Dear Timaree: “Aren’t all potatoes basically this same when it comes to nutrition?”
The short answer, “no”…!
Since February is National Sweet Potato Month and National Heart Disease Awareness Month, I wanted to sing the praises of sweet potatoes, along with some delicious ways to incorporate them on a regular basis. When I first mentioned sweet potatoes to my husband, he was less than excited, as his mind went straight to the ooey-gooey, super syrupy sweet potatoes that are served covered in marshmallows, of which he was not a fan. I assured him that my recipe would be different, and luckily he is a good sport, so was willing to try. I baked a few of the variety with yellowish/golden colored flesh in the oven, and he was pleasantly surprised by how creamy and delicious they were! The next time I bought them, I chose the dark-skinned variety with bright orange flesh and made them into seasoned baked “fries” and now they are one of his (and my kids’) favorite sides!
With heart disease still the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, we all need to find ways to reduce our risk. Sweet potatoes can play a role, as they have earned “superfood” status among the tubers. They are a fantastic source of beta-carotene/Vit A and Vitamin C (both protect our eyes, nerves and especially our blood vessels from damage, and reduce cancer risk), and have more potassium than a banana (potassium has a beneficial impact on blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte balance and normal heart function). We all know that high blood sugar wrecks havoc on our cardiovascular system, and sweet potatoes can help by providing several amazing plant compounds. Their carotenoids (yellow and orange pigments) can improve the body’s response to insulin and chlorogenic acid may help reduce insulin resistance. They are also a wonderful source of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower both cholesterol and blood sugar (we typically see blood sugar results 30% lower after eating a baked sweet potato in place of a baked white potato).
Choose sweet potatoes that they are heavy for their size, very firm, and with unwrinkled skin, especially toward the ends, as they tend to get soft there when they are too old. If you plan to bake them, they will bake in half to 2/3 the time of white potatoes, but look for several of similar size so that they bake evenly. You can store them for up to a few weeks in a cool, dark, dry area (away from onions), but not refrigerated. Some of our local markets sell them year-round for ~$.50/lb, so you don’t have to wait for a special occasion. Skip the canned sweet potatoes, as they aren’t nearly as versatile and often packed in a sugary syrup.
Within the first few days of purchasing sweet potatoes, I will scrub several, and then, leaving the skins on, cut them into “fries” and transfer them to a gallon zip-top bag. I add a splash of water and a favorite bold seasoning (I really like Kirkland brand’s Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning, a blend of 21 herbs and seasonings available at Costco – it is bursting with flavor, you may never miss the salt!). If I don’t cook them right away, I put the bag in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Then, I line a baking sheet or two with foil, give a bag a few good shakes to be sure the seasoning has been well distributed and spread them out into an uncrowded single layer, roast at 425 degrees (turning once, halfway through, after about 12 minutes) until brown on both sides! Sweet potatoes are also delicious in Thai curry vegetable dishes, stir-fries, soups, stews, chilis, casseroles and in place of half of the white potatoes in mashed potatoes.
Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, does professional speaking engagements and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. This wonderful recipe plus multiple ways to incorporate it into customizable Foodie Bars™, be found in her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com
My article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel on February 2. 2011.