Herbs & Plants: Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes which is scientifically referred to as lpomoea batatas are large, starchy, sweet-tasting root tubers belonging to the morning glory family – Convolvulaceae. A rich source of fibre as well as an array of vitamins and minerals.

This root tuber plant has many varieties including that with white, purple or yellow inner root tuber colours. It can be eaten whole or peeled, and the leaves are edible too.
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of fibre as well as an array of vitamins and minerals including: iron, calcium, selenium and they are a good source of most of our B vitamins and vitamin C. One of the key nutritional benefits of sweet potato is that they are high in an antioxidant known as beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A once consumed.

Sweet potato roots are a good source of carbohydrates, while sweet potato tops (leaves and stems) contain additional nutritional components in much higher concentrations than in many other commercial vegetables. In fact, the leaves are cooked as a vegetable in many parts of the world. They are rich in vitamin B, ß-carotene, iron, calcium, zinc and protein and its nutrient content is comparable to that of spinach.

In Africa, Uganda is one of the biggest producers of sweet potatoes and it’s referred to variously in the different dialects including acok in Ateso, lumonde in Luganda, layata in Acoli, icok in Langi, emboli in Lusoga, kaata in Alur and madi, ekitakuri in Rukiga, and toboric in Kupsabiny. The orange flesh variety is preferred by many people in Uganda.

This particular variety is known to possess a very high amount of beta-carotenoids, which is important in preventing vitamin A deficiency in the body and hence preventing blindness or poor eyesight in both adults and children. This is due to the fact that the ß-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and used to form light-detecting receptors inside the eyes.

The vitamin A is also critical to a healthy immune system, and low blood levels have been linked to reduce immunity. It’s also key for maintaining healthy mucous membranes, especially also contain a significant amount of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for normal body functioning.
Sweet potatoes are high in antioxidants that protect our body from free radical damage and chronic disease. In fact, the antioxidants in the peel of sweet potatoes in particular, and especially purple sweet potato, may help defend the body against free radicals thereby reducing the risk of cancer.

Therefore, boiling sweet potatoes without peeling and eating it whole can be very beneficial.
Sweet potato provides lots of potassium in the body especially when boiled and consumed with the peels. The potassium essentially sweeps away excess sodium and fluid out of the body, hence lowering the blood pressure leading to a reduced strain on the heart.
Potassium also helps regulate the heart rhythm and muscle contractions.

Sweet potato also has a relatively low glycaemic index, which means they release sugar into the bloodstream slowly when eaten unlike other starchy foods. This steady release of sugar is what aids in controlling the blood sugar levels of individuals so that it does not go low or high. Thus, sweet potatoes can be used in the regulation of blood sugar levels especially in people with diabetes. Sweet potatoes contain high levels of Vitamin A, C, and E, all of which are useful in the promotion of proper skin and hair health. These vitamins are useful in repairing skin that might have been damaged due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

The vitamins also slow down the cell ageing process in the skin. In addition, vitamin E is especially useful in maintaining good hair health.
In conclusion therefore, it’s important to note that sweet potato is an extremely versatile vegetable and is wonderfully healthy for children and adults. They are not only sweet but also good for cardiovascular health, longevity prevention of diabetes, and reducing the risk of cancer. (Richard Komakech)

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