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November Super Food: Sweet Potato


Candied yams, sweet potato pie, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato fries, and cinnamon & butter baked sweet potatoes. Of course, being the month of Thanksgiving here in the States, these are the things that pop into our minds when we think about sweet potatoes this time of year. However, have you had a southwest sweet potato or maybe added a little goat cheese and butter to your sweet potato for more of a savory flavor?


Let's talk about why you should add more sweet potatoes to your diet because they are November's superfood!

 

History of the Sweet Potato


Christopher Columbus gets a lot of credit for discovering a plethora of foods and introducing them into the European market. But, rightfully, he also gets a lot of heat for the methods he went about getting those items. So today, I'm here to take a bit of wind out of his sails. While ol' Chris is officially credited with bringing the sweet potato back to Spain in 1500, anthropologists have found DNA evidence that the sweet potato had made the 5,000-mile float across the Pacific Ocean several hundred years prior.


While it's not clear if some tater seeds hitched a ride on a bird or some well-traveled seaweed or if the Polynesian seafarers made their way all the way to the Western coast of South America (the birthplace of the sweet potato), so, while the sweet potato was well-traveled before Columbus is an interesting fact, he did introduce them to the European market by bringing them back to Spain. The Spanish cultivated the sweet potato on a small scale, but it never gained popularity. Further cultivation was attempted in Belgium and England, with new variants created to try and handle the cooler weather of Northern Europe.


Native Americans had been growing sweet potatoes in the warm and humid south, but colonists first planted the new variants of the plant in Virginia in 1648. They were further introduced to New England in 1764, but sweet potatoes are mainly grown and eaten in the American South all the way up to the present time.

I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't mention the man we have to thank for the increased growth of the superior spud. George Washington Carver was instrumental in teaching southern agriculturists about crop rotation. The cotton crop was tough on soil, and George Washington Carver taught farmers that the nutrients would be replenished if they rotated crops in each field. This was accomplished by rotating peanuts and sweet potatoes after a cotton harvest. Not only did this allow farmers to gain better yields from each crop, but it also allowed the south to break into new agricultural markets. Plus, Mr. Washington went several steps further and even invented new uses for the sweet potato. These inventions included ink, starch, flour, rubber, vinegar, glue, and around 500 unique shades of dye for the textile industry.


Let's discuss yams to wrap up our little tour of sweet potato's backstory. I know we are guilty of interchanging the two words in the States, but I've come to set the record straight for those uninitiated. Yams aren't even in the same plant family as our friend, the sweet potato. Feel lied to? Yeah, I did too. Yams are bigger, starchier, drier roots traditionally grown in Africa and Asia. The truth is yams don't make their way to western supermarkets like other root vegetables harvested worldwide. Plus, they lack much of our sweet potatoes' fiber, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. I hope you enjoyed your candied yams at Thanksgiving, but they were probably sweet potatoes.

 

Sweet Potato. Sweet Nutrition.

Yellow, white, purple, red, and orange. These are the colors in which you can find the sweetest spud. Wonder why we don't see as many of the other colors in our stores? Well, our orange fleshed specimen is the sweetest of the bunch and, therefore, more popular with the masses. Also, if you hate broccoli, maybe tell that special person in your life that keeps trying to make you eat it that it would take 23 cups of Cruciferae even to come close to the amount of vitamin A inside one sweet potato.


The following nutritional facts are based on 3.5 oz of raw sweet potato.

  • kCal: 86

  • Fiber: 3g

  • Protein: 1.6g

  • Carbs: 20.1g

  • Sugar: 4.2g

  • Vitamin A: 100% DRV The body creates vitamin A from the antioxidant beta carotene. One sweet potato is much more than 100% DRV.

  • Vitamin C: Another antioxidant. This one can help decrease the duration of the common cold. You know, since it's the season.

  • Manganese: This mineral aids the body in forming connective tissue and bones, aids in blood clotting, and the production of sex hormones. It also plays a role in carbohydrates' metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation.

  • Vitamin E: Yet another antioxidant to add to this spuds spectacular list of things to keep your body from oxidative damage.

What to remember while eating sweet potatoes your favorite way: eat them with some fat! That's right, most of the antioxidants found in sweet potatoes are actually fat soluble. So a big slice of butter isn't bad in this case (unless you're on a calorie-restrictive diet). My favorite application is tossing fresh-cut sweet potato fries in olive oil and air frying!

 

The bottom line is, don't make sweet potatoes a one-trick pony of butter and cinnamon. These tubers turn out well in many a savory dish. My favorite is Tex-Mex sweet potatoes, thought up by Kevin Curry of FitMenCook. Though, my salted goat cheese versions pictured above are nothing to sneeze at. Seriously, it's just salted baked sweet potatoes, goat cheese, and some curly parsley.


So, in a world of casseroles, pies, candied "yams," and sweet potato fries... think outside the box and cash in on some of the delicious nutrients housed in the dirt-covered skin of the sweet potato. After all of the Thanksgiving leftovers run out, your body will thank you!

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