Sweet potatoes are mostly known as a side dish at the Thanksgiving table of mostly every household in the United States. In fact, sweet potatoes are so popular, agricultural production results in over 2.6 billion pounds of sweet potatoes each year. With so many sweet potatoes out there in the U.S. and around the globe it makes this sweet, antioxidant-rich vegetable easy to find on any grocer’s shelf. But aside from the traditional, fattening and sugar laden sweet potatoes dish that many of us dive into late in November, the sweet potato can be prepared in a number of healthy ways. With all the health benefits they offer, having them on our menu more than a few times a year is a must. This nutritional powerhouse is not only delicious but can also boost your health and performance.
Vitamin A. sweet potatoes are packed with Vitamin A, the fat-soluble vitamin that leads to better eyesight and better immune function. Because Vitamin A deficiency is associated with decreased resistance to infection, a diet devoid of this vitamin (and other vital antioxidants) can easily sideline training. Long mileage can put you at risk for suppressed immune function, which can lead to upper respiratory tract infections. A way to fight back is to aim for a daily intake of 900ug retinol activity equivalents (RAE) for men and 700ug for women. A medium-sized baked sweet potato can supply you with over 100 percent (or more) of your daily needs.
Beta-Carotene. The bright orange color of a sweet potato you know it must be full of beta-carotene which helps to protect your skin from sun damage by deflecting and repairing cell damage caused by excessive UV exposure. Along with Vitamin A, beta-carotene is critical for eye health and has been linked to prevention of vision loss and macular degeneration. Like the fat-soluble vitamin A, you need just a little bit of fat (3-5 grams) in your meal to help you best absorb this nutrient. Luckily, it’s not hard to convince many runners to top their mashed sweet potatoes with a bit of heart-healthy grass-fed butter or chopped nuts.
Carbohydrates: You know you need them to fuel your workouts and long runs, but did you know that plain, mashed sweet potatoes make an excellent mid-run fuel? Simply peel and boil a medium sweet potato. Mash it and place it in a zipper storage bag. When you start to need fuel (and your taste buds simply can’t take another gel or block or bean), tear off a corner of the bag and squeeze. A cup of mashed sweet potato contains 58 grams of carbohydrates, which will easily fuel you for an hour. Like gels, don’t forget to chase with water!
Vitamin C. Running is known to increase oxidative stress and free radicals, which over time can lead to damaged cells, tissues, and organs. Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, naturally fights against oxidative stress and the free radicals it creates. While Vitamin C might not prevent your next cold, but it has been found to shorten the duration. And while you may have taken supplements in the past, most experts agree it’s best to get this antioxidant from real food.
Manganese. While you don’t hear much about manganese, this trace mineral offers some powerful health benefits. It is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, thereby supporting healthy blood sugar levels. It also plays a role in bone metabolism (bone health). Manganese is commonly found in nuts and legumes; sweet potatoes are another great source of this nutrient.
It’s easy to prepare sweet potatoes, you can mash them and keep them plain, make a sweet potato gratin or casserole with a topping of chopped nuts and spices, puree them and create a hummus-type dip, simply boil them, turn them into homemade baked fries. There are endless possibilities with amazing health benefits.