Sweet potatoes are not the prettiest of vegetables with this cylindrical and chunky crop often characterised by clumsy grooves and tapering lobes, but make no mistake, it's loaded essential vitamins and health benefits including the ability to help in healthy weight gain, boost immunity, regulate digestion, and control diabetes.
Despite its health benefits, many people still take sweet potato for granted and have been mainly consuming the traditional potato, which is arguably loaded with unwanted calories.
But now with the health revolution sweeping across the country, many families have the sweet potato on their tables as a healthy alternative.
Not only is sweet potato a source of fibre, but is it high in potassium,vitamin C, and magnesium, which are vital in fighting inflammation. Further, it is a source of iron, and phosphorus, which are associated with strengthening the immunity and keeping you healthy.
Monique Piderit, a dietitian from Nutritional Solutions, said sweet potatoes contain an antioxidant, beta-carotene. Anti-oxidants help fight off harmful free radicals which roam around the body causing havoc to cells.
“When eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes provide some fibre to the diet too. Also, sweet potatoes are low GI which means they help keep blood sugar levels stable. Unstable blood sugar levels can lead to hunger and cravings.
According to World Healthiest Foods, a website that specialises in healthy foods, the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes may be one of nature’s unsurpassed sources of beta-carotene.
However, Laticia Pienaar, Tygerberg Hospital spokesperson said they are always careful to single out single foods and categorise it as "healthy" or "unhealthy".
“Potatoes and sweet potatoes are both classified as starches and should form part of healthy, balanced diets.”
She said both have benefits. The hospital conducted research and “ran both through our food analysis programme to analyse some of the macro and micronutrient content. We just wanted to do a quick comparison to highlight the benefits of both.”
“Sweet potatoes are higher in some of the vitamins such as vitamin A and are considerably higher in biotin compared to potatoes.
"Sugar in sweet potatoes is higher compared to potatoes.
"Potatoes are higher in thiamin, iron and potassium than sweet potatoes,” added Pienaar
In preparing potatoes, she said healthy cooking methods should always be considered.
When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, Pienaar said it depends on the individual’s health status and environmental factors, cultural factors.
Following South African healthy eating guidelines is a step in the right direction.
As far as the portions go, she said people should follow the healthy plate model, with a quarter starch, quarter protein and vegetables.
One starch portion equals one medium potato or one very small sweet potato.
The number of starches allowed in a meal depends on factors such as activity level, nutritional status, chronic conditions and meal distribution.