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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 May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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