The surprising sweet potato

“What could you do to reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer?” asks VeEtta Simmons, Crittenden County Extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Try eating more sweet potatoes.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest rated sweet potatoes highest in nutritional value when compared to all other vegetables, says Simmons.

Sweet potatoes supply plenty of antioxidants that are important in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants are also essential for good brain functioning and in delaying the effects of aging on the brain.

Other nutrition facts about sweet potatoes:

• A medium sweet potato has about 118 calories and is virtually fat- and cholesterol-free and low in sodium.

• One cup of cooked sweet potato provides 30 mg of beta carotene (vitamin A). (It would take 23 cups of broccoli to provide the same!)

• The sweet potato is a good source of dietary fiber.

• The sweet potato provides many other essential nutrients, including vitamin B6, potassium and iron.

For the most nutritional value, select sweet potatoes with a deep orange color and avoid those with signs of decay.

Cook the potatoes in their jackets after washing and thoroughly drying, or bake, broil, steam, grill, sauté, French fry or serve them fresh with a dip.

Sweet potatoes may also be cooked with orange juice and zest, ginger, sweet spices, dark sugars, syrups, pecans and raisins, says Simmons.

Serve sweet potatoes with pork, chicken, turkey, beef or other meats or fish. Include them in stews, soups and salads as well as in breads, pies, custards and cakes.

Sweet potatoes freeze well, according to Simmons. To freeze them, wrap cooked but unpeeled potatoes individually in aluminum foil or freezer wrap and place them in plastic freezer bags. Label and date the bags before freezing.

Simmons recommends that people store unpeeled potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated container but not in the refrigerator. For best results, use within one to two weeks.

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