November is Sweet Potato Awareness Month, and I can't think of a better time to incorporate these delicious, nutrient dense vegetables into your diet.
Sweet potato fries and sweet potato casserole are two side dishes that pop into my mind, but these tubers can be used in a variety of ways ranging from hearty soups and stews to tasty desserts that will appeal to everyone in the family.
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Sweet potatoes are not only delicious, but they are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are a good source of vitamins A and C, manganese and potassium. They're also packed with fiber, about 4 grams in a medium serving, that contributes to the health and happiness of your digestive system.
One medium sweet potato provides about 100 calories and is naturally low in sodium, fat and cholesterol. Potatoes often get a bad rap as a "fattening food," but it's the toppings -- and that they often come deep fried -- that are the fat and caloric culprits.
Even carb-conscious eaters should give sweet potatoes a try. Compared to traditional white potatoes, sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index so their carbohydrate content won't cause a dramatic spike in blood sugar levels. And, they're a rich source of carotenoids, health-enhancing pigments that research indicates may reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Therefore, enjoying a sweet potato, along with a balanced diet and exercise, may help regulate blood sugar levels.
Even the most novice cook can take advantage of the health benefits through a variety of preparations. Sweet potatoes can be roasted, boiled, baked, grilled or cooked in a microwave oven. Once cooked, they can be mashed for a delicious alternative to the traditional comfort food. Adding a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg will surely make this a new fall favorite.
Think beyond Thanksgiving Day traditions and add chunks of sweet potato to soups, chili or this hearty stew for a delicious combination of sweet and spicy that will warm you throughout the winter.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.