6 Surprising Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are sweet, starchy root vegetables that are grown worldwide (1).
They come in a variety of sizes and colors—including orange, white and purple—and are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Not to mention, they provide a number of health benefits and are easy to add to your diet.
Here are 6 surprising health benefits of sweet potatoes.
1. Highly Nutritious
Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One cup (200 grams) of baked sweet potato with skin provides (2):
- Calories: 180
- Carbs: 41.4 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Fiber: 6.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 769% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 65% of the DV
- Manganese: 50% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 29% of the DV
- Potassium: 27% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 18% of the DV
- Copper: 16% of the DV
- Niacin: 15% of the DV
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and trigger inflammation.
Sweet potatoes are starchy root vegetables that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They're also high in antioxidants that protect your body from free radical damage and chronic disease.
2. Promote Gut Health
The fiber and antioxidants in sweet potatoes are advantageous to gut health.
Sweet potatoes contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble (8).
Your body cannot digest either type. Therefore, fiber stays within your digestive tract and provides a variety of gut-related health benefits.
Some soluble and insoluble fibers can also be fermented by the bacteria in your colon, creating compounds called short-chain fatty acids that fuel the cells of your intestinal lining and keep them healthy and strong (10, 11).
The antioxidants in sweet potatoes may provide gut benefits as well.
Greater amounts of these types of bacteria within the intestines are associated with better gut health and a lower risk of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and infectious diarrhea (17, 18, 19).
Sweet potatoes contain fiber and antioxidants that promote the growth of good gut bacteria and contribute to a healthy gut.
3. May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties
Sweet potatoes offer various antioxidants, which may help protect against certain types of cancers.
Anthocyanins—a group of antioxidants found in purple sweet potatoes—have been found to slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells in test-tube studies, including those of the bladder, colon, stomach and breast (3, 20, 21).
However, studies have yet to test these effects in humans.
Animal and test-tube research suggests that the anthocyanins and other antioxidants found in sweet potatoes may protect against certain cancers. However, human studies are needed.
4. Support Healthy Vision
Sweet potatoes are incredibly rich in beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for the vegetable's bright orange color.
In fact, one cup (200 grams) of baked orange sweet potato with skin provides more than seven times the amount of beta-carotene that the average adult needs per day (2).
Severe vitamin A deficiency is a concern in developing countries and can lead to a special type of blindness known as xerophthalmia. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, may help prevent this condition (27).
Purple sweet potatoes also seem to have vision benefits.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and anthocyanins, antioxidants that may help prevent vision loss and improve eye health.
5. May Enhance Brain Function
Consuming purple sweet potatoes may improve brain function.
No studies have been done to test these effects in humans, but in general, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants are associated with a 13% lower risk of mental decline and dementia (34, 35).
Animal studies have shown that sweet potatoes may improve brain health by reducing inflammation and preventing mental decline. However, it remains unknown whether they have the same effects in humans.
6. May Support Your Immune System
It's also key for maintaining healthy mucous membranes, especially in the lining of your gut.
The gut is where your body is exposed to many potential disease-causing pathogens. Therefore, a healthy gut is an important part of a healthy immune system.
Studies have shown that vitamin A deficiency increases gut inflammation and reduces the ability of your immune system to respond properly to potential threats (39).
No studies have been conducted to determine whether sweet potatoes, in particular, have an effect on immunity, but eating them regularly can help prevent vitamin A deficiency (40).
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A and help support your immune system and gut health.
How to Add Them to Your Diet
Sweet potatoes are very easy to add to your diet.
They can be enjoyed with or without the skin and can be baked, boiled, roasted, fried, steamed or pan-cooked.
Their natural sweetness pairs well with many different seasonings, and they can be enjoyed in both savory and sweet dishes.
Some popular ways to enjoy sweet potatoes include:
- Sweet potato chips: Peeled, thinly sliced, and baked or fried.
- Sweet potato fries: Peeled, cut into wedges or matchsticks, and baked or fried.
- Sweet potato toast: Cut into thin slices, toasted, and topped with ingredients like nut butter or avocado.
- Mashed sweet potatoes: Peeled, boiled, and mashed with milk and seasoning.
- Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole in the oven until fork-tender.
- Sweet potato hash: Peeled, diced, and cooked with onion in a pan.
- Spiralized sweet potatoes: Cut into spirals, sautéed, and sauced.
- In baked goods: Sweet potato puree adds moisture without fat.
Sweet potatoes are a versatile root vegetable that can be prepared in many ways.
The Bottom Line
Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense root vegetables that come in a variety of colors.
They're high in fiber and antioxidants, which protect your body from free radical damage and promote a healthy gut and brain.
They're also incredibly rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A to support good vision and your immune system.
Sweet potatoes are versatile and can be prepared in both sweet and savory dishes, making them an exceptional carb option for most people.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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