High in fiber, low in calories, and packed with vitamins, sweet potatoes may be one of the most nutritious vegetables on the market. Now, researchers at N.C. State are trying to find new ways to harness the power of the humble tuber.
Mary Ann Lila is the director of N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI). She and her colleagues published an article in the journal Food Science and Nutrition earlier this year describing novel uses for sweet potato juice and flour. From the News and Observer:
The study’s main takeaway is that these vegetables’ functional ingredients can be incorporated into many different snack foods, baby foods, military rations and more.
“In many parts of the world – South America, Oceania and more – sweet potatoes are well recognized as health-protective, nutritious foods,” Lila said. “But in the USA, so many people miss this benefit because they only think of sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and Christmas, served up with maple syrup and marshmallows.
“The truth is that sweet potatoes are so tremendously versatile and full of health-protective phytoactive compounds that are not appreciated by the general public.”
Lila explains how phytoactive compounds can help fight disease:
Bioactive phytochemicals, or ‘phytoactives,’ are natural compounds that accumulate inside an edible plant. When a fruit or vegetable is eaten, these natural compounds protect our cells against the ravages of free radicals and provide anti-inflammatory benefits that help to attenuate human disease incidence and progression.
Lila is looking for ways to make these compounds more accessible by adding sweet potato components to other foods, including flour mixes, rice protein concentrates, and juices. From the PHHI:
Through the use of functional ingredients, sweet potato’s health benefits may still find their way into the pantry and more importantly, into the hands of a society facing an onslaught of chronic disease that could be ameliorated with better food choices.
North Carolina leads the nation in sweet potato production, harvesting 1.8 billion pounds in 2014.