The sweet potato or sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the bindweed or morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are a root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. The sweet potato is distantly related to the common potato (Solanum tuberosum), both being in the order Solanales.
The sweet potato, especially the orange variety, is often called a “yam” in parts of North America, but it is entirely unrelated to true yams. They are rich source of nutrients that have huge medicinal and health benefits.
Sweet potatoes can help in weight management
Sweet potatoes contain soluble and fermentable fiber that increase satiety and offers the body a natural, self-sustaining mechanism for body weight regulation. Studies have shown that one of the major soluble dietary fibers in sweet potatoes, pectin, is effective at reducing food intake, reducing weight gain, and also increasing the activity of satiety hormones in the body. Scientific studies have also shown that a higher intake of fibers is strongly correlated to reduced body weight. An increase in consumption of sweet potatoes will result in an increase in fiber intake, which will in turn, lead to a lower body weight.
Sweet potatoes can also help manage diabetes
Sweet potatoes are categorized as low to high on the glycemic index scale, and several studies have indicated that it can minimize the occurrence of insulin resistance and low blood sugar levels, as well as high blood sugar in people who are suffering from diabetes.
Their relatively low glycemic index means that the sweet potatoes release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, unlike other starchy foods. This steady release of sugar is what aids in controlling the blood sugar levels of individuals so that it does not go low or high. Thus, the sweet potatoes can be used in the regulation of blood sugar levels especially in people with diabetes. This regulation is witnessed in both types of diabetes, i.e. type I and type II.
The fiber in the sweet potato is also hypothesized to be beneficial for diabetes management. The sweet potato is a high fiber food, which has been shown to lower the blood sugar levels of individuals suffering from type I diabetics. 10-15% of the fiber in a sweet potato consists of soluble fibers such as pectin, which are effective in reducing food consumption and spikes in blood sugar.
Approximately 77% of the fibers in sweet potatoes are insoluble, and they have their own role to play in the fight against diabetes. Insoluble fibers are essential in promoting insulin sensitivity, which then helps in regulating the amount of sugar in the blood.
Sweet potatoes help prevent Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is a serious issue especially in developing nations around the world. The health repercussions of a vitamin A deficiency are grave and can include decreased resistance to infectious disease, increase in infectious morbidity, dry eyes as well as increased mortality for both pregnant and lactating women and their children. Sweet potatoes are an extremely important source of Vitamin A because they contain high levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is transformed into vitamin A in our livers, with every molecule of beta-carotene producing two molecules of Vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes contain anti-inflammatory activity
Sweet potatoes contain a significant amount of vitamins, most of which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Studies carried out on the purple sweet potato have conclusively shown that the extracts from the vegetable variant had the capability of inhibiting the production of active inflammatory components in the body. Furthermore, sweet potatoes have a high concentration of choline, which is a very versatile nutrient. One of the main benefits of choline is that it reduces inflammatory responses in the body resulting in less inflammation. Studies on animal models have shown that choline is effective in therapeutically restraining incidences of systemic inflammation in the body. Other studies have indicated that extracts from the purple sweet potato contained anthocyanins, which proved essential in reducing and preventing inflammation in colon cancer cells as well as the reduction of cell proliferation in specific cancer cells.
Sweet potatoes can help protect/prevent/manage cancer
Studies have also shown that the purple-fleshed sweet potato is especially effective in the fight against cancer. This variation of the sweet potato has elements that are able to inhibit growth of specific cancers that include breast cancer, gastric cancer, and colon cancer by inducing the cell death of these cancer cells. The vegetable’s high anthocyanin content is believed to be the reason behind the sweet potato’s anti-cancer activity when it comes to gastric and breast cancers .
Other studies have conclusively shown that extracts from different parts of the sweet potato can also induce cell death in prostate cancer cells, ensuring that the cancer does not grow and spread to other parts of the prostate. Scientists have concluded that the anti-cancer activity of sweet potatoes when it comes to controlling prostate cancer is due to their high polyphenol content.
