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One of nature’s heartiest veggies is the humble sweet potato, and fortunately for us, it’s one of North Carolina’s signature crops. In fact, NC is the top sweet potato producer in the country and has been since 1971 — thanks to our hot, moist climate and rich, fertile soil. If you’re seeking a dish that provides the perfect combination of sweet and hearty — sweet potatoes can deliver all the flavors you crave plus its many ‘superfood’ benefits.

Not technically a potato, sweet potatoes are edible roots from the morning glory plant family. There are hundreds of types in a rainbow of colors — orange, yellow, pink, red and purple. The most common sweet potatoes in North Carolina are the Covington variety, which are known for their bright orange flesh, smooth rose-colored skin, and extra sweet flavor.

Although they are often confused, sweet potatoes are not the same as yams, which is a potato varietal native to Africa and Asia. In comparison, sweet potatoes contain more fiber, carbohydrates, protein and vitamins than other tuberous vegetables.

Hearty & Heart-Healthy

Loaded with fi ber, antioxidants and vitamins, particularly vitamin A, eating sweet potatoes can help lower your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration and obesity. They are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which fuel the body with long-lasting energy. They are widely available and inexpensive, and there are myriad heart-healthy ways you can enjoy this root vegetable beyond sugary pies and casseroles.

Here are a few facts on how sweet potatoes contribute to better health:

  • According to the American Heart Association, one cup of baked sweet potato with skin packs more than 7.5 times the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which is a critical nutrient for eye health and vision, reproductive health, immunity and the proper function of the heart, lungs and kidneys.
  • Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber; one cup contains about 6.6 grams, or 26 percent of your recommended daily intake. Fiber helps reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, a leading contributor to heart disease. Fiber is also essential for digestive health — it keeps your GI system in tip-top shape, while promoting regularity and decreasing your risk for colon cancer.
  • Sweet potatoes’ high potassium content helps maintain healthy blood pressure – which is important for good heart health.
  • They have a relatively low glycemic score compared to other tubers (especially white potatoes) and help stabilize blood sugar levels, making them an excellent dietary choice for people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Sweet potatoes keep you feeling full longer, which may boost weight loss efforts.
  • Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and lutein, which enhance eye and skin health.
  • They can fortify your immune system with the disease fighting power of antioxidants such as vitamin C, carotenoids, including beta carotene, and anthocyanin (found in purple sweet potatoes). The antioxidants in sweet potatoes are particularly protective against breast and colon cancers, according to a 2022 research summary published in Antioxidants.
  • Sweet potatoes are also a good source of manganese, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6.
  • According to the Antioxidants research, sweet potatoes even improve neurological function and memory.

Sweet Potato Recipes Worth a Try

Tasty Tips

Variety is Key.

You can roast sweet potatoes whole, cut them into wedges or chips before baking, boil and mash them, or add them to soups or stews.

Save the Skin!

For maximum health benefits, always clean the skin well and leave it on during cooking — it contains much of the fiber and vitamin A that make sweet potatoes so nutritious.

Cook Them Low & Slow.

As they cook, the root’s starch breaks down into maltose, a type of sugar made up of two glucose molecules, giving them their sweet flavor. Cooking sweet potatoes slowly (such as long-roasting them) will concentrate their flavor and increase sweetness.

Pair With Healthy Oil(s).

To help the body absorb more of sweet potatoes’ beta carotene, cook them with a heart-healthy oil, such as olive oil.

Store Smartly!

Sweet potatoes also have a long shelf life if stored properly; they will last several weeks in a cool, dry place. So, stock up and enjoy this nutrient-packed, sweet and delicious vegetable all season long.

This article is adapted from our Heart to Heart. Interested in getting future issues delivered to your home? Subscribe here.

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WakeMed Heart & Vascular