Healthy Snack of the Week: The Underappreciated Sweet Potato
Underappreciated and underutilized, the sweet potato is more than just a Thanksgiving side dish.
It can provide numerous options as a healthy snack alternative.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and betacarotene and, on average, provide nearly 30 percent more potassium than a typical banana. Who knew?
“Sweet potatoes are digested very differently than the standard white potato,” points out Wesley Delbridge, registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “They take a lot longer to digest, which prevents any spikes in blood sugar and subsequent ‘crashes’ after that.
“Sweet Potatoes are also very versatile. They can be eaten as a side dish or as a dessert or even mixed into smoothies and puddings. They have extra fiber and a ton of vitamin A to keep your kids’ eyes healthy and shining bright.”
Preparation can be as simple or complex as you choose. These days, sweet potatoes are even available, pre-packed, ready to microwave. The overall size and diameter of your sweet potato will dictate cooking time. If baking in a conventional oven, you’re likely looking at 45 minutes to an hour at 425 degrees.
Eat them completely plain if you like. Cut in half and add a bit of butter. Sweeten the bounty by sprinkling a sugar/cinnamon mix.
If you’re in a yam (pun intended), you can even enjoy sweet potatoes cold. Baked a day or two ahead, they hold together nicely in the fridge with the skin on.
But there are plenty of other ways to make the most out of sweet potatoes. You might try:
Spicing It Up: Try mixing your baked sweet potato with salsa or black beans.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries: For an alternative to chips, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and thinly slice your sweet potatoes. Dust them with salt, pepper, and your choice of other spices (cinnamon, paprika, curry, cayenne pepper among the choices). Bake for approximately 20 minutes, then transfer your chips to a broiler for 12–15 minutes of crisping. Monitor their progress. Thin chips could burn; thicker chips will require the entire time.
Sweet Potato Smoothie: Take a quarter cup of your cooked sweet potato (cold), six ounces of fat-free vanilla yogurt, 1 ¼ cups of vanilla soy milk, a tablespoon of honey and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. Blend on high until smooth. Garnish with fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, or sliced banana.
Wait, Don’t Call Me a Yam!
There is a difference. According to the Library of Congress Everyday Mysteries website:
“Yams are closely related to lilies and grasses. Native to Africa and Asia, yams vary in size from that of a small potato to a record 130 pounds (as of 1999). There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95 percent of these crops are grown in Africa. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.”
“The many varieties of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are members of the morning glory family, Convolvulacea. The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. The flesh also ranges in color from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. Sweet potato varieties are classified as either ‘firm’ or ‘soft’. When cooked, those in the ‘firm’ category remain firm, while ‘soft’ varieties become soft and moist. It is the ‘soft’ varieties that are often labeled as yams in the United States.”
Why the Confusion?
“In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.
“Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!”
How do you prepare sweet potatoes? Have you tried them as a snack food? Send along your experiences and suggestions or leave a recipe in the comments section.
For previous Snack of the Week suggestions and more articles on healthy eating, visit Learning Liftoff’s food and recipe posts.
Featured Image – via iStock
Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.