Sweet potatoes -- scientifically known as Ipomoea batatas -- are sweet, starchy root vegetables grown all over the world. They come in various sizes and colors, including orange, white, and purple. These root tubers are one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet.
Here are just six health benefits of sweet potatoes:
Offer many nutrients: Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These include protein, manganese, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, and C. They are also rich in antioxidants, especially the orange and purple varieties, that protect the body from free radical damage and chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and aging.
Boost immunity: Sweet potatoes, particularly the orange varieties, contain high amounts of beta-carotene that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is vital in keeping the immune system healthy, and the lack of this vitamin has been linked to reduced immunity. It is also essential in keeping the mucous membranes, especially in the lining of the gut, healthy. A healthy gut is also important in a healthy immune system. (Related: Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense foods with high amounts of beta-carotene.)
Improve eye health: Beta-carotene is also used to form light-detecting receptors inside the eyes, supporting eye health. Purple sweet potatoes may also support healthy vision due to their anthocyanins that protect eye cells from damage.
Enhance gut health: Sweet potatoes can improve gut health because of their fiber content. There are two types of fiber in sweet potatoes: soluble and insoluble. Fiber can't be digested and stays within the digestive tract and provides a variety of gut-related health benefits. Viscous fibers – a type of soluble fiber – absorb water and soften stool, whereas non-viscous, insoluble fibers don’t absorb water but add bulk. Some soluble and insoluble fibers are also fermented by the bacteria in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids that fuel the cells of the intestinal lining and keep them healthy and strong. The antioxidants in sweet potatoes also improve gut health. Test-tube studies have shown that antioxidants in purple sweet potatoes promote the growth of good gut bacteria. Higher amounts of good gut bacteria are associated with better gut health and a lower risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and infectious diarrhea.
Protect against cancer: The antioxidants in sweet potatoes may also protect against some forms of cancer. Purple sweet potatoes contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to slow cancer cell growth, such as those of the bladder, colon, stomach, and breast. Similarly, animal studies have found that consumption of purple sweet potatoes resulted in lower rates of early-stage colon cancer. Extracts of orange sweet potatoes and sweet potato peels have also exhibited cancer-protective properties in lab studies.
Support brain health: The anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes support brain health by reducing inflammation and preventing free radical damage. These antioxidants also improve learning and memory, according to animal studies.
You can add sweet potatoes to your diet and reap these benefits in many ways. You can eat them with or without skin, and bake, boil, roast, fry, or steam them.
Growing sweet potatoes at home
Growing your own sweet potatoes make these vegetables even healthier because they would be chemical-free. There are many ways to grow sweet potatoes, but the easiest and fastest way is to use cuttings. The first step is to remove all leaves, except the small leaves on the top of the cutting. Then, cover with soil, leaving the small leaves at top sticking out of the ground. As the cuttings grow, the roots develop at every leaf node.
You can also grow sweet potato vines in a glass of water by putting a tuber into the water — with the pointy end down and the top third above the water. Once the shoots are large enough, you can transfer them to the ground.