Fall is upon us: the season of red and yellow leaves, cooler weather, and all things pumpkin spice! It’s also the season when people go mad for a food I like to incorporate into my diet year round: the sweet potato. It’s really an unsung hero in the vegetable group-- chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy carbs, it’s a staple in a healthy diet. And unlike many of the other “superfoods” out there, sweet potatoes are cheap and available in all grocery stores.
Sweet Potato Nutrition Highlights
1 large sweet potato (baked, skin on, about 200 grams) contains just 200 calories and is a powerhouse of the following nutrients:
Healthy Carbs: 41g
Vitamin A: 769% of your daily value (DV)
Vitamin C: 65% of the DV
Manganese: 50% of the DV
Vitamin B6: 29% of the DV
Potassium: 27% of the DV
Pantothenic acid: 18% of the DV
Copper: 16% of the DV
Niacin: 15% of the DV
Protection against free radicals
Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants that protect our bodies from free radicals, the unstable molecules that can damage DNA and trigger inflammation. Free radicals speed up our aging process and have also been linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease, so antioxidant-rich foods are very good for our health.
Promotion of gut health & our immune system
The fiber and beta-carotene in sweet potatoes is very advantageous to gut health (our “microbiome”), a topic that is getting a lot of coverage these days. An imbalanced microbiome--or dysbiosis, as it is scientifically called-- is being linked to all sorts of things: depression, anxiety, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune diseases, allergies, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis!
Sweet potatoes have both soluble and insoluble fiber, and these fibers are fermented by the bacteria in our colon, creating compounds called short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids fuel the cells in our intestinal lining to keep it healthy and strong. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adult females age 31-50 get 25.2g of fiber per day (22.4g for females age 51+), and adult males consume 30.8g (28g for males age 51+).
Sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a plant-based compound that our bodies convert into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is critical to a healthy immune system and the maintenance of healthy mucous membranes-- especially the lining in our gut. Recent studies have shown that vitamin A deficiency increases gut inflammation and reduces the ability of our immune systems to respond properly to potential threats.
Support healthy vision
Beta-carotene is also used by our bodies to form light-detecting receptors in our eyes. One cup of sweet potato with the skin provides more than seven times the amount of beta-carotene needed by the average adult!
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Ways to incorporate sweet potatoes into your diet
- Microwave/bake and add them to salads
- Slice and bake for “sweet potato crisps”
- Microwave them and eat them as a side dish instead of rice/pasta
- Microwave or bake, and top them with avocado or greek yogurt
- Use them in one of the tasty recipes below!