Emily Grant embarks on a journey into the world of root vegetables beyond the beloved potato, starting with the nutritious and delicious sweet potato.
There’s nothing nutritionally wrong with a plain old potato; they’re high in essential nutrients like iron, magnesium, and potassium, relatively low in calories, and are a solid source of necessary dietary fiber. The issue arises with the way we eat them: chips, crisps, mashed and baked potatoes slathered with cheese, butter, duck fat, bacon, etc. I love that stuff (especially the duck fat and bacon) just as much as the next person, but while these fat-packed potatoes are fantastic occasional complements to any number of events, from the drunken night out to the comforting family dinner, they aren’t helping us nutritionally.
It’s easy to see why we love our potatoes served as unhealthily as they frequently are; as a root vegetable, white potatoes are relatively bland and some preparation methods leave them unappealingly dry. So we add fats to make up the difference in flavor and texture. This is fine for the occasional splurge, but for day-to-day health, this conundrum leaves us with two options: eat bland and sometimes sandy potatoes, or search for alternatives.
Fortunately, potatoes are just one of many root vegetables that we could use, and – in my opinion – they’re no where near the top of the list as far as flavor goes. There are plenty of healthful root vegetables that can satisfy that desire for starch and carbohydrates potatoes fill, but without having to supplement them with add-ons that outweigh their benefits. My goal is to create a series of five articles highlighting five often-overlooked vegetables – sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, and swedes – that make excellent substitutes for the fattening potato dishes we crave, only with much more nutritional value and, I would argue, far superior flavor. To begin: the sweet potato.
Sweet Potato Health Facts:
Sweet potatoes are a sweet, starchy root vegetable native to the Americas that aren’t at all closely related to the white and yellow potatoes we know and love. Sweet potatoes aren’t just delicious, sweet, and versatile; they’re also packed with healthful vitamins and nutrients like iron, magnesium, and potassium. The major health benefits of sweet potatoes include:
- Healthy eyes and skin – Sweet potatoes are chock-full of beta-carotene, the same red-orange organic compound found in foods like carrots and pumpkins, which is converted to vitamin A by the body. The vitamin A derived from beta-carotene can help repair skin cell damage from UV exposure, and both beta-carotene and vitamin A have long been linked to maintaining eye health.
- Reliable energy – Sweet potatoes have nearly double the fiber of white potatoes. This fiber means their calories are used more slowly and efficiently by the body than the calories from a less fiber-filled carbohydrate, providing energy without sugar spikes and crashes. This can also lead to feeling fuller for longer which, when coupled with a low caloric content, makes sweet potatoes a great food for helping to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
- Heart health – Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin B6, which breaks down homocysteine, the organic compound that contributes to the hardening of arteries and blood vessels associated with heart disease.
Sweet Potato Recipes:
Sweet potatoes are easy to prepare and can be a delicious center of or complement to any meal. Ditch the greasy chips for…
Delectable Baked Sweet Potato Fries: Thinly slice your sweet potatoes, toss them in an oil of your choice (olive works well) with spices (suggestion: cinnamon for a sweet snack, paprika for savory), and baked for about 30 minutes (flipping halfway) at 220C.
And the heavy baked potato for…
Easy Baked Sweet Potato: Perforate the sweet potatoes with a fork about a dozen times, place in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for 8-12 minutes until soft. Cut open and sprinkle with salt and pepper, as well as any spice that tickles your fancy. For those who are microwave-shy: cook the sweet potatoes (you don’t have to perforate them) for 45-60 minutes in a 200C oven.
Alternatively, you can kick it up a notch and substitute a ‘blah’ baked, white potato or fattening loaded potato skins with…
Sweet & Salty Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a full meal; halve for a generous appetizer or side for the same quantity of people):
- 4 sweet potatoes
- ½ small onion, diced
- ½ crisp apple, diced
- ¼ cup yellow raisins or dried cranberries
- 2 slices bacon (feel free to exclude if you’re trying to be 100% health-conscious)
- Salt and pepper to preference
- Preheat oven to 200C; in the meantime, poke each sweet potato about a dozen times with a fork, piercing the skin. Then, put the sweet potatoes on a microwave safe plate (or bowl) and microwave for about 10-12 minutes, or until soft and cooked throughout. (Alternatively: cook at 200C for 45 minutes – 1 hour for even better caramelization and flavor.)
- While the potatoes cook and cool, dice your onions and apples. Sauté the onions and apples in a pan, lightly using an oil (like olive or coconut) of your choice; cook until the onions are translucent – 5 to 7 minutes. Afterwards, cook the bacon until crisp enough to crumble (once cool!).
- When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to touch, scoop out the flesh from the inside of the sweet potatoes (trying to keep the skin intact, though don’t worry if you make a few tears) and combine it in a bowl with the cooked onions and apples, dried cranberries/golden raisins, cooked and crumbled bacon, and salt and pepper.
- Mash the combined ingredients until the consistency of thick, lumpy mashed potatoes (add a little bit of milk or oil, if needed). Then use a spoon to scoop the stuffing back into the sweet potato skins, slightly overfilling each skin.
- Place the stuffed potatoes on a baking tray and cook in preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes, until hot throughout. Serve warm!
Enjoy the incredible taste and nutrition offered by the humble sweet potato!