Sweet potatoes have been domesticated since the prehistoric times, according to scientists. Records from ancient caves in Peru show that people have already grown sweet potatoes since then. Initially, sweet potatoes were native to Central and South America, but European colonizers brought it to Europe in the 15th century. From there, the cultivation of sweet potatoes blew up – spreading to Africa, India, southern Asia, and Indonesia in the next century. These days, you don't need to travel the world for sweet potatoes: They can be found all year round in farmer's markets and supermarkets near you.
The best part of eating a sweet potato is that no part the plant is wasted, and every part is known to be beneficial for human health.
The flesh is packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A for healthy eyesight. Sweet potatoes also have minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. They're also teeming with fiber and complex carbohydrates.
A sweet potato's nutrient content depends on the color of its flesh: Orange ones have the highest amounts of beta-carotene, while the purple-fleshed variety contains anthocyanins – antioxidants that give berries and other foods their red, blue, and purple color. In particular, the antioxidants found in sweet potatoes promote heart health, fight inflammation, and keeps bacterial infection, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers at bay.
Sweet potato leaves are just as valuable. They're excellent sources of vitamin B6 which protects blood vessels and arteries and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Given that the body cannot manufacture B vitamins, its presence in sweet potatoes is a huge factor in keeping us healthy.
According to a recent study, eating the purple leaves of a sweet potato for two weeks can lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the body and prevent plaque from sticking to the arteries. In addition, sweet potatoes are packed with tumor-fighting polyphenols. A six-week study on mice showed that the presence of polyphenols in the body prevents the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Even the skin of sweet potatoes contain antioxidants that fight breast, colon, ovary, and lung cancer cells.
No wonder sweet potatoes are part of child malnutrition programs in developing countries. Even now, agriculturists are studying ways to boost the nutritional content of sweet potatoes even more.
So, how do you make the most of this superfood that's bursting with vitamin goodness? Here are just some ways to enjoy it.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries - Here's a healthier take on a fast food classic.
How to make it:
Sweet Potato and Quinoa Medley - The colors are not only fresh in this salad, but it also has the delightful addition of pomegranate and avocado.
For the dressing:
How to make it:
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