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Sweet Potatoes Much Healthier Alternative Than Common Irish Potatoes

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas L.) are members of the bindweed plant family Convolvulaceae, which features the many varied types of ornamental plants we know as “morning glories.” Common or “Irish” potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are members of the nightshade plant family Solanaceae, which make them close cousins to other such common garden nightshade fruits and vegetables as tomatoes and eggplants (aubergines). Although we prepare and eat these two tubers in very similar ways, there is no common bond to connect them as even slight relatives in the plant world.

In fact, sweet potatoes are more tropical and extremely cold-sensitive vining plants native to Central America or northern South America, while common potatoes are somewhat cold-tolerant bush plants that originated in Peru. And according to author Jo Robinson in Eating on the Wild Side, sweet potatoes are easily the better choice when it comes to nutrition and better health.

“Sweet potatoes are higher in antioxidants than ordinary potatoes and have a lower glycemic index,” says Robinson, “The most nutritious varieties have red, dark orange, purple or deep yellow flesh. Today, millions of people in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean consume large amounts of sweet potatoes, while the typical US adult eats only three to four pounds a year.” (According to Wikipedia, The glycemic index or glycaemic index (GI) is a number associated with a particular type of food that indicates the food’s effect on a person’s blood glucose (also called blood sugar) level.)

“We would do well to eat more of them,” notes Robinson, “Despite their name and sweet taste, sweet potatoes have a much lower glycemic index than white potatoes—45 compared with 75-100. That’s an important difference. People on low-glycemic diets can eat sweet potatoes without limitation. Sweet potatoes are also richer in antioxidants than common potatoes. A baked sweet potato has almost twice the antioxidant value of a baked russet potato. Yet another advantage is that they cook in half the time.”

Robinson concludes, “Sweet potatoes can be stored for a week at normal room temperatures. They’ll last longer if you store them in an unsealed bag in a dark and cool (50-60 degrees F.) place with good air circulation. Refrigerating raw sweet potatoes can cause the flavor to go ‘off.’ Steaming, roasting or baking them can double their antioxidant value, but boiling reduces it. Ounce for ounce, the skin is more nutritious than the flesh, so eat the whole root.”

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