The presence of carotenoids such as beta-carotene in sweet potatoes has also been reported as having a significant effect on reducing the risk of men becoming afflicted with prostate cancer. Beta-carotene has also been found to be effective in preventing and reducing the risks of individuals developing colorectal cancer.
Sweet potatoes can help manage stress levels
Sweet potatoes contain a significant amount of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for normal body functioning. One of the most important benefits of magnesium is that it helps reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that an increase in magnesium deficiency in modern diets has resulted in a significant increase in the cases of depression reported across the world. For instance, some controlled studies have indicated that magnesium deficiency increases depression in women experiencing premenstrual symptoms. Magnesium deficiency and depression are linked because they both feature cell-mediated immune responses and bodywide inflammation. Studies done on animal models have shown that an increase in magnesium intake protects the brain from anxiety and/or depression after a traumatic injury. In addition, magnesium has been found to reduce insomnia in older individuals. Insomnia is a trigger for stress, depression, and anxiety, which is unfortunate as more than 50% of elderly people suffer from some form of lack of sleep.
Sweet potatoes can help guard against ulcers
An ulcer occurs when an inflamed tissue is shed from the mucous membrane or from the skin, and it can be quite painful. Studies on animal models have shown that the methanol extract from the root of a sweet potato can protect the gastrointestinal tissues from aspirin-induced ulcers. The results of these studies have proved that the sweet potatoes can be used in the treatment and management of peptic ulcers.
Another study showed that the flour in the roots of the sweet potatoes helped in the prevention of ethanol-related ulceration in the stomach in animal models. The flour from the vegetable is reported to suppress gastric ulceration b reducing swelling in the surrounding tissues, and protecting the gastric wrinkles. In addition, extracts from the vegetable have been shown to have free radical scavengers, which are important in the healing of wounds inside the body.
Sweet potatoes can help in minimizing the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Oxidation in the body results in complications such as atherosclerosis, which in turn can lead to the development of a number of cardiovascular diseases. Leaf extracts from sweet potatoes were tested and scientists found that the high levels of polyphenols in the leaf extracts were able to suppress oxidation in humans, decreasing the chances of development of cardiovascular disease.
Scientists believe that the leaves of the vegetable have considerable antioxidant properties because of their relatively high levels of radical scavenging activity, as well as a high amount of polyphenol compounds. The scavenging activity and the high levels of polyphenols contribute to its antioxidant properties and help in minimizing the risk of one developing a cardiovascular disease. Other scientific studies have shown that the high levels of anthocyanin in the purple-fleshed sweet potato contributed to the vegetable’s ability to reduce the chances of coronary disease.
Sweet potatoes contain antimicrobial properties
Despite the fact that studies on the antimicrobial properties of sweet potatoes are limited, a number of scientific reports have concluded that the sweet potato does have some level of antimicrobial activity. Some studies have found that the ethanol and acetone extracts from sweet potato leaves possess antimicrobial properties against bacteria that cause pneumonia, and typhoid. The fiber in sweet potatoes has also been documented to inhibit the growth of foodborne bacteria.
Sweet potatoes can help improve hair and skin
As mentioned above, sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A. The vegetables are also rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Studies have shown that dietary consumption or supplementation of Vitamin E has the potential of significantly increasing hair numbers in individuals who are suffering from hair loss. This is because Vitamin E contains antioxidant properties that help reduce oxidative stress, a major cause of alopecia. Vitamin C has been known to be an effective dermatological treatment that can be used in the treatment of photoaging and hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C is also effective at neutralizing the oxidative stress caused by exposure to UV light. In addition, the combination of Vitamin C and E can significantly reduce the risk of skin cancer in individuals. Vitamin C is also essential in the synthesis of collagen, which is the main structural protein of the skin. A number of studies have also shown that Vitamin C contains anti-inflammatory properties. This means that the vitamin can help manage skin diseases such as acne, as well as promoting healing of wounds on the skin.
