Sweet Potatoes Offer Significant Health Benefits

Sweet potatoes, not to be confused with yams, have been cultivated for thousands of years. These root vegetables are believed to have originated in Central and South America. North Carolina, which is now the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the U.S., claims it as their state vegetable. Of the more than 400 varieties of sweet potatoes around the world, the most familiar variety is the delicious, orange-fleshed sweet potato, but there is also a beautiful purple sweet potato worth trying. Don’t limit eating sweet potatoes to the holiday season. They are available all year and pack a lot of health benefits.

According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), “Bioactive compounds contained in this vegetable play a role in health promotion by improving immune function, reducing oxidative stress and free radical damage, reducing cardiovascular disease risk and suppressing cancer cell growth.”

Inflammation: Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight inflammation by diminishing free radical damage. If we can reduce the amount of free radical damage, we may also be able to lower our risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes contain more than 400 percent of our daily vitamin A needs. They should be eaten with a little bit of good fat, like olive oil, which helps the body better absorb the vitamin A.

Heavy Metals: Purple sweet potatoes may be able to lower the potential health risks posed by heavy metals and oxygen radicals. They are rich in anthocyanins, compounds which provide a lot of antioxidant activity and may bind to heavy metals like mercury and help remove them from the body.

Liver Damage: The anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes are also associated with improving liver damage from alcohol abuse, according to a study with mice conducted by the NIH.

Blood Sugar: Sweet potatoes contain adiponectin, a protein made by fat cells that circulates in the bloodstream. Low levels of this protein have been found in people that have trouble metabolizing insulin. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 14,598 people and found, “Higher adiponectin levels were monotonically associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

Furthermore, “This inverse association was consistently observed in whites, East Asians, Asian Indians, African-Americans and Native Americans, and did not differ by adiponectin assay, method of diabetes ascertainment, duration of follow-up or proportion of women.” Sweet potatoes are also rich in fiber, which helps pace digestion and is good for regulating blood sugar levels.

Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national nonprofit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. For more information, visit phlabs.org.

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