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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Amazing health benefits of sweet potatoes in our daily diets

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By Modou NS N’jie


The idea behind this column is to promote the culture of eating what we grow and growing what we eat. This column is proudly sponsored by FARM FRESH which is The Gambia’s first online vegetables and fruits delivery service (www.farmfresh.gm) allowing anyone from within The Gambia or abroad to place orders online or via phone and have the items delivered to their doorsteps at home or at the office.  All the vegetables are locally grown (organic).

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It goes without saying that a healthy mind can only be found in a healthy body. There is also a saying which appears simple but it is in fact deep in meaning, “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT”.

“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” -Ancient Earthian Ayurvedic Proverb. It is for these reasons Farm Fresh is happy to partner with Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute, in order to create awareness and acceptance of our locally grown vegetables and fruits. Understanding what we eat and how we eat plays a significant role in our overall health and well-being.

This week, we will take a look at the amazing health benefits of eating sweet potatoes in our diets. We are also happy to share some easy-to-make sweet potato recipes for your family and businesses and we hope you will find this article interesting. Thank you and welcome to the journey towards healthy eating. Remember the slogan “You are what you eat”.

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What are sweet potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are another vegetable superfood with potent nutrients. It is a starchy, sweet tasty root vegetable and a major source of carbohydrate in the diet. It has a thin, brown outer skin with bright colored flesh. Mostly commonly orange, but other varieties in The Gambia include white, purple, pink or yellow. You can eat sweet potatoes whole or peeled and the leaves of the plant are edible too, which is a popular choice for weekend family lunches.

Origin of sweet potatoes

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The origin and domestication of sweet potato occurred in either central or south America. The purpose of this article is to uncover the amazing health benefits of sweet potatoes that can be readily sourced as well as share some easy and healthy recipes for a perfect breakfast, Lunch, snack or dinner.

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How did sweet potatoes reach The Gambia?

Just like other African countries, subsistence farmers grow a lot of sweet potatoes. They’ve been doing it for centuries ever since the Portuguese brought the first sweet potatoes here from Latin America. The sweet potatoes that arrived in Africa were white, yellow and red. Sweet potatoes are mostly grown in the rural areas of the Gambia.

Nutrients found in sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients such as Vitamin A, C and E, Carbohydrates, Folate, potassium, magnesium, iron, and dietary fiber which makes them perfect for our dietary needs.

Health benefits of sweet potato

Sweet potato is one of the superfoods due to its high nutrient content. It is very high in folate and has a significant function in DNA synthesis. Despite its amazing nutritional content, sweet potatoes are least consumed in The Gambia compared to regular potatoes. Research shows that they may provide the following health benefits. Sweet potatoes are locally available in our grocery stores.

1.         Weight management/weight loss

Sweet potatoes contain almost twice the amount of fiber compared to other potatoes. The high fiber content gives them a slow burning quality and as a result their calorie energy is used more slowly and efficiently than a low fiber carbohydrate. This therefore helps with weight management.

2.         Lowers blood pressure

Sweet potatoes contain a large amount of vitamin B6 which prevents the hardening of the arteries and blood vessels. The high presence of potassium in sweet potatoes plays an important function in lowering blood pressure by ridding the body of excess sodium thereby regulating fluid balance. An important function of potassium is to regulate the natural rhythm balance of the heart and maintain a normal function of the central nervous system and brain.

3.         Control blood sugar level

Sweet potatoes contain important compounds like Manganese, a trace mineral that has amazing health benefits. It helps support healthy blood sugar levels and when boiled, sweet potatoes are low in the glycemic index, meaning they won’t raise your blood level as quickly compared with high glycemic index foods. Ultimately sweet potatoes could help minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes.

4.         May reduce the risk of cancer

Sweet potatoes contain Beta Carotene which is converted by the body to vitamin A, a very significant antioxidant. Research has shown that the antioxidants in the peel of the sweet potatoes, especially purple sweet potatoes, may help reduce this oxidation process, thereby reducing the risk of cancer. To get the most nutrition from your sweet potatoes, don’t peel – simply scrub well before cooking. One medium potato would provide the body with the complete recommended allowance of vitamin A, which is useful in the prevention of several different types of cancer.

5.         Good eye health and skin

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which may slow the progress of macular degeneration. Your body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Beta carotene and vitamin A also helps reduce the risk of eye infections.

6.         Prevent disease and longevity

Sweet potatoes are also very rich in vitamin C and E, powerful antioxidant vitamins that play a very important role in the prevention of diseases and promote longevity.

Sweet potato recipes

1.         Sweet potato cake

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o          1.5 LBS sweet potato

o          1/3 diced onions

o          Half cup bread crumbs

o          2 tbsp sour cream

o          Salt and pepper to taste

o          Fresh parsley

o          Vegetable oil for cooking

Cooking instructions

o          Mashed sweet potatoes in a mixing bowl until smooth.

o          Add green onions, sour cream, fresh parsley, egg, bread crumbs, grated garlic and mix well

o          Add salt and pepper, mix well and taste and correct seasoning as needed.

o          Preheat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add some vegetable oil

o          Form sweet potato patties and cook for about 5/7 minutes on each side. Use a small spatula and flip carefully and serve.

2.         Sweet potato smoothie

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o          ? cup of cooked sweet potato, tightly packed

o          1 cup almond milk or milk of choice

o          2 to 3 dates, pitted

o          ?inch knob of fresh ginger (or ? teaspoon dried ginger)

o          ?teaspoon ground turmeric

o          ?teaspoon ground cinnamon

o          ? cup of any low-fat yogurt(optional)

o          Ice, as needed to thicken

Cooking instructions

o          In a blender, combine the sweet potato, milk, 2 dates, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and hemp hearts if using. Blend until very smooth.

o          Taste the mixture, then blend in another date if more sweetness is desired. Once smooth, add in a heaping cup of ice cubes and blend until they are totally broken down. You can add more ice if you’d like a thicker shake but keep in mind that more ice will dilute the overall flavor

o          Serve chilled right away.

3.         Sweet potato curry

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Ingredients serves 4

o          2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

o          1 large onion quartered

o          400-gram fresh tomatoes

o          Sea salt

o          6 garlic cloves

o          3 tablespoons curry powder

o          1 sweet pepper

o          1 cup cooked chickpeas

o          2 sweet potatoes peeled and cubed into 1 cube

o          1 can of coconut milk

o          Juice of 1 small lime

o          Water or Stock as needed

o          3 cups spinach

o          Cooked rice or noodles.

Cooking instructions

o          In a deep pot over medium-high heat, add the extra virgin olive oil

o          Add in the onions, garlic and tomatoes. Grind some sea salt and ground black pepper over the mixture and stir together.

o          Add in the chickpeas and the sweet potatoes, stirring to combine. Add in curry powder, and sweet pepper Stir for about 30 seconds in the heat, until the spices become fragrant.

o          Add in the milk and stir again. Bring the curry to a boil, and then reduce to medium-low so that the mixture continues to simmer for about 20 to 30 more minutes until the sweet potatoes are fully cooked through and are knife tender.

o          Stir in the spinach and squeeze a lime lightly over the top of the curry (don’t skip the lime), stirring to combine. Remove the curry from the heat. Taste the curry and season with more salt and pepper if you desire.

o          Allow to cool slightly and for the spinach to wilt in the heat until wilted (about 3 minutes). Then serve with rice or noodles. Enjoy!

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