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If your sweet potato experience is limited to eating them twice a year in holiday casseroles topped with marshmallows, you're missing out on a powerful and delicious food to help your heart. This antioxidant-rich root vegetable can be part of your heart-healthy diet.
The Cleveland Clinic, a premier U.S. heart hospital, has recommended the sweet potato as one of the 40 most powerful foods for heart health.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with the heart-healthy antioxidants beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A) and anthocyanin.
Compared with a russet potato, a sweet potato has:
-- nearly as much potassium
-- a bit more vitamin C
-- a bit more fiber (if you eat the skin)
-- more than a day's worth of vitamin A (russets have no vitamin A)
-- the same number of calories (about 100 for a medium potato)
The most popular sweet potatoes in the United States are the moist, orange-fleshed garnet, jewel, and Beauregard varieties, but several others are available.
For the most part, different varieties can be used interchangeably in recipes, although the moist, orange-fleshed ones generally are a little sweeter and take a little longer to cook. Ask your local grocers which ones they sell or look for the more unusual varieties at farmer's markets.
Buying tip: The vegetable may be labeled as sweet potatoes at one grocery store and yams at the next, but officially, they're all sweet potatoes. A real yam is hard to find, unless you go to an ethnic market.
Read on to gain confidence and knowledge in shopping for, storing, and cooking with sweet potatoes.
We asked experts to share their tips for buying, storing, and enjoying sweet potatoes.
Pass up sweet potatoes with soft or sunken sports or sprouts, says Jason Tucker of The Sweet Potato Council of California.
Store sweet potatoes loose in a cool (55-65 degrees F), dark place. "Refrigerated sweet potatoes will develop an off-taste, a hard center, and won't be as sweet," says Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.
"Leftover cooked sweet potatoes work great in recipes such as quick breads or soups," says Holly Clegg, national spokeswoman for the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission.
Store leftover cooked sweet potatoes in a zipper-lock bag in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how quickly you plan to use them.
Ordering at restaurants:
Be sure to check how the sweet potatoes are prepared and how large the serving is before you order, says Marsha McCulloch, M.S., R.D., Heart-Healthy Living staff dietitian. You may want to split it with a companion. Avoid toppers such as marshmallows and choose baked sweet potatoes over sweet potato fries, which restaurants often deep-fat fry.
There are several ways to cut sweet potatoes and countless ways to use them.
1. Shredded sweet potatoes:
Toss raw sweet potato in salads.
2. Mashed sweet potatoes:
Use in baked goods, such as muffins, cakes, and cookies.
3. Sweet potato sticks:
Cut into sticks and dip in low-fat sour cream.
4. Cubed sweet potatoes:
Add to soups and stews.
Want sweet potatoes in a hurry? Look for them in these forms at your grocery store.
Whether you like them as cubes or fries, you can find ready-to-cook sweet potatoes in your grocer's refrigerated produce section. (Products shown from Green Giant and Mann's Sunny Shores.)
Check your grocer's freezer for ready-to-bake sweet potato fries. (Products shown from McCain, Alexis, and Ian's.)
Several companies offer sweet potatoes in shrink-wrapped convenience. Just cook them for 4-6 minutes in your microwave and add your favorite low-fat toppings. (Products shown from Green Giant.)
Get sweet potato chips in a bag for a crunchy, on-the-go treat. (Products shown from Seneca.)
Get cooking with sweet potatoes!
This sweet potato fry recipe is a lower-fat (and tasty!) alternative to traditional fries. You'll need just four ingredients for a side dish that will please everyone in your family.
This power-packed beef stew is brimming with colorful, nutritious vegetables (including sweet potatoes, carrots, roma tomatoes, and mushrooms).
Friends and family will ask for this moist, delicious cake made from mashed sweet potatoes again and again. Best of all, it has less than 300 calories per delicious serving!