Check out many holiday tables and you’ll find the delicious sweet potato. Sometimes it’s baked, other times it’s mashed or sauteed. But no matter how it’s delivered to the table the sweet potato is always a favorite.
And nutritional research reveals that this holiday staple is one you can enjoy year-around, without any guilt. In fact, if you want to stay healthy, you should!
Research shows that the natural compounds in sweet potatoes can support better brain function, lower the risk of heart problems, and even help with weight-loss. That’s no surprise since just one sweet potato delivers 400 percent of the vitamin A that you need each day to stay healthy.
Sweet potatoes are also rich in other essential vitamins and minerals:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
But perhaps most important, sweet potatoes contain numerous antioxidant compounds that can help your body function at the top of its game.
Different Colors Mean Different Health Benefits
Sweet potatoes are available in three main hues – yellow-orange, white and purple.
Each of these differently colored sweet potatoes have unique natural chemicals that convey their own specific set of health effects.
The ones that are intense yellow in color contain a large number of carotenoids, pigments linked to a variety of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Lighter, pale sweet potatoes are richer in phenolic compounds that can help fight cancer and diabetes. Purple sweet potatoes are high in anthocyanins – antioxidant cancer-fighters.1
Let’s examine the research on each of these…
Bright Yellow Means Brighter Health
Many studies have shown that the carotenoids in sweet potatoes can help the body fight off oxidative stress – a process that, if unrestricted, can damage cell membranes and make you more vulnerable to cancer, brain issues and heart disease.2
But in addition to their antioxidant properties, there’s also evidence that these carotenoids can help you lose weight (always a concern during the holidays) and keep your body from putting on too much fat around your waistline.
For instance, research in Spain demonstrates that sweet potato carotenoids can reduce the amount of fat tissue your body creates while also limiting the size of the fat cells that are generated.3 Added to that, a review study in Asia found that those reductions in body fat are also accompanied by a health-promoting lessening of inflammation.4
Purple Defends the Liver
There’s also ample proof that the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes, the natural compounds that give them their rich purple color, can, along with carotenoids, help the liver stay healthy.
In today’s society, liver health is a huge issue that often doesn’t get enough attention—at least not until someone is sick. However, Americans are drinking more alcoholic drinks than ever. All that alcohol we’re consuming can cause serious liver problems – even if you consider yourself a moderate drinker. According to research at Florida Atlantic University, the rate of death from liver damage caused by alcohol consumption in the U.S. has tripled over the past 20 years.5
The incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is another danger that has greatly increased during the past two decades. It happens when someone gains a great deal of weight which causes fat to invade the liver. It’s estimated that some 100 million Americans now suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.6
But according to studies in Asia, both the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes and the carotenoids in orange sweet potatoes can be useful in protecting the liver from these dangers. Both of those phytochemicals can keep fat out of the liver while restricting the amount of body fat you accumulate.7
Sweet Potatoes are Excellent Preventive Medicine
Scientists around the world have discovered sweet potatoes can also:
Protect the brain’s neurons from damaging toxins: Researchers at the University of Minnesota collaborating with other investigators from Asia and North Carolina State University have produced evidence that a phenol in sweet potatoes called 2,4-Di-tert-butylphenol can help neurons survive oxidative destruction and decrease neuronal cell damage.8
Lower the risk of diabetic complications: A review study in Malaysia found that sweet potato extract can augment the treatment of diabetes by helping the pancreas produce the proper amount of insulin, reduce hyperglycemia, promote the body’s own production of antioxidants, and help cells avoid damage from excess blood sugar.9
If research like this makes you decide to eat more sweet potatoes, you should avoid consuming them slathered in large amounts of butter and covered in sugar or other sweeteners the way so many people do. A little butter is OK, but a tasty sweet potato shouldn’t need any added sugar.