There's nothing quite like the aroma that comes from baking or roasting sweet potatoes in the fall. You get something very special: a house that truly smells like hearth and home.
But that wonderful seasonal scent certainly isn't the only benefit to the colorful vegetable. A treasure house of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients, the sweet potato has long been a staple food for millions and is recognized worldwide as an excellent source of nutrition.
Since sweet potatoes are such an important crop around the globe, intensive research is now being done into the many health benefits. Purple sweet potatoes have especially been receiving a great deal of focus in the scientific literature, and they're making a splash with gourmet food lovers.
Beneath the skin, the flesh of sweet potatoes has a gorgeous orange, yellow or purple color — which tells you they are loaded with beneficial carotenoids. They contain fiber and large amounts of vitamin A and Vitamin C, as well as calcium and potassium.
Bonus: This versatile and delicious vegetable is filled with natural sugars, so it can stand on its own without any added sugar. Plus, one half cup of oven-baked sweet potatoes has only 150 calories and no fat.
Here are six other strong reasons why you should load up on sweet potatoes this season:
1. They're a source of carotenoids.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a great source of carotenoids, which the body converts to Vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for major health problems worldwide including blindness and stunted growth, particularly in developing countries. In fact, NGOs and aid organizations are helping developing countries make sweet potato a major food crop to prevent vitamin A deficiency.
2. They're abundant in antioxidants.
In China, researchers discovered antioxidants called anthocyanins in sweet potato varieties.
Antioxidants are important because they help fight the oxidation that leads to inflammation, disease and aging. And diets rich in anthocyanins have been found to be protective against many ailments including liver problems, high blood pressure and vision disorders.
Plus, other research has shown that natural antioxidants found in sweet potatoes called polysaccharides can be used as functional food ingredients.
3. They're anti-inflammatory.
Extracts from sweet potatoes have been found to be anti-inflammatory. That's significant since chronic inflammation is considered a major contributor to diseases like cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, and diabetes.
4. They have anti-aging benefits.
Chinese researchers have also explored the anti-aging potential of sweet potatoes and discovered that they may protect brain function against oxidative stress.
Their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may further improve cognitive impairment.
5. They protect the liver.
In laboratory studies, researchers have also demonstrated that sweet potatoes have a protective effect on liver damage.
6. Their leaves also offer health benefits.
It's not just the flesh of the vegetable that packs a nutritional punch: the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences revealed that sweet potato leaves have important antioxidants called polyphenols, which help prevent or neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals.
The leaves also contain several nutrients and bioactive compounds, which is why scientists recommend they be consumed like leafy vegetables as the Chinese do.
Want to learn more about how to cook these nutritious vegetables? Check out my 3 Healthy Recipes for Sweet Potatoes.