By Dietitian Ellen
This is the chorus I associate with my relationship with sweet potatoes. Where have they been all my life? Why did it take me so long to meet them? Well, I’m pretty sure the reason is that my parents strongly dislike sweet potatoes and we never, ever, had them in the house growing up. (Actually, my sister and I still have to smuggle them in during holiday celebrations at my parent’s house. Such rebels we are!) It took me until college to fully understand what a positive effect sweet potatoes can have on one’s overall happiness.
Not only are sweet potatoes delicious, they are incredibly nutritious. Why else would they have made our top 10 list of super foods for athletes?
Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins A, C, and E which are powerful sources of antioxidants and also help in muscle recovery. One medium potato provides us with over 200% of our daily value of vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a key role in the health of our eyes, skin, skeletal and soft tissue, and even our teeth. Sweet potatoes also contain more beta-carotene, another beneficial antioxidant, than any other fruit or vegetable.
Sweet potatoes are typically orange, but have you ever seen a purple sweet potato? Purple 'taters contain anthocyanin pigments, which give the purple color and protect against free radical formation, too. By the way, did you know that endurance athletes can suffer up to 200 times the free radical damage of non-endurance athletes? Two.Hundred.Times. Stock up on sweet potatoes and the other antioxidant boosting super foods we have talked about in this series.
Sweet potatoes also have a low glycemic index, which means the carbohydrates within them are digested and absorbed gradually. This is crucial for endurance athletes, as carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel for athlete muscles. The carbohydrate acts like an IV of energy to your muscles, providing sustained energy for long workouts.
In addition to being a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and long acting energy, sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of iron. Iron is important in the transportation of oxygen to muscles during a workout. If your iron levels are not adequate, you may feel fatigued during workouts that you would normally execute perfectly.
Similar to other foods that made my top 10 super foods for athletes, sweet potatoes are an economical choice! At less than $1 per pound, these things are not only delicious and nutritious, they are also CHEAP! Cheap is good. When choosing sweet potatoes, choose ones without cracks, bruises or soft spots. Then store them in a cool, dry, well ventilated space.
I would be lying if I told you the first sweet potato I ever had wasn’t in a “fry” form. I would also be lying if I told you that was the first and last time I had sweet potato fries. I continue to enjoy them, because they are so darn good! Here is a healthier do-it-yourself sweet potato fry recipe:
Oven Sweet Potato Fries: Baked, not fried, these beauties are a healthier option than the typical sweet potato fries you would get at a restaurant. There are a lot of different flavor combinations for sweet potatoes. From spicy to sweet, there is something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.
Chile-Garlic Roasted Sweet Potatoes: I promise you will not be disappointed by this recipe. With a little subtle kick, this recipe will add flair to any meal. Or you could make these as a post workout snack.
Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes: Have you ever thought about twice baked sweet potatoes? Twice as good as regular, without an excess of fat and calories from cream cheese or sour cream. This recipe also incorporates kale, which was just barely edged out of the list of top 10 super foods for athletes.
Baking a sweet potato is very quick and easy in the microwave. Scrub the skin, poke a few times, wrap in a damp paper towel, and microwave on high for 5–7 minutes, depending on the size of the sweet potato. (Which reminds me… when choosing a sweet potato, do me a favor and use common sense portion sizes. If the sweet potato is the size of your forearm, put it back slowly, and choose one about the size of a computer mouse.) A baked sweet potato is the perfect quick addition to a late-night, post-workout meal when you know you should eat, but don’t want to take the time to prepare an elaborate meal.
Here is another delicious sweet potato recipe from Hy-Vee:
Glazed Sweet Potatoes and Apples
6 medium sweet potatoes or yams (2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 apples, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup packed Hy-Vee brown sugar
1/2 cup Hy-Vee apple juice
1 tbsp Hy-Vee honey
3 tbsp Hy-Vee butter, melted
1 tsp Hy-Vee ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp finely grated orange peel
1/2 cup Hy-Vee pecan pieces
Place sweet potatoes and apples in a 2- to 3-1/2-quart slow cooker. Mix together brown sugar, apple juice, honey, butter, cinnamon, and orange peel. Spoon over sweet potatoes.
Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours or until potatoes and apples are tender.
Meanwhile, cook nuts in an ungreased heavy skillet over medium-low heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until browning begins, and then stirring constantly until golden brown and fragrant. To serve potatoes, sprinkle with pecans. Source: Hy-Vee.com
FYI: This recipe yields an amazing aroma.
Hopefully, by now Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” is no longer on repeat inside your head. (I could not stop singing it while writing this post.)
What are your favorite ways to enjoy sweet potatoes?
Ellen Ries, RD, LD
Read Dietitian Ellen’s introduction to this series: Super Foods for Athletes. Watch our blog every Friday for additional articles!