Sweet potatoes are not only one of the cheapest vegetables on the planet, they are also one of the healthiest. According to NutritionFacts.org, these versatile and tasty tubers pack a nutritional wallop. In fact, a recent study released by the University of Washington claims sweet potatoes had the highest food score per dollar.
They are great sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A and have scientifically proven anti-cancer benefits. Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in beta-carotene – found primarily in orange vegetables and leafy greens – have a reduced risk of cancer, particularly of the lung, colon, and stomach.
Among premenopausal women, one study found eating a lot of vegetables (like sweet potatoes) that include beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C, and fiber reduces the risk of breast cancer by half.
Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. says a special protein was discovered in sweet potatoes in 1931 that is a protease inhibitor with potential anti-cancer benefits.
"These proteins were originally tested against leukemia and appeared to suppress the growth of leukemia cells in a petri dish," he said.
Researchers have also applied this sweet potato protein on tongue cancer cells and the sweet potato proteins rapidly killed the cancer in a matter of days, leading researchers to propose sweet potatoes might be useful for human tongue cancer therapy.
"Tongue cancer is often treated with chemotherapy, and most of the chemo drugs for tongue cancer have great aversive effects," Greger said. "So, it's indispensable for us to find other therapeutic strategies."
Researchers recently tried sweet potatoes proteins on colorectal cancer cells. Greger reports, not only did the sweet potato proteins slow down the growth of colon cancer cells, but they also decreased cancer cell migration and invasion.
Other experts point out the dietary fiber in a medium sweet potato helps with blood sugar regulation making it a good choice for people with type 2 diabetes. The anthocyanins and other color-related pigments in a sweet potato have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. A study by the Food & Nutrition Research, an annual peer-reviewed medical journal, found the anthocyanins are also beneficial to eye health.
Eating sweet potatoes has also been associated with lower gallbladder cancer rates says Greger. According to nutritionist and food expert George Mateljan, the best way to cook sweet potatoes to reap the most health benefits is steaming rather than roasting. If you are using organic potatoes, there is no reason to remove the skin. If you are cooking conventional tubers, steam first and then remove the skin to retain the nutrients found in the skin.
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