While some holiday foods don’t provide much nutritional value, other fall favorites like sweet potatoes are not only delicious, they’re packed with nutrients. If you’re not in the know about all the secret health benefits of sweet potatoes, they’re a vitamin-rich food choice that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
“You can bring out sweet potatoes’ natural sweetness by adding spices like cinnamon and cloves,” Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of the Essence Nutrition group practice in Miami and an RSP Nutrition consultant, tells Bustle. “We recommend roasting them with avocado oil or ghee to provide enough fat for fat-soluble vitamin absorption and optimal palatability.”
Despite their name, sweet potatoes actually aren’t potatoes at all. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, while potatoes are part of the nightshade family, sweet “potatoes” are edible roots that are part of the morning glory family. What’s more, different types of sweet potatoes provide different health benefits. The school explained the distinctions on its website:
Sweet potatoes with orange flesh are richest in beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes with purple flesh are richer in anthocyanins. Beta-carotene and anthocyanins are naturally occurring plant ‘phyto’ chemicals that give vegetables their bright colors. These phytochemicals are researched for their potential role in human health and disease prevention.
If you can’t wait to get your sweet potato on this holiday season, here are all of the health benefits you’ll enjoy:
1. They’re Good For Your Gut Health
The holidays are often synonymous with eating, and in order to keep things moving through your digestive tract, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough fiber. This is where sweet potatoes can help.
“Sweet potatoes are a magnificent addition to a healthy eating pattern. Not only are they delicious, they contain fiber, specifically prebiotic fiber, which helps nourish the probiotic community of live microorganisms housed in your microbiome,” Moreno says. “Fiber also helps keep you full and is integral to the metabolism of blood sugar and cholesterol.”
2. They Can Help Balance Your Electrolytes & Lower Blood Pressure
Moreno says that sweet potatoes are also a good source of potassium, which is “crucial for electrolyte balance and helpful for sodium metabolism.”
And according to a 2012 study published in the Oxford Academic journal Advances in Nutrition, sweet potatoes contain more potassium than bananas.
This is important to know because the American Heart Association noted on its website that maintaining proper potassium levels can lower high blood pressure. If you have kidney disease, the AHA said too much potassium can be harmful. Talk to your doctor about how much potassium you should be consuming.
3. They Contain Vitamins That Could Help Fight Cancer
Aside from helping maintain good gut health and potassium levels, sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene. “This fat-soluble nutrient has been linked to anti-cancer activity,” Moreno says.
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Anticancer Research, beta-carotene could help inhibit breast cancer cell growth in humans.
4. They Can Help Repair Cell Damage
Moreno says sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant that can help repair damaged cells. According to the San Diego Center for Health, “Vitamin C is a major contributor to tissue healing, as it is involved in the formation of collagen, elastin, and neurotransmitters.”
5. Vitamins In Them Are Good For Your Brain
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health noted that sweet potatoes are a good source of Vitamin B-6. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, B-6 is important for maintaining healthy brain development as well as for keeping your nervous and immune systems healthy and strong.
6. They Can Contribute To Your Overall Health
While an all-sweet-potato diet probably isn’t good for you in the long run, eating sweet potatoes as part of your regular diet can help contribute to your overall health and wellness. And from sweet potato pie to sweet potato side dishes, there are plenty of ways to prepare sweet potatoes during the holidays so your tastebuds are never bored.
Author: BRANDI NEAL