Yams and Sweet Potatoes – Are They the Same Thing?

Yams and sweet potatoes are often confused, but actually they do not have a great deal in common. There are obvious differences in appearances, and the yam can grow to a whopping 100 pounds or 45 kilos whereas the sweet potato is smaller. The yam has a rough scaly skin with some nodules on it but the sweet potato has a smooth much thinner skin. This being so you can tell by looking, usually which is which.

In Britain yams are more prevalent as they grow in the Caribbean and are imported from there into both the UK and the US. Britain has had a West Indian community since the 1950s, so they have been used there for more than half a century.

The yam originates in West Africa, while the sweet potato comes originally from Peru and Ecuador in the South American continent, and is now grown in Asia. In Pakistan we have lots of sweet potatoes but I haven’t seen a yam, here yet. The sweet potato is not related to the yam which is a member of the lily family or Dioscorea family, while the sweet potato is Ipomoea batatas, and a member of the Convolvulaceae family which means it is related to Morning Glory and field bindweed. Scientists believe this has been around since prehistoric times, but the yam has only been with us since 50,000 BC or thereabouts.

The US department of Agriculture requires that sweet potatoes be labeled as yams- sweet potatoes, so look carefully at the label on the packaging when you buy one of these edible roots.

There are clearly health benefits from both vegetables, but the sweet potato contains more sugars in the form of glucose, fructose and sucrose. It is useful for desserts as well as an accompaniment to the Thanksgiving turkey.

The sweet potato has the edge over the yam in terms of nutritional content, as it contains more beta-carotene, easily recognized because this is what gives fruit and vegetables the distinctive orange colour; carrots contain a lot of it for example. Both contain Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and as we don’t get enough of Omega-3 in our traditional Western diets, these ‘potatoes’ are useful sources, especially if you are not fond of salmon and other oily fish.

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A and C and also contain vitamins E, K and the B-complex vitamins which are essential for our mental and physical health. Nutritionally it has the edge as long as you don’t mind the sugar content and its sweetness. It is good for the immune system and the vitamins C, A and E have potent antioxidant properties and this means that the free radicals which damage our healthy cells and can cause them to become cancerous are inhibited. They are a good source of dietary fibre too and surprisingly low in calories if baked. These are moist but yams are dry and not so watery.

Personally I prefer the sweet variety because I am not fond of the more starchy taste of the yam, but they both have dietary fibre and so prevent constipation and reduce the risks of colon cancer.

The Ipomoea batatas variety is the one to go for if you don’t have a problem with sugar, but having said that, the dioscorin present in yams is thought to help lower blood pressure effectively.

I suppose it’s a matter of taste as to which you eat, but remember that neither of these vegetables are actually related to the true potato, although you can use both in exactly the same ways as you do the potato which is related to tomatoes and aubergines (egg plants). The flavour and texture is different and these two vegetables arguably have more health benefits.

Why not sample both and find out which you prefer?

Sweet Potato Salads and a Soup!

If you think sweet potatoes are only for Thanksgiving, you’re missing out on one of nature’s most versatile foods! Try these easy, delicious recipes and you’ll change your mind. Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are such a pretty color that they dress up any table or party buffet. Sweet potato salads make a refreshing, healthful change from ordinary potato salads. The Sweet Potato Bisque is so good that it’s bound to become a family favorite.

Sweet Potato-Cranberry Salad

2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut in 1/2″ chunks

1 small red onion, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons mango chutney

1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or to taste

Steam the sweet potatoes until they are just tender, about 15-20 minutes. As soon as they are done, rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking and drain.

Meanwhile, combine the other ingredients in a serving bowl. When the sweet potatoes are ready, mix them in. Chill until ready to serve.

6-8 servings

Sweet Potato Salad with Pineapple

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ – 1/2″ cubes

2 stalks celery, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 cup fresh or canned pineapple, cut into 1/2″ tidbits

1 cup cooked, chilled barley

1 cup yogurt or fat-free mayonnaise

1/4 cup bottled mango chutney (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves or flat parsley leaves (optional)

Cook the sweet potato cubes until they are just tender: either steam them in a steamer for 8-10 minutes, or cook them in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking; drain.

Combine the sweet potato cubes with the remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

4-6 servings

Sweet Potato Bisque

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

8 cups bouillon

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper

pinch cayenne, to taste

1/4 cup brandy (optional)

2 cups light coconut milk or soy milk

Combine the onion, celery, sweet potatoes, bouillon, curry powder and peppers in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. With a slotted spoon, remove about 2 cups of the vegetables and set aside. Puree the remaining soup with a hand blender until it is fairly smooth. Return the vegetables to the pot, stir in the brandy and coconut or soy milk, and heat through.

