Sweet Potato

November’s food of the month is: sweet potato!

Sweet potatoes have somewhat of an identity issue with the general public. Most often, with the recent craze of low-carb diets, sweet potatoes are often thought to be just an orange potato.  Thus they are blamed for having too many carbs and being unfriendly to the waistline like the regular potato. If not mistaken for a potato, the sweet potato is regularly mistaken for a yam, which has its own set of physical and mental health benefits. So here is a tribute to the true sweet potato, highlighting its nutritiousness and mental health benefits. Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A, specifically beta-carotene, giving them their rich orange color. They are also a very good source of Vitamin C and manganese and are have high levels of copper, dietary fiber, Vitamin B6, potassium and iron!

As with carrots, because sweet potatoes have high amounts of Beta-carotene (a type of Vitamin A), they act as protectors against declining memory and thought processes. In addition, having a diet rich in Beta-carotene protects against a decline in learning new skills, a symptom hat often precedes Alzheimer’s disease. Also, Beta-carotene has been connected with lowering stress symptoms. Diets low in Vitamin A can often experience insomnia, chronic fatigue and depression.

Vitamin C, another vitamin found in high quantities in sweet potatoes, has numerous positive benefits for mental health and mood. Vitamin C is necessary in the blood stream to create norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter created by the adrenal glands) which in turn helps us feel alert, energetic and improves our concentration.

Low levels of norepinephrine in the blood often result in fatigue, low mood, slow thinking, difficulty concentrating and memory problems. So if you feel the 3pm afternoon lull and are starting to feel fatigued and having difficulty concentrating,  skip the caffeine and instead eat a food rich in Vitamin C, such as sweet potatoes. You won’t get the jolt of caffeine but you will feel more energetic throughout the day.

Sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber and are low fat, which is a good combination to control Type 2 diabetes. In addition, high fiber foods improve overall mood and reduce depressive symptoms, such as feeling sad, listless or uninterested in activities.

Vitamin B6, found in moderately high doses in sweet potatoes, are vital for healthy nerve functions. Not having enough Vitamin B6 in the diet has been closely connected with feeling irritable and experiencing low mood. It has been shown that often people who are clinically depressed also have a Vitamin B6 deficiency. While that does not indicate which comes first, depression or the vitamin deficiency, it is enough evidence to support having high levels of Vitamin B6 in the diet to protect against low mood.

Also highly correlated with depression is potassium deficiency. Sweet potatoes seem to be a good source of potassium to protect against depressive symptoms such as tearfulness, weakness and fatigue.

Similarly, iron is correlated with positive and healthy mood. Eating foods such as sweet potatoes that are rich in iron can buffer against depressive symptoms such as weakness, exhaustion, loss of appetite and headaches.

Manganese and copper, two minerals found in moderate amounts in sweet potatoes, have positive effects on brain functioning. People who are anemic are encouraged to eat foods rich In copper to increase oxygen transportation to the brain and other vital organs.

With so many physical and mental health benefits of this sweet and delicious vegetable, we hope that you incorporate this ingredient into your diet this month while it is in season.

Sweet Potato Soup (see recipe)

Warm Sweet Potato and Winter Vegetable Salad (see recipe)

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Chantarelles and Sage (see recipe)

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