By Dr

By Dr

By Dr. Robert Cordell. (

What would you do to reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer? You could do one simple thing that could provide protection from these diseases. Eat more sweet potatoes.

This modest root vegetable is often overlooked and underrated. But if you''re interested in living a longer, healthier life, consider following the example of the people of Okinawa, Japan. These people have the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world and have the highest percentage of centenarians anywhere. They are physically active, do not smoke, and eat seven servings of vegetables and grains daily and sweet potatoes are prominent in their diet. A Sweet Potato a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

An endorsement of sweet potatoes as a nutritious food helpful in the prevention of disease comes from the North Carolina Stroke Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association. And they''re not the only ones noticing the attributes of sweet potatoes.

In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to all other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points over the next on the list, the white potato. The Center strongly recommends eating more sweet potatoes since a nutritious diet is one that is high in fiber, provides many nutrients, is rich in complex carbohydrates, and is low in fat.

More Fiber
The sweet potato is a good source of dietary fiber, which lowers the risk for constipation, diverticulosis, colon and rectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The fiber in sweet potatoes provides a feeling of fullness and satiety, which helps to control food intake.

More Antioxidants
Antioxidants play a role in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, and sweet potatoes supply plenty of the antioxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene. These substances are effective in neutralizing free radicals, which are responsible for damage to cell walls and cell structures. Vitamin E also protects against heart attack and stroke by reducing the harmful effects of low-density cholesterol and preventing blood clots.

Antioxidants are essential for good brain functioning and in delay in the effects of aging on the brain. A low level of vitamin E has been linked with memory loss. A Columbia University study showed a delay of about seven months in the progression of Alzheimer''s disease when subjects consumed high levels of vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin is found mainly in high-fat foods such as oils, nuts, and avocados. Only the sweet potato provides vitamin E without the fat and calories.

Sweet potatoes contain 30 mg (50,000 IU) of beta-carotene (vitamin A) in one cup, which is four times the USRDA. You would have to eat 23 cups of broccoli to consume the same amount of beta-carotene. Health professionals believe that carotenoids give protection from the formation of free radicals and are chemoprotective against cancer.

The Finnish study of 10,000 smokers, reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, tested the effects of taking beta-carotene supplements to prevent lung cancer. It was based on the earlier finding that individuals who have higher blood levels of beta-carotene have a lower incidence of lung cancer. To the researchers'' horror, those who took the supplements actually had a higher rate of lung cancer and the study was discontinued. Researchers concluded that beta-carotene has a protective effect only when consumed in food, the original and best source. The nutrient-packed sweet potato is the richest source of this protective substance.

Low Glycemic Index
Different foods have different effects on blood glucose. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly glucose is absorbed after a person eats, how high glucose rises, and how quickly it returns to normal. A low glycemic index is desirable and is characterized by slow absorption, a modest rise in blood glucose, and a smooth return to normal. Fast absorption, a surge in blood glucose, and an overreaction that plunges glucose below normal are undesirable and are the result of eating foods with a high glycemic index. This distinction is especially important for people with diabetes, whose good health is dependent upon stable blood glucose levels. As a result, getting enough carbohydrates without causing glucose spikes can prove challenging. For example, white potatoes, corn, rice, and white bread all have a high glycemic index and can cause a spike and an ultimate drop in blood sugar. Diabetics and others wanting to avoid glucose highs and lows can turn to sweet potatoes, which have a low glycemic index.

Excellent Source of Potassium
Potassium plays a major role in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and cell integrity. Controlling potassium distribution is a high priority for the body because it affects many aspects of homeostasis, including a steady heartbeat. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of potassium, and sweet potatoes are among the top three richest sources, along with bananas and white potatoes.

"A more frequent part of our regular diet"
Dr. Robert Cordell, emeritus professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, highly recommends sweet potatoes. "Sweet potatoes, a readily available and wonderfully tasteful root vegetable in the southeastern United States, are frequently overlooked regarding their health value. Most remain unaware of the significant health benefits of this low-fat, high fiber vegetable that is such a rich source of vitamins A and E. Sweet potatoes, therefore, contain significant deterrents to heart disease and stroke, both of which tend to be higher in our part of the country. In addition, reports have suggested anti-cancer effects. With these facts in mind, all of us should make sweet potatoes a more frequent part of our regular diet."

Naturally low in calories and high in nutritional value, the sweet potato is Mother Nature''s best work.

Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes:

  • Rated the most nutritious of all vegetables
  • Rich source of anti-oxidants for protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer, and delaying the progression of Alzheimer''s disease
  • Among the top 3 food sources of potassium
  • Low glycemic index for maintaining steady blood glucose levels
  • Fat and cholesterol free
  • High in fiber