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Color Me Raw! Oh How Sweet It Is!

Antioxidants in food

As a child and even now, I always enjoyed cooking. Wow, I have so many fond memories of family gatherings during the holidays or just because.

During the holidays I found myself in the kitchen helping my momma, Aunt Betty and my grandmother’s prepare the food. I looked forward to yams (will discuss in a few), sweet potato soufflé and sweet potato pies because I wanted to lick the bowl.

Back then (the 70s), the sweet potatoes were deep orange and so sweet, you can eat them raw; sometimes I still do. However, they still are deep orange and very sweet if you purchase the organic ones.

Did you know there is an historical difference between yams and sweet potatoes? They are not related at all! Sweet Potatoes are the root of a vine in the morning glory family and yams belong to the lily family. Yams are native to Africa. They are starchy and not very sweet and can grow very large; some weighing up to 100 pounds! The African words nyami, and njam, which means “to eat” is what probably brought the two vegetables together. Slaves in the American South called the sweet potato nyamis, a name that they knew from their homeland because of its similarity to the yam.

Sweet potatoes are often referred to as nature’s health food. Sweet potatoes contain unique root storage proteins, which have been shown to exert significant antioxidant effects. In one study, these proteins had about one-third the antioxidant activity of glutathione, one of the body's most important internally produced antioxidants. The presence of these proteins, along with the high content of carotenes and vitamin C -- two powerful antioxidants that work to eliminate free radicals (which damage cells) in the body make sweet potatoes a valuable food for boosting antioxidants in your body.

High in fiber, fat and cholesterol-free, sweet potatoes are simply one of the most nutritious vegetables around! They are also packed with calcium, potassium, and vitamin A. Unlike many other starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes are classified as an "anti-diabetic" food. Animal studies have shown that sweet potatoes actually help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve the response to the hormone insulin.

With organically-grown sweet potatoes, you can eat the entire flesh and skin, which carries the maximum health benefits (of which many are in the skin), as well as added texture. If you purchase conventionally grown sweet potatoes, you'll need to peel before eating since the skin can be treated with dyes or waxes. The Environmental Working Group cites potatoes as one of the worst (or Dirty Dozen as they say) vegetables in terms of pesticide contamination.

Try to avoid purchasing canned sweet potatoes, often mis-labeled as yams. The cans contain the very controversial Bisphenol A (BPA) which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, obesity, and insulin resistance (which can lead to Type II diabetes).

The next time you are in the kitchen making sweet potato pies, soufflé, fries or a plain baked sweet potato make sure your daughter, niece, granddaughter or young child is in the kitchen with you creating a bond and fond memories that will last from generation to generation. Oh, how sweet it is…

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