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Sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse. Personally, I incorporate healthy carbohydrates into my diet because they help to improve athletic performance, especially if the physical activity is taxing on your body. I tend to neglect carbohydrates during the day, then I eat carbohydrates post-workout. If you want the short of it, they are my go-to carb because consumption of resistant starch containing sweet potatoes fulfils the carbohydrate duty of restoring glycogen stores after a workout, will decrease fat storage compared to other carbohydrates, and provide you with the energy you need to get through that tough physical activity the following day.
Sweet potatoes are also a staple in the diet of individuals who lead long and healthy lives. The Blue Zones are regions in the world where the healthiest people live, those who seem to have cracked the code on longevity. An island in Japan called Okinawa is recognized as one of the healthiest Blue Zones because the women in particular lead longer lives and suffer from less diseases compared to anywhere else. A lot of people tend to emulate how individuals of Blue Zones live to adopt long, healthy lives as they do, and interestingly, the Okinawan diet is high in sweet potatoes.
If people who are living their longest, healthiest and best lives are prioritizing sweet potatoes, then it sounds like a good idea to me.
Sweet Potatoes and Exercise
When you exercise your muscles use glycogen stores for fuel, so when you’ve finished your workout, your muscles tend to be depleted of glycogen. Eating carbohydrates after exercise – within 15 or 30 minutes after your workout – will help your body replenish glycogen. In addition to replenishing glycogen, consuming sweet potatoes after your workout won’t provide a spike in insulin and therefore is a more superior choice of carbohydrates compared to carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index value.
Health Benefits of Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, which means they increase satiety, making you feel full. They are a slow burning starch, which means they don’t cause a blood sugar spike. Studies have shown that they even lower blood sugar and insulin after eating. Many studies have confirmed that resistant starch found in sweet potatoes improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial because low insulin sensitivity is associated with a reduction in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
This is what makes sweet potatoes superior to other carbohydrates because regular white potatoes have a high glycemic index which causes huge spikes in blood sugar in addition to increasing insulin levels. Choose the (baked) sweet potato fries over regular fries every time.
May Support Weight Loss
In addition to being high in fiber which increases satiety and reduces hunger, sweet potato may support weight loss due to its resistant starch component. Resistant starch could be categorized as a type of dietary fiber, yet it is not defined as a fiber. In sweet potatoes, 12% of the starch is resistant starch which gets its name because it resists digestion as it goes through the gastrointestinal tract and ultimately your body does not absorb it.
One study showed that substituting 5.4% of total carbohydrate consumption with resistant starch increased fat burning after eating. These results suggest that eating foods containing more resistant starch will reduce weight gain because over time your body will store less fat.
There are many potential benefits of resistant starch which include:
– Lower glycemic response
– Improve insulin sensitivity
– Improve digestive health
– Increase satiety
– Reduce energy intake
– Increase absorption of nutrients
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are most popular even though sweet potatoes come in a variety of colours. All varieties of sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants, yet, purple sweet potatoes have the highest levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Eating a diet high in antioxidants will protect your cells from free radical damage, promoting cellular health and longevity. Purple sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins which have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth.
Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamins A and C which support immune function and provide antioxidant properties to protect cells from damage and aging. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants will prevent the accumulation of damaging free radicals thereby reducing your risk of heart disease or cancer.
A medium baked sweet potato offers 400% of your daily value of vitamin A. Many studies have been conducted to show how effective sweet potato is in raising levels of vitamin A, especially to treat people deficient in vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining healthy skin and vision.
A minimal serving of sweet potatoes is also full of vitamin C, 1 cup provides 52% of your daily value. Vitamin C aids in the growth and repair of all tissues; it helps to form collagen, aid the absorption of iron, maintain healthy immune system function and promote wound healing. Since Vitamin C is an essential co-factor in the biosynthesis of collagen, it helps to maintain youthful skin and prevent premature skin aging.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant that helps to combat illness. To boost your body’s ability to absorb the beneficial effects of the fat-soluble beta-carotene, consume your sweet potato with some fat, whether it be in a salad full of olive oil, nuts, and avocado or by baking sweet potato with some olive oil drizzled on top.
Chronic inflammation increases the risk of chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Interestingly, one study showed that purple sweet potato extract reduced inflammation in the brain. In addition to possessing anti-inflammatory properties, sweet potatoes also provide antidiabetic effects.
Potassium is an essential mineral that helps to reduce blood pressure. We need to consume potassium from food, yet most people are deficient – only about 3% of Americans achieve the recommended amounts of potassium. Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, they contain about double the amount a medium banana contains. When making sweet potatoes, remember that the majority of potassium is found in the skin.
Sweet potatoes contain manganese which is an essential nutrient that possesses antioxidant properties, supports bone health and reduces blood sugar.
Sweet potatoes are also a significant source of iron, which is extremely beneficial for vegetarians who lack iron found in meat.
How to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
When it comes to cooking sweet potatoes, boiling or steaming maintains the most nutrients, providing you with the most bang for your buck. One study showed that boiling is superior to roasting and baking when it comes to the impact on blood sugar regulation and glycemic index value. Boiling sweet potatoes lowered the glycemic index value to 46, which was about half compared to roasting at 82 and baking at 94. Another study showed that steaming sweet potatoes had a lower glycemic index value compared to baking or microwaving. Steaming has also been shown to maintain the antioxidant properties of sweet potatoes, specifically anthocyanins.
Sweet potatoes are easy to prepare and are extremely versatile. As a side dish, they can be chopped up into cubes to be steamed, boiled or baked or added to salads, made into soups, or made into chips if you have the patience. If you are eating out at a restaurant and ordering sweet potato fries, ask if the kitchen can bake them to avoid the inflammation and damaging by-products that they would otherwise contain from being deep-fried.