Learn all the reasons you should be sweet on sweet potatoes…
My love affair with sweet potatoes began with my first Whole30. Before that, I’d never eaten them, save for the occasional, unpleasant Thanksgiving fork-full of sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows at my grandmother’s house (a more confusing dish I dare you to find). For unknown reasons (reasons likely related to their affiliation with marshmallows), they were practically banned from my mother’s table, so it wasn’t until that initial Whole30 that I was introduced to how truly incredible sweet potatoes can be in both flavor and nutrition. Now, these power-packed roots are a staple in my diet, and as fall draws closer and the weather cools, they’re ever more present on my table. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals key to powering us through the colder months. Think of a root as the powerplant to what grows above the earth’s surface, brimming with energy and, in the case of sweet potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, carrots, and their ilk, deep beneficial nutrition. As we enter into September and the leaves begin to turn (no joke: yellow and orange leaves were spotted in Central Pennsylvania this weekend), whether we’re fully aware of it or not, our diets will likely turn towards more warming foods to prepare our bodies for the months that lie ahead. Learn all the reasons you should be sweet on sweet potatoes below, then scroll to the bottom for three easy sweet potato toast recipes.
What are sweet potatoes?
Only distantly related to regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes are a perennial vine that boasts gorgeous trumpet-like flowers and a delicious edible root. Thought to be native to Central and/or South America, remnants of sweet potatoes dating as far back as 8,000 years have been found in Peru. Often confused with yams, sweet potatoes typically have lower sugar content and are smaller than yams, which are native to Africa and are typically not grown in the US. Yams boast white flesh and rough skins, and can grow up to eight feet in length! Additionally, it’s safe to eat sweet potatoes raw, whereas yams are toxic unless cooked properly.
What are the benefits of sweet potatoes?
Rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in your body, sweet potatoes could boost cellular turnover for younger-looking skin and help protect eyesight from macular degeneration (pro tip: adding a little fat, like coconut oil or olive oil, to your sweet potato will boost absorption and conversion of beta-carotene). A natural prebiotic, fibre-rich sweet potatoes feed the good bacteria in your gut, promoting better digestion and regularity and helping to eliminate bloat. The anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes could boost brain function and protect against degeneration of brain tissue and prevent memory loss, these same pigments have been linked to collagen production, potentially reducing the signs of aging. While many are quick to write off starchy root vegetables like sweet potatoes, research has shown that they could actually improve blood sugar regulation. Because we digest them slowly, thanks in part to their high fibre content, blood sugar is kept at a steady state instead of spiking and dropping the way it would with other carbs and starches.
How do I use sweet potatoes?
One of my favorite – and unexpected – ways to use sweet potatoes these days is by tossing a handful of steamed sweet potato into a smoothie. They’re a creamy, low sugar alternative to banana and delicious combined with a dash of cinnamon, a splash of nut milk, and your favorite protein powder. Sweet potato also lends itself well to soups, salads (try roasting some up and serving with arugula), baked goods, and they can be used in place of white potatoes in most cases. And while sweet potato fries are in fact delicious, it’s important to keep in mind the healthiest way to enjoy these delicious roots is as unadulterated as possible: steamed, baked skin-on, or lightly dry roasted. Try the recipe below for a new take on toast that will keep your belly happy and feeling full ‘till lunch:
Sweet Potato Toast, 3 Ways
Sweet potatoes (1 medium sweet potato makes about 3-4 slices)
To prepare the sweet potatoes: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rinse and dry sweet potatoes. Slice sweet potatoes lengthwise, about ¼ inch thick and place on baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until bottoms are slightly browned and pieces are cooked through but firm.
Natural peanut butter or nut butter of choice
Spread sweet potatoes with nut butter and top with banana slices. Sprinkle with cacao nibs and cinnamon.
Layer slices of avocado on top of sweet potato slices. Sprinkle with cumin, sea salt, and black pepper.
Spread sweet potato slices with almond butter and top with blueberries and nutmeg.
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