Sweet potatoes can help in regulating blood pressure
Sweet potatoes can help in controlling blood pressure because they are rich in both magnesium and potassium. Studies have shown that a higher intake of potassium results in a decrease in blood pressure, which then significantly reduces the chance of an individual developing a stroke or a coronary problem. Magnesium is also considered an effective dietary component in the prevention of hypertension, as well as its reduction in both pregnant and non-pregnant patients. In addition, other studies have found that magnesium deficiency in the body increases the risk factors for the development of hypertension.
Sweet potatoes are important for good vision
Sweet potatoes contain a lot of vitamin A, and most of us know that vitamin A is good for our vision, but we may not know in exactly which way the vitamin improves our vision. Studies have shown that the vitamin is essential in the formation of the pigments responsible for light absorption. In addition, vitamin A is also essential in maintaining the proper structure of the retina. A deficiency of vitamin A can result in poor vision, and in some instances blindness. Deficiency in the vitamin can also lead to night blindness. Furthermore, other eye diseases including the dryness of the cornea, the ulceration of the cornea, and conjunctiva, have also been linked to a deficiency in vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes are also memory-enhancing foods
Studies have shown that the anthocyanin contained in the purple sweet potato possess memory enhancing properties. The underlying belief here is that the antioxidant properties of the anthocyanins are what makes sweet potatoes memory enhancing agents.
Sweet potatoes are good for digestion
Sweet potatoes contain large amounts of fibers, which have long been known for improving the health of the gut as well as digestion. Many laxatives in use today are made from fibers, meaning that consumption of sweet potatoes can increase your intake of fibers needed to promote proper digestion. The high fiber content of the sweet potatoes can also aid in preventing constipation in both children and adults.
Side Effects of Sweet Potatoes
While there aren’t any severe health problems associated with sweet potatoes, they are high in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes contain an extremely high amount of vitamin A with 787 milligrams per serving. Dietary Guidelines recommends a daily intake of 700 milligrams for adult women and 900 milligrams for men, so one serving of sweet potato will pretty much meet your daily value. You might be wondering if so much vitamin A can be harmful.
You need not worry. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are one of the top sources of beta carotene — a precursor to vitamin A — with 9,444 micrograms per 100 grams. Beta carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid. Your body converts this plant pigment into an active form of vitamin A that can be used for metabolic functions or stored in your liver. Although vitamin A from animal sources can cause toxicity with excessive intake, large amounts of beta carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids are not associated with any health risks.
If you eat a lot of sweet potatoes in addition to taking a vitamin A supplement over a long period of time, the most significant effect would be carotenodermia. This is a harmless condition that causes the skin to become yellow-orange and is reversible once you discontinue eating the beta carotene in sweet potatoes or other foods.
There is some concern that the high amount of dietary oxalate in sweet potatoes may contribute to the development of calcium-oxalate kidney stones, the most common type of kidney stone.
Oxalates are natural substances found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. These foods are nutrient dense and healthy, containing vitamins, minerals and fiber. According to a report in 2015 in the journal Clinical Nutrition Research, high-oxalate foods are safe for patients with diabetes, hypertension and high blood cholesterol. However, in patients that have developed kidney stones, the recommendation is to change to a diet lower in oxalate content.
Oxalates normally bind to calcium during digestion and are excreted in your stool. If oxalates are not bound to calcium in the stomach or intestines, they travel as waste to your kidneys where they can leave the body with urine. However, if there is too much oxalate and not enough liquid in the urine, the result is the creation of calcium-oxalate fragments. These fragments can stick together and form a larger crystal known as a kidney stone, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).
The NKF suggests that you can reduce your risk of developing kidney stones by drinking lots of fluids and eating calcium and oxalate-rich foods together during a meal. This would help ensure that oxalate and calcium bind to one another in the stomach before being processed by the kidneys, making it less likely that stones will form. Sweet potatoes naturally contain calcium.