Native to tropical regions of the Americas, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are the tuberous roots from the bindweed (or morning glory) family and distantly related to potatoes. Also called yams, in some places, or batata in others.
The edible plant comes in comes in a range of skin colours from red to orange and yellow thanks to it’s high beta-carotene content, there’s even a native version in New Zealand that’s purple. Sweet potato cultivars with dark orange flesh have more beta-carotene than those with light-colored flesh, and their increased cultivation is being encouraged in Africa where vitamin A deficiency is a serious health problem (plant carotenoids are the primary dietary source of provitamin A).
In Central America, sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago. In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found. Sweet potatoes are cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperate regions. In Egypt, where sweet potato tubers are known as ‘batata’, they are a common street food in winter, and they are also baked at home as a snack or maybe surprisingly served as a dessert, often served with honey. In China, sweet potatoes, typically yellow cultivars, are baked in a large iron drum and are also sold as street food during winter. In northern Italy sweet potato is known rather literally as patata mericana (American potato), and is also a traditional autumn dish, boiled or roasted.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, sweet potatoes are known as kumara and are an integral part of roast meals where they are served alongside such vegetables as potatoes and pumpkin and, as such, are generally prepared as a savory dish. But dulce de batata (sweet potato paste) is a traditional sweet potato dessert dish in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It has like jelly-like consistency and looks a bit like marmalade because of its colour and sweetness, but more solid. After being boiled with sugar and water and pulped, it is sliced into portions with a knife as if it is a pie and served with a portion of soft cheese on top.
Nutrition content Sweet Potatoes: Per 200g, baked in skin, no salt
Although a fairly solid carb, hefting in at 40g of carbs per 200g of weight, sweet potatoes have 180 calories at that same weight and a good amount of dietary fibre at 6.6g. By comparison, a baked potato would be 64g of carbs, 280 calories and a similar amount of fibre. So these ‘sweet’ potatoes pack less of a punch in terms of a glycaemic rise. What sweet potatoes also have is a heap of essential vitamins and minerals, with big doses of vitamins A, C, B6 as well as minerals such as Manganese, Potassium, Copper, Magnesium and Phosphorus (see sidebar).
Cals 180, Carbs 40g (of which sugars 13g), Fibre 6.6g (26%), almost zero Fat, 4g of Protein. In terms of vitamins and minerals shown as a percentage of your daily recommended amount, sweet potatoes have: Vitamin A, 769%, Vitamin C 65%, Vitamins B6 29%, Manganese 50%, Potassium 27%, Copper 16%, Magnesium 14% and Phosphorus 11%.
A brief guide to essential minerals
Manganese: Manganese can be used to form connective tissue, bones, sex hormones and even blood clots. It is also necessary in order to maintain normal brain and nerve function. It is an essential nutrient because it is involved in many chemical processes such as processing cholesterol, carbohydrates and proteins, calcium absorption and blood sugar regulation.
Potassium: It is important for the proper function of all body cells, tissues, and organs. Specific roles include nerve function, blood pressure regulation, and muscle control. It is also an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity. Potassium function includes blood pressure regulation, muscle control, nerve impulse function, heart function, and electrolyte regulation. Its primary role is to regulate mineral and water balance throughout the body.
Copper: Copper is one of nine trace minerals, which are mainly utilized as part of enzymes and hormones that are required for metabolism. The richest sources of copper include oysters, whole grains, legumes, potatoes, and nuts. Other sources of copper in food include black pepper, yeast, prunes, cocoa, and dark leafy vegetables.
Magnesium: Magnesium is necessary for proper functioning of the heart, kidneys, and muscles. It plays a role in biochemical reactions, including blood glucose control, protein synthesis, nerve function, blood pressure control, and muscle function.
Phosphorus: The bulk of phosphorus in the human body is found in bones (about 85% of it), but it is also present in cells, making it extremely important and abundant in its functions in the body, playing an imperative role in helping body tissues grow, maintain health, and repair when needed. Phosphorus is extremely essential in strong bone and teeth structure, especially in the early stages of a person’s life.
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