Fall is the perfect season to remind everyone to consume more sweet potatoes. Like pumpkin, they are usually enjoyed on Thanksgiving Day and then promptly forgotten about until the following year. But this vegetable should be eaten as frequently as possible, because it’s a winner. If your only experience eating sweet potatoes has been the canned variety, you need to try fresh. The flavor and texture is far superior to canned, and easy to prepare.
Sweet potatoes are actually edible roots. Technically, they aren’t even a potato. Some people call them yams instead of sweet potato, but they’re not really yams, either. This is one confused vegetable with an identity crisis. But one thing you don’t need to be confused about is how good they are for you.
A half cup of sweet potato provides over 200% of your DRI of vitamin A for the day. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that provides the tools your body needs for the development and maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and mucous membranes. It also supports the immune system, reproduction, and oh yeah, vision. Want good eyesight? Sweet potatoes are a better source of vitamin A than carrots. They are also a good source of vitamin C, iron, thiamine, potassium (think about your blood pressure), vitamin E, and fiber.
Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, fried (like French fries) or steamed. Some restaurants offer a baked version as a side dish, usually with a brown sugar/butter spread. Those are incredibly good. But I also like to boil mine and make mashed sweet potatoes.
Are you a diabetic? Most diabetics steer clear of starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, but sweet potatoes contain compounds that can actually improve blood sugar regulation. Depending on how you fix them, the glycemic index (GI) varies. The average GI value for a baked sweet potato is 94, but when boiled is only 46.
If you decide to mash, don’t try and peel the potatoes; they don’t peel as easily as white potatoes. Just cut the potatoes into chunks, cover with water and a lid, and bring to a boil. Once the water starts to boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until fork tender (about 40-45 minutes).
When the potatoes are tender, pour everything into a colander in the sink and let the steam and heat escape. Then nick the softened skin with a knife and just peel off. Mash with a fork or potato masher and serve. For a little extra sweetness, try dribbling some maple syrup over the top. It will be like eating your vegetable and dessert at the same time!
Written by: Donna Green, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County
Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County