamin B6 on hand is a good idea.

If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes, part of your healthy way of eating, may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.

While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.

Earlier research had shown that laboratory animals fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.

Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. How you might ask, well most likely this is because of their diet. If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, you can give yourself some added protection by making sure your diet is rich in Vitamin A.

So, maybe that sweet potato pie recipe from yesterday is healthier than you think.

Nutritional Breakdown
1 sweet potato-baked with the skin has 96 calories.

Vitamin A 13107.70 IU 262% of your RDA
Vitamin C 17.06 mg 27% of your RDA
Manganese .52 mg 26% of your RDA
Copper .26 mg 13% of your RDA
Dietary Fiber 3.14 g 13% of your RDA
Vitamin B6 .25 mg 13% of your RDA
Potassium 306.05 mg 11% of your RDA
Iron 1.46 mg 10% of your RDA

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