Thanks to the misleading name – sweet potatoes have often been mistaken as a sweeter cousin of the (calorie-ridden) potato, when in reality the two don’t share many similar traits in composition. Sweet potatoes belong to the same family as the Morning Glory plant (Convolvulaceae) while regular white potatoes are a descendant of the Solanaceae family, whose other members include the deadly nightshade, tobacco as well as tomatoes and eggplants.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, improve performance or looking for a new post-run snack, sweet potato can be an excellent addition to your diet. For athletes in particular, these root vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse because they contain complex carbs and rich fiber, but with relatively fewer calories. Easily available, inexpensive and versatile in its flavor profile, sweet potatoes have recently received much attention from fitness advocates for their seemingly endless list of health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.
Weight loss aid
Sweet potatoes are relatively low in calories for the carbs they contain, making them an ideal choice for people watching their weight. A medium-sized sweet potato offers about 100 calories and 24 grams of carb. Additionally, these root vegetables are rich in fiber – contributing close to 4 grams of fiber per serving—as a result, it makes you feel much fuller and can curb overeating urges.
Blood sugar control
Despite being naturally sweet, sweet potatoes are considered low on the glycemic index scale, and research suggests they may reduce episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with (Type 1) diabetes. Due to their manganese content, they also metabolize carbohydrates faster to keep blood sugar at a healthy level.
Due to large concentrations of vitamin B6, sweet potatoes are a blessing for the circulatory system. B6 helps break down a substance called homocysteine, which is known to harden arteries and blood vessels, thus keeping our important blood passageways flexible and healthy.
In addition, sweet potatoes contain high amounts of potassium, which help in lowering blood pressure by ridding the body of excess sodium and regulating fluid balance. Potassium also helps regulate the natural rhythm of the heart, and maintains normal function of the brain and central nervous system.
Rich in antioxidants
It’s hard to reach superfood status without this one. The rich orange color of sweet potatoes indicates that they are high in carotenoids, which help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity. In fact, sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of Vitamin A, known to be a powerful antioxidant that can help fight cancer and reduce the effects of aging. Vitamin C is also present in traces which play an important role in bone and tooth formation, digestion, and blood cell formation. It helps accelerate wound healing, and produces collagen which helps maintain skin’s youthful elasticity.
A cup of mashed sweet potatoes provides 58 grams of the good kind of carbs, making for great pre-run fuel or a mid-run snack during your long weekend runs. For those who are not into gels and energy bars, this is one of the most natural power boosts that you can get.
Cooking tip: In general, you can do anything with a sweet potato that you would with any other potato. Baking, boiling, stir-fry or mash, the sweet potato is versatile enough to combine with a host of other flavors and retain its benefits. Deep roasting or frying, however, can take away some of the nutrients so try not to overcook them too much, and don’t throw away the skins unless your recipe specifically calls for it.