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Monday, November 5, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.

Sweet potatoes offer lots of nutrition for little money

By Sharon Palmer, R.D. Environmental Nutrition, Entrée
Environmental Nutrition; Entrée

You can add the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) to the list of native American foods discovered by Columbus and his crew. This root vegetable called "batatas" by the natives was taken back to Spain in about 1500, where other varieties, including red, purple and white, were then cultivated. Sweet potatoes were also brought to the Pacific and Far East, where they became an important food source. Cultivated in the U.S. as early as 1648, sweet potatoes culminated into a favorite food in Southern cuisine. In Colonial times, American doctors recommended them to help prevent childhood nutritional diseases.

Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, yet they are often confused with the yam, which comes from the African word "nyami," referring to the starchy root from a different genus of plants. Yams sold at the supermarket are actually sweet potatoes with a moist texture and orange flesh. Sweet potatoes are very high in vitamin A and are a good source of vitamins E and C, B vitamins, manganese, potassium and dietary fiber. Because of their rich nutritional cache of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, sweet potatoes have been considered an ideal crop for feeding the world's hungry.

The deep orange color of sweet potatoes is a calling card for its stash of antioxidants called carotenoids — the major one being beta-carotene, which can be turned into vitamin A in your body. Sweet potatoes also contain unique root storage proteins with antioxidant properties that protect the plant from disease, pests and stress. Epidemiological studies suggest that diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables are linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, but beta-carotene supplements do not show the same benefits. Recently, Swedish researchers discovered that eating three or more servings a week of carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables or root vegetables, could reduce the risk of stomach cancer by between 35 and 57 percent.

Look for firm sweet potatoes that show no signs of bruising. Store them in a dry, unrefrigerated bin, as refrigeration can alter texture and taste. Simply scrub sweet potatoes, trim off any woody portions, and bake, boil, roast or microwave them. The rich flavor of sweet potatoes pairs well with fruit flavors such as citrus and apricots and nuts like pecans and walnuts.

Notable Nutrients

1 cup, baked, with skin

Calories: 180

Vitamin A: 38,433 International Units (769 percent Daily Value, or DV)

Vitamin C: 39.2 milligrams (65 percent DV)

Manganese: 1 milligram (50 percent DV)

Vitamin B6: .6 milligrams (29 percent DV)

Potassium: 950 milligrams (27 percent DV)

Dietary Fiber: 6.6 grams (26 percent DV)

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit

(c)2012, Belvoir Media Group, LLC. DISTRIBUTED BY Tribune Media Services

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