Oddly enough, I’ve both been a part of and witness to several debates about yams and sweet potatoes over the past couple of weeks. The first conversation was instigated by me, when I asked a produce manager to explain the difference. The second happened when a cashier at a different store insisted there was no difference as she rang up the sweet potato (or was it a yam?) that I was buying. And the others were exchanges I overhead among various people as I did my own shopping—but none of them had the same answer.
So what’s the deal? Did I just buy a yam or a sweet potato?
According to North Carolina Sweet Potatoes, chances are pretty good that most of us have never even tasted a yam. However, you may be able to find them at an international market as yams typically make their way to the United States from the Caribbean. Their skin is scaly and rough, and the flesh contains less beta-carotene than the familiar sweet potato.
Beta-carotene is a nutrient that you’ve surely heard of. It’s found in vibrant orange-red fruits and vegetables, such as the sweet potato. When it’s digested, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A and oxygenates the skin. As Maria Atwood explains in “Ironing Out the Wrinkles,” this is good for reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Atwood points out many other benefits of sweet potatoes in her article. For example, the fiber makes them a top-notch digestive aid, and the carbohydrates are the complex, slowly released type that our bodies prefer. Adding sweet potatoes to your menu is an easy way to give your overall health and immune system a real boost.
As a matter of fact, cooked sweet potato is also one of the first foods you can offer to your baby. In Super Nutrition for Babies, Katherine Erlich and Kelly Genzlinger advise putting this nutritious food in front of your baby at just 6½ months old—the same time you’d offer bananas and avocados. (Side note: this book would be a fantastic baby shower gift for any woman giving birth for the first time.)
With Thanksgiving just a few days away, you’re sure to be right in the middle of planning the menu (and shopping list). Don’t forget a dish of sweet potatoes, but please skip the marshmallows.