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Making life better: What’s so great about sweet potatoes?

By Laurie Welch

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, sweet potatoes are an important part of dinner for many families.

Sweet potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Sweet potatoes also contain niacin, folate and iron. Sweet potatoes are also rich in beta carotene, this is important to help make Vitamin A-important for maintain your vision, fighting off illness and keeping your skin and bones healthy.

Like most vegetables, sweet potatoes are low in fat and cholesterol free.

Sweet potatoes can be prepared with sweet or savory dishes. They go well with meats, fruits and other vegetables. Canned, frozen or fresh sweet potatoes are available all year round.

The canned sweet potatoes are sometime packed in heavy syrup which make them higher in sugar and fat and lower in vitamins than the fresh ones. For canned sweet potatoes choose no sugar added or drain syrup before using.

HOW TO SELECT AND STORE SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potatoes are more fragile than white potatoes. Use extra care when selecting them.

Look for sweet potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins. Avoid sweet potatoes with worm holes, cuts and soft spots.

Because sweet potatoes have a thin skin that is easily damaged, store them in a cool, dry place. In these conditions, they will keep for a month or longer. At room temperature, sweet potatoes should be used within a week.

PREPARATION TIPS

Before cooking sweet potatoes, it is best to scrub the potatoes under cold running water.

To bake sweet potatoes, pierce them with a fork to help the steam escape.

Bake until you can poke a fork into the soft inside, this should take about 30 minutes for small potatoes and up to 60 minutes for larger ones.

Sweet potatoes can be boiled without peeling. The skins will slip off easily when the potatoes are done-allowing more nutrients to stay in the potato. Sweet potato skins can be eaten too, which will give you more fiber.

If you want to microwave your sweet potatoes, pierce them several times with a fork. Place them on a paper towel. Cooking time for two medium potatoes is 5-9 minutes.

In order to keep the sweet potatoes low in calories and fat, watch how much sugar, butter or marshmallow that you add to for your holiday recipe.

HOW TO GROW SWEET

POTATOES

Sweet potatoes are started from plants called “slips.” Set the plants 12-18 inches apart. Plant them on a raised ridge about 8 inches higher than the soil around them. Allow at least 1-2 feet between rows.

Sweet potatoes need minimal care to keep down weeds. Do not water during the last 3-4 weeks before the harvest, which occurs toward the beginning of fall. Dig them out around the time of the first frost. Use a spading fork or stout shovel. Be careful not do bruise, cut or damage the roots.

HEALTHY MASHED SWEET POTATOES

Serves 6 (1/2 cup serving)

Ingredients: 4 small-medium sweet potatoes, 3/4 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper

Instructions:

Wash, and pierce the sweet potato with a fork. Wrap them in paper towels. Microwave for 10 minutes with the skins on. Allow them to rest for 5 minutes. With a large spoon, scoop out the warm potatoes from the skin and put in a bowl. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the potatoes. Mix in thyme, salt and pepper.

Calories: 100; total fat: 0; carbohydrate: 23g and dietary fiber: 4 g

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Laurie Welch is a nutrition and family issues educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, 570-726-0022.

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