Christopher Columbus is often given credit for bringing sweet potatoes back to Europe from the New World. Now, researchers say they have proof it was actually ancient Polynesians who helped spread these colorful spuds across the globe.
By analyzing the DNA of more than 1,000 sweet potato varieties, anthropologists were able to determine that the root vegetable made its way from South America, across the Pacific Ocean, and all the way to Polynesia nearly 400 years before Columbus set sail.
This well-traveled tater became an instant hit with each new people group it encountered. Easy to grow and nutrient-dense, the sweet potato became a staple starch for many people around the world.
Today, sweet potatoes are just as popular. From savory to sweet, you’ll find this versatile vegetable makes an appearance in everything from French fries and Thanksgiving casseroles to breakfast hash and savory crackers. It’s no wonder it’s often called a superfood! Is there anything the sweet potato can’t do?
The Superb Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds.
They’re a good source of carbohydrates, which provide the body with energy, as well as vitamins A, C, and B6. One cup of boiled sweet potato contains significantly more potassium than a banana. Like all potatoes, sweet potatoes are most nutritious when you leave the skin on.
Keep reading to discover all the benefits sweet potatoes have to offer.
Sweet potatoes are anti-inflammatory.
Beta-carotene, the natural pigment found in the orange flesh of sweet potatoes, is known to help lower inflammation. Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
Tip: Try roasting a diced sweet potato in the oven with a little salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. Pair it with eggs for breakfast or salmon for a simple lunch or dinner.
Sweet potatoes are great for gut health.
Sweet potatoes are wonderful sources of dietary fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate that feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut.
In fact, sweet potatoes actually contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber increases healthy gut bacteria, which in turn, helps improve digestion. Some studies have shown that sweet potatoes can even promote the growth of that healthy gut bacteria.
Meanwhile, insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation. Eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber also lowers your risk of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and Type-2 diabetes.
Try: ”Baking” a sweet potato in the microwave. Add a pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup for a sweet snack or top your tater with ground beef for an easy meal.
Sweet potatoes can boost your immune system.
Vitamin A plays an important role in your body’s immune system. This important micronutrient helps ensure that your body’s natural defense system functions properly, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Specifically, vitamin A helps maintain mucous membranes that trap bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. It also helps the body produce white blood cells, which travel through your body, protecting it from invading microbes like bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Try: A sheet pan dinner: Cut sweet potato, kielbasa, Brussels sprouts, and purple onion into bite-size pieces. Spread everything on a sheet pan with a little avocado oil and seasonings. Roast for roughly 30 minutes at 425 degrees.
Sweet potatoes can protect your vision.
As we mentioned before, sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene. In addition to naturally decreasing the inflammation in your body, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A. This process is essential for preserving your vision and protecting against night blindness with age.
A study published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging suggests that beta-carotene and vitamin E—which sweet potatoes are also a rich source of—both play a key role in eye health and could help guard against age-related eye disease.
Try: Top your salad with sweet potato that’s been diced and roasted. Combine with arugula, goat cheese, almond slivers, and a vinaigrette for a hearty fall salad.
Sweet potatoes help maintain healthy skin.
As the body digests sweet potatoes, the beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A. Many people choose to use vitamin A, known as retinol, in skincare products. Retinol has been shown to improve elasticity and reduce hyperpigmentation from sun damage.
Both orange and purple sweet potatoes can also help improve psoriasis symptoms. This autoimmune disease is characterized by dry, itchy patches of skin.
Try: Mashed sweet potatoes. Swap your traditional taters for a fun twist on a classic side. Pair with pork chops, chicken thighs, or steak.
Check Out This Month’s Superfood in your Local Senior Star Community
Your Senior Star community has fun ways to learn more about sweet potatoes.
Check out a cooking demonstration or unwind with friends at one of our Mixology Experiences.
Get in touch with your local Senior Star Community to find out what’s available near you and how to participate. You can also reach out for monthly recipes and other fun ideas.
Questions about senior living? Contact us to learn more.