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The Health Secrets of Sweet Potatoes No One Told You About

The Health Secrets of Sweet Potatoes No One Told You About

“I basically have the diet of a 19th century Irish navy, apart from the liter of stout a day. It’s meat and potatoes and bread and cheese: those are my four food groups.” – Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)

As I grew up in Ireland, we ate a lot of potatoes. They were generally boiled, I remember. That certainly made them healthier than having them as French fries which makes up about 33 percent of the total amount of traditional spuds eaten in the USA!

I guess we were eating a pretty healthy diet. But sweet potatoes (Convolvulaceae, and named botanically as Ipomoea batatas) were a whole new ball game for me, so I began to wonder if they were as good. Certainly, they have been around for more than 10,000 years and have been found in ancient settlements in Peruvian caves.

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Just to get your taste buds going, here is a great recipe for sweet potato fries (and they are baked in the oven, so really healthy).

As I did more research, I discovered lots of health secrets. This is where my investigation led me.

1. A great source of Vitamin A

I soon learned that both the normal type of potatoes (white or red skinned) have very similar nutrients to the sweet potato (American potato).  But in regards to Vitamin A, the sweet potato wins hands down. For each 100 gram portion, the sweet potato contains 19,218 international units of Vitamin A, while the traditional potato only has 10 of these units. Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining healthy eyesight and boosting our immune system. Other sources are orange, yellow and green vegetables.

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2. Lots of antioxidants

Antioxidants fight off the free radicals which can damage our cells. These are the toxic byproducts of oxidation which is vital for cell formation.  They are a pretty nasty lot as they are linked to all sorts of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and even certain types of cancer. The most effective way to counteract these is to ramp up your supply of antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are ideal as they contain beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid and polyphenols. Go for the more colorful purple ones as they contain many more antioxidants.

3. Stop those sugar spikes

If you eat simple carbs and not much protein, your blood sugar levels rise and give you a burst of energy. The only problem is that it will lead to a sugar crash later on. This results in lethargy and a bad mood. In order to keep blood sugar levels fairly steady, one of the best solutions is to eat sweet potatoes. They are low on the glycemic index which reduces the load on the pancreas. This can help to prevent diabetes in the long run.

4. No cholesterol

The big issue in keeping your cholesterol levels healthy is to reduce the amount of bad fats in your diet. Baked, steamed or boiled sweet potatoes are ideal in that they contain about 100 calories (medium sized potato), two grams of protein and only .17 of fat. There is no cholesterol. The secret is, of course, not to add sour cream, mayonnaise, butter or other tempting delights. Much better to add spices and /or chiles.

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5. Vital vitamin B6

We have already mentioned the fact that there are lots of vitamins, nutrients and minerals in sweet potatoes. One of these vitamins is B6 which plays a vital role in helping you to digest protein, maintain brain function and also the nervous system.  This vitamin also helps to keep the deadly homocysteine chemical at bay which can lead to heart disease and other conditions such as osteoporosis and dementia.

6. Vitamin C for great skin

The wonderful benefits of vitamin C are well known. But it is also useful for making collagen which helps to bind skin cells together and keep skin smooth and supple. In addition, it helps to heal wounds, and may be a preventive agent against cancer.  Just to give you an idea, take a 200 grams sweet potato and 52 percent of that will be Vitamin C.

7. Don’t forget the top greens

The actual green leaves from the sweet potato are also a marvelous source of essential nutrients. In fact, they contain more vitamins C, K, iron and potassium than the potato itself.

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You can find them in the markets alongside the other greens such as kale, spinach and collards. A good way to cook them is to braise them with onion. The great advantage is that they are not bitter and are more tender. They are not only highly nutritious but may prevent cancer cell growth.

8. Color is important

We mentioned above that the more colorful varieties (orange and purple) have more antioxidants. But there is also another reason why this is important for feeding the planet in the future. The actual color extract when used to add to other foods is remarkably stable. That would remove the necessity of using synthetic coloring for future food production.

Not sure whether sweet potatoes are really worth all the hassle? Just think that the nutritional value of a sweet potato is far more than broccoli. In fact, just 4 ounces of this great tuber provides 20 mg of magnesium, 348 mg of potassium plus calcium, folic acid, 25 mg of vitamin C and of course tons of vitamin A. To get the same amount of nutrients from broccoli, you would have to prepare 16 cups!

Featured photo credit: Sweet Potato Hummus/ Vegan Baking via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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