The Sassy Dietitian's Guide to Real Food Living

Sweet as a Potato

By Laura Ligos | November 18, 2016
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I can't imagine living without sweet potatoes. They provide the enjoyment of sweetness without the headache or the health complications.

Do you have one food you could never imagine living without? Sure, most people might say ice cream or pizza, but I am talking about a weeknight dinnertime staple. That food item you know will be loved by all and in the nick of time will be ready and on the table without batting an eye. Think really hard, and, hint, there is no right answer.

For me, you ask? That food is sweet potatoes. Yes, I am a dietitian and, yes, I love vegetables, but from a sweet potato, you get the enjoyment of sweetness without the headache or the health complications. What more could you ask for from a vegetable? What is even better? You can find plenty of sweet potatoes this time of year and they pair nicely with most lunches, dinners or desserts, whether sweet or savory. Yes, they are that reliable.

Not to mention, sweet potatoes can stay on your counter, though preferably in a dark, cool cabinet, for weeks on end and remain fresh and rich in nutrients. No artificial additives are needed to keep these delicious tubers safe and ready to eat at the drop of a hat. So while there are many foods that I could have chosen from this season, and most of them may be root vegetables, I am going to indulge in the sweet potato this go-around because it is my favorite and was on my plate all growing up. 

Sweet Potato Pie Season

Sweet potatoes, and many other root vegetables (also known as tubers), are in season this time of year. Certainly, many tubers are harvested in the autumn months, but most are available for consumption during the cold winter months that we dread and are almost always guaranteed in the Capital District. These tubers include beets, burdock, carrots, celeriac, daikon, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabaga, taro, turnips, yams, yucca and more.

Nature knows best, and I don’t know about you, but this time of year I crave hearty, rich and soul-warming foods. Potatoes, parsnips, beets and rutabaga all are abundant now and overflowing with nutrients for us to take full advantage of. They are naturally shelf stable, which makes them a no-brainer to stock up on and keep in the house for last-minute mealtimes. I prefer to keep mine in a basket in a cool cabinet or at least on the counter away from the oven. Watch out for hot, damp environments as this may shorten their shelf life.

Check out your local farmers’ market or grocery store and you will find a few varieties of root vegetables and sweet potatoes to take home with you. The Troy Farmers’ Market is one of my favorite Saturday to-dos and it is open year round. I also indulge in Field Goods, a local produce delivery service that provides all different types of potatoes and root vegetables throughout the winter months. While I am bring- ing light to the sweet potato today, ask your local farmer what they are growing or have harvested for this time of year. Not surprisingly, most root vegetable recipes can be swapped out with a different root vegetable. With the swapping of tubers, you just might get a bit of a different taste. Be adventurous!

Not Too Sweet

So many people complain that eating healthy is hard and expensive. Last time I checked, sweet potatoes run less than 99 cents per pound this time of year AND they do not run the risk of going bad at the drop of a hat. So, grab some sweet potatoes, find some recipes below and start super-powering your diet with real food.

While sweet potatoes may be a great base for desserts and I would encourage you to eat them instead of something sweet, they are more than just a sweet indulgence. That’s right, sweet potatoes pack a lot of health benefits under their orange flesh. From immune-boosting vi- tamins and minerals to satisfying and blood-sugar-stabilizing dietary fiber, these tubers should be on your plate this winter if not the star of the show.

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, which can help ward off sickness. Vitamin C has been known for years to help boost your immune system. Nature is smart, it knows what vitamins and minerals you need throughout the year and sweet potatoes have your back this winter. Sugar has been shown to weaken the immune system, so if you are craving something sweet, opt for the sweet potato soufflé recipe below and en- sure you do not miss out on any of the fun activities this winter season.

Sometimes potatoes get a bad reputation because they are rich in carbohydrates that could potentially cause blood sugar to spike. While, yes, carbohydrates will naturally cause your blood sugar to rise, a sweet potato also is a good source of dietary fiber. This fiber helps to blunt the effect of carbohydrates on your blood sugar, keeps your energy even keel throughout the day and keeps you satisfied for much longer after a meal. 

Finally, sweet potatoes might be the heart-healthy vegetable you have been looking for this winter. Potatoes are rich in potassium and lower in sodium, making them a blood-pressure-regulating superfood. Most of us consume far too much processed food, which heavily favors sodium, which has been shown to promote unhealthy blood pressure. By adding vegetables like potatoes to your diet, you are increasing the potassium (and hopefully eliminating some processed foods) and thus helping to regulate blood pressure naturally.

I could go on about the other health benefits of potatoes, but I will save you and allow you to enjoy some of my favorite recipes. Enjoy the sweetness nature provides this time of year and reap the health benefits that natural real food can provide. 

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