Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals. Like most orange-colored vegetables, they're extremely high in vitamin A and beta carotene. One plain baked medium sweet potato has close to 4 grams of fiber and about 100 calories. It also has a variety of vitamins and minerals:
- Calcium - 43 milligrams
- Magnesium - 31 milligrams
- Potassium - 542 milligrams
- Sodium - 41 milligrams
- Iron - 0.79 milligrams
- Zinc - 0.36 milligrams
- Vitamin C - 22.3 milligrams
- Vitamin A - 21,909 International Units
- Beta carotene - 13,120 micrograms
- Niacin - 1.7 milligrams
- Thiamin - 0.12 milligrams
- Riboflavin - 0.12 milligrams
- Vitamin B-6 - 0.33 milligrams
- Folate - 7 micrograms
Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, which are also root vegetables. Yams are grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Yams and sweet potatoes aren't even closely related. Yams are in the same family as lilies, and sweet potatoes are related to morning glories. According to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, most of the yams sold in the United States are sweet potatoes.
Selecting and Storing Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are available in the produce section of the grocery store. Choose firm tubers with smooth skin that has no bruised areas or cracks. Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place with a temperature around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Raw sweet potatoes shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator because it changes the texture and flavor of the tubers. (You can store cooked sweet potatoes in the fridge for up to one week). Don't wash your sweet potatoes until you are ready to prepare them. Washing them earlier will cause them to spoil sooner. Try to use your sweet potatoes within one week.
If you don't want fresh sweet potatoes, you can choose frozen or canned versions. Read the labels - many canned sweet potatoes are prepared with sugary syrup that adds unnecessary calories.
Preparing Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be cooked a variety of ways, but the easiest way is to bake them. Wash your sweet potatoes and pierce the skin with a fork. Bake them in a pan for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can also microwave whole sweet potatoes. Pierce the skin with a fork and microwave for about five minutes (time varies by microwave). Let the baked or microwaved tubers cool for a couple of minutes, remove the skins and serve the orange flesh. Add a little salt and pepper or your favorite seasonings for extra flavor.
Sweet potatoes can also be used as an ingredient in other dishes. Keep your sweet potato dishes healthful by choosing recipes that don't add large amounts of sugar or fat. Here are some healthy sweet potato recipes found on About.com:
- Sweet Potatoes with Apple Slices
- Easy Low-Fat Baked Sweet Potato Fries
- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos
- Low-Fat Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Center for Disease Control. "Vegetable of the Month: Sweet Potatoes." Accessed January 30, 2012. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/month/sweet_potato.html
North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. "Difference between sweet potatoes and yams." Accessed January 30, 2012. http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potatoes-101/difference-between-yam-and-sweet-potato/.
United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 24. "Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt." Accessed January 30, 2012. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3274.