In recent years I have seen various organizations hyping orange fleshed sweet potatoes.This is more common in low and middle-income countries and families. In these countries/families the threat of vitamin A deficiency is still very high. And this superfood has a potential to alleviate this problem. Not only that, these sweet potatoes can also be special vitamin A sources for vegetarians.
So, when I was searching for this information I drew a lot of interesting questions. Here are the most important ones:
- What are they?
- What’s so special about these orange sweet potatoes?
- Are they different from other sweet potatoes besides the flesh colour?
These are the questions you may be asking yourself. And I hope to provide you with their answers.
So, what are they?
Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are just like any other sweet potato. The only differences are in their yellowish to orange flesh colour. And also in their nutritional compositions. Some of the varieties are starchy whilst others are less starchy. From my personal experiences, I have realised that most people prefer starchy varieties. A study in Mozambique also highlighted the same. However, others the less starchy sweeter tasting varieties.
The intensity of the orange colours differs between different varieties. Some are lighter whilst others have darker orange colours. The darker the colour the higher the phytochemical content.
And also, these sweet potatoes are an excellent food and nutrient source for your family.
Adoption of orange sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a part of the diet in many countries worldwide. However, the adoption of orange fleshed varieties has been low beside their nutritional benefits. Especially in Southern Africa where cream and white-fleshed sweet potatoes are common. I remember in my village we used to have orange sweet potatoes vines. However, no one cared about them and they were lost.
Various organisations like LFSP and HarvestPlus have been pushing for the adoption of this sweet potato. This would help curb the effects of hidden hunger.
Hidden hunger is defined as micronutrient deficiency. While most people have enough food to be full, some suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. And vitamin A deficiency is one of the most critical ones. So, orange fleshed sweet potatoes offer a solution to vitamin A deficiency.
So, let’s answer another question!
What’s so special about sweet potatoes?
Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are a healthy carbohydrate source. Because they are rich in both starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates. The carbohydrates in sweet potatoes can help stabilise blood sugar levels. They also reduce risks of post meal blood sugar and insulin spikes. And both of these can lead to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Several studies have also shown that these sweet potatoes are rich in several micronutrients. Therefore, they can be our ticket out of hidden hunger. And since they are inexpensive to grow, they also help ensure food security.
Also orange and purple-fleshed sweet potatoes are rich in healthy phytochemicals. These bioactive compounds offer additional health benefits.
And all this makes them ideal for combating family level micronutrient deficiency.
Also read: Reasons why vegetables are good for you!
Unlike white-fleshed sweet potatoes, the orange and purple-fleshed ones are richer in anthocyanins and carotenoids. These give additional health benefits. Which makes the orange or purple fleshed sweet potatoes better than white fleshed ones.
With all these benefits, you shouldn’t be asking, “Why these sweet potatoes”.
The simplest answer is; Why not!
What can orange sweet potatoes do?
There are 2 main factors on orange fleshed sweet potatoes that set them apart from others.
The first is that they are excellent sources of beta carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids. Provitamin A carotenoids, can be converted to vitamin A in the body.
So, why is this important?
These sweet potatoes are an extremely rich source of provitamin A carotenoids. This means they are excellent sources of vitamin A. And they provide a rich plant based vitamin A source.
Note: Animal based foods are rich sources of vitamin A. However, those depending