6-8 servings

Sweet Addiction – Artificial Sweeteners Not So Sweet After All

Sugar substitutes were first developed in the 1950’s when a clinic director worked to develop a sugar-free diet for patients suffering from diabetes and other chronic conditions. The industry took off, and today diet sodas and sugar substitutes make up a huge part of the market. The idea that sugar substitutes are healthy alternatives is rooted in the American psyche, no matter the evidence to the contrary. Worse yet, the prevalence of artificial sweeteners, corn syrup and refined sugars in the majority of American foods have created a country of sweet-addicts.

We are wired to crave some sweetness in our foods, especially during the winter and in childhood. This craving was meant to drive us to take in healthy carbohydrates in the form of naturally sweet plant foods. Due to the extravagant amount of sweeteners in the majority of our foods and their extreme levels, many of us can no longer detect natural sweetness in healthy plant foods. We’re not wired to handle this exorbitant amount of sweetness. This excess triggers unhealthy food cravings and addiction.

The craving children have for natural sweetness (for growth and development) would normally wane in adolescence. Instead, this waning is defeated by sweet addiction. When we eat refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, our brains believe that we’re getting nutrients we need. Instead, we don’t get any real nutrients, so appetite and food cravings are re-triggered. Our bodies aren’t looking for more sweetness necessarily-they’re looking for real food! Furthermore, when we take in these low-nutrient foods and drinks, we have less room for the good stuff.

Diet Sodas and Drinks
Diet soda has been linked to kidney damage and diet sodas and sweetened water beverages are linked to weight gain!
At the University of Texas, diet-soda drinkers prove to be heavier than non-diet soda drinkers. Lead researcher Sharon Fowler says, “There was a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day.”

Purdue University scientists have found that in a rat study, artificial sweeteners increased caloric intake, body weight and body fat percentage.

And addiction? Cocaine-addicted rats choose saccharin-sweetened water above and beyond cocaine-doses, even when the researchers upped the drug levels!

Sweetened food and drink actually changes the taste buds, creating cravings for more sweetened foods.
One study looked at brain activity in women that ingested water sweetened with sugar and that sweetened with sucralose (what you might recognize as Splenda).

Both sweeteners activated pleasure centers in the brain, but sucralose didn’t produce as much satiation. The craving wasn’t really satisfying and so triggered increased cravings for more sweet stuff.

The nutrients that many sweetened waters are said to contain are often present in only the most minuscule amounts or are in forms that our bodies can’t make use of. Isolated vitamins and minerals don’t have the beneficial health effects that those in whole foods do. It’s the whole package-the combination of protein, lipids, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals-in plants that produce positive health effects.

Dangerous Chemicals
The following are some of the most common (and most dangerous) food additives used today.

Acesulfame K
This brand-new artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Little research has been done yet but early studies have linked it with certain cancers and thyroid conditions.

Artificial Flavoring
Artificial flavoring can mean that a food or beverage contains any one of 3,000 allowable chemicals, many of which have negative health effects.

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA file of complaints concerning aspartame ingestion includes reports of dizziness, headaches and memory loss. Some studies suggest it is a carcinogen.

Benzene is produced by the bottling process of many beverages. It is a noted carcinogen that has been linked to heart rate issues, infertility and seizures.

Cyclamates are among the first artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks. They were once banned by the FDA because of suspicion of their link to cancer but they are once again up for FDA approval.

Food Coloring
Many food colorings are linked to ADD/ADHD, asthma and cancer. Although several of these are banned in other countries, the US commonly makes use of Blue #1 and #2, FD &C colors, Ponceau, Red 2 (Amaranth), Red #3 (Erythrosine), Red #40 (Allura Red), Tartrazine, Yellow #2G, Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow), Yellow  #23 (Acid Yellow).

Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)
Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The public stopped purchasing products made with the sweetener when they learned of it’s possible link to cancer. Studies didn’t ‘prove’ this link, so it is once again common in many artificially-sweetened foods. Saccharin is linked, however, to addiction to sweetness, obesity and overeating.

Sucralose (Splenda)
Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Sucralose was an accidental discovery: it was originally part of a new insecticide compound. Chlorinated compounds such as sucralose were thought to pass through the body undigested. Recent research has found that up to 40% of chlorinated compounds become stockpiled in the intestinal tract, kidneys and liver. Chlorine has been classified as a carcinogen.

Reversing the Addiction
We can reverse our addiction to unhealthy sweeteners and restore our ability to taste the natural sweetness in whole foods over time. It will seem difficult at first, but I can’t encourage you more strongly to put down the diet sodas and the colored sweetener packets! These chemicals are foreign to our bodies and will not help you achieve any of your health goals.

Replace artificial sweeteners (and refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) with natural sweeteners like stevia, xylitol and small amounts of agave nectar or raw honey. Stevia is my personal favorite, as it is a no calorie, natural sweetener from the stevia plant. You will want to make sure you use a high quality brand that has not been overly processed. Stevia is also a great option for people dealing with diabetes, as it will not spike your blood sugar levels.
In the long run, your best bet is to use very little of even these natural sweeteners so that your body’s cravings, food triggers and metabolism are restored to healthy functioning.