The Nutritional All-Star
As we travel around the world looking for that next exotic superfood, we should take a moment and check our own local farmers’ market. The Center for Science in the Public Interest selected sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) as their best food choice. They refer to sweet potatoes as a “nutritional all-star” and one of the best vegetables that you can eat. Sweet potatoes contain virtually no fat and are low in sodium. The sweet potato was first encountered in the New World by Columbus in the West Indies, Balboa in Central America, and Pizarro in Peru. Like corn, the sweet potato was not found growing wild, but it had been cultivated by the Incan and pre-Incan populations for thousands of years. They developed many varieties, as shown by the designs on their ancient pottery. In most places in Latin America, the sweet potato is called “camote,” but the Incans called it “batata”—and this is apparently the origin of our word “potato.” The sweet potato was brought back to Europe where it quickly became an expensive delicacy.
Per acre, there are more pounds of sweet potatoes produced than any other cultivated plant, including corn. Sweet potatoes are a food staple in tropical America, and vast quantities are canned for consumption in the United States.
Of the 200 or more varieties, there are two main types. The Jersey and related varieties with dry, mealy flesh, are favored in the northern states. Yams are richer in sugar, more watery, softer, and more gelatinous when cooked: they are favored in southern states. The true yam, however, originated in China and is a different plant related to lilies.
Sweet potatoes stand out from nuts and avocados as a source of vitamin E because they are fat-free. Serve with butter or olive oil to take advantage of this vegetable's stores of the oil-soluble vitamin. The sweet potato is a complex carbohydrate that provides twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and more than one-third of the requirements for vitamin C.
Sweet potatoes also help maintain a healthy digestive tract. They are more nourishing than Irish potatoes because they are a source of substantial fiber, especially when eaten with the skin on. In fact, there is more fiber in one sweet potato than in a bowl of oatmeal. This versatile vegetable can be baked, mashed, fried, or used as a base for soup.
So why limit sweet potatoes to the holiday season? Include them in your regular diet—they make a great-tasting side dish and are an excellent source of vitamins.
Nutrition information per serving of one medium sweet potato
Calories from fat: 0.39 g
Protein: 2.15 g
Carbohydrate: 31.56 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.9 g
Sodium: 16.9 mg
Potassium: 265.2 mg
Calcium: 28.6 mg
Folate: 18.2 mcg
Vitamin C: 29.51 mg
Vitamin A: 26081.9 IU
Source: National Agricultural Library (NAL), part of the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture
Curried Sweet Potato Apple Soup
2 large (1 pound) sweet potatoes
1 large (8 ounce) tart apple (such as Fuji, Honeycrisp, or Gala)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (2 cups)
2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder
1 can (14 to 14 1/2 ounces) vegetable broth (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 3/4 cups unsweetened apple juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 container (6 ounces) plain low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup croutons (optional)
Pierce sweet potatoes and apples with fork tines. Microwave sweet potatoes and apple on high until apple is very tender, about six to seven minutes. Remove apple; set aside until cool enough to handle. Continue microwaving sweet potatoes on high until tender, about four to five minutes longer. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, in large saucepan over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion and curry powder. Cook and stir until onion begins to brown, about five minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, simmer five minutes. Transfer broth mixture to bowl of food processor: reserve saucepan. Halve sweet potatoes and apple. Remove apple core, scoop potato and apple pulp from skin. Add to processor. Add salt: whirl until very smooth, gradually adding apple juice through processor feed tube. Transfer mixture to reserved saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat: whisk in yogurt. Reheat just until hot (do not boil). Serve topped with croutons, if desired. Recipe courtesy of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.