A Hint of Sweetness & Full of Nostalgia: What Makes Sweet Potatoes a Go-To Winter Food

Sweet potato

From managing diabetes to improving eyesight and digestion, the sweet potato has many health benefits, studies show. Here’s the science behind this winter food, plus a quick and easy recipe.

A fond memory from my childhood remains visits to my ammumma’s (grandmother) house every year, which included snacking on boiled sweet potatoes with our evening tea. She would serve it with a side of spicy bird’s eye chilli chutney, making for a union of tastes that is hard to forget. 

What was wonderful about this dish was that besides being delicious and versatile, it also came with numerous health benefits. 

Believed to have originated in the tropical regions of Central and South America, sweet potatoes yield from late autumn to winter. They are an excellent source of fibre, Vitamin A and C, and minerals like potassium and manganese.

Studies claim that having this tuber vegetable can yield multiple health benefits ranging from good digestion to improved immunity. It makes for the perfect vegetable to consume in the winter. 

  1. Improves gut health
Sweet potatoes (Shutterstock)

Even though sweet potatoes are a starchy food, they are rich in fibre — both soluble and insoluble. They have dietary fibres that promote gut microbe diversity, thereby improving digestive health, as well as promoting easy and regular bowel movements.

Studies also suggest that antioxidants present in purple sweet potatoes help boost the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

  1. Promotes healthy vision

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, a plant pigment and a precursor to Vitamin A. The beta carotene breaks down to form Vitamin A, an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining good vision. Vitamin A is also a component of rhodopsin, a protein in the eyes that allows one to see in low-light conditions.

  1. Good for heart health

Sweet potatoes can help reduce LDL or bad cholesterol, which in turn lowers the risks of cardiovascular diseases. It is also rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure by helping the body get rid of excess sodium. This helps to dilate blood vessel walls, thereby lowering the pressure within.

  1. Help manage sugar levels/diabetes

Sweet potatoes that are rich in fibre also have a low glycemic index, which results in a less immediate impact on blood glucose levels. This would help people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. The high fibre content also keeps one satiated for long periods, thereby aiding weight loss. It also helps increase insulin sensitivity.

  1. Boosts immunity

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Other than promoting good eye health, Vitamin A is essential in maintaining a healthy immune system. A deficiency of Vitamin A is associated with several infectious diseases, especially in the respiratory and digestive systems of children. It can also increase gut inflammation and weakens the immunity system in responding to threats. Therefore, Vitamin A-rich foods like sweet potatoes should be included in the diet.

How to make sweet potato chaat: 

Sweet potato chaat
Sweet potato chaat (Shutterstock)

Ingredients:

  • Boiled sweet potatoes – 2 cups chopped.
  • ¼ teaspoon of black pepper powder.
  • ½ teaspoon of amchur powder (dry mango powder).
  • Chilli powder, chaat masala powder and roasted cumin powder as required.
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
  • Rock salt.

How to make:

  • Take boiled and chopped sweet potatoes in a bowl.
  • Add black pepper, dry mango powder and salt.
  • Add red chilli powder, chaat masala powder and roasted cumin powder as per taste.
  • Add lemon juice.
  • Mix the ingredients gently and serve.

Edited by Divya Sethu

Sources:
Antioxidant and prebiotic activity of five peonidin-based anthocyanins extracted from purple sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.), published by National Center for Biotechnology Information on 22 March 2018.
The Modulatory Effect of Anthocyanins from Purple Sweet Potato on Human Intestinal Microbiota in Vitro, published by National Center for Biotechnology Information on 30 March 2016.
Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, flesh, without salt by US Department of Agriculture.
Carotenoids and β-carotene in orange fleshed sweet potato: A possible solution to vitamin A deficiency, published by National Center for Biotechnology Information on 15 May 2016.
Modulation of Intestinal Immune and Barrier Functions by Vitamin A: Implications for Current Understanding of Malnutrition and Enteric Infections in Children, published by National Center for Biotechnology Information on 21 August 2018.
Sweet Potatoes 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits by Healthline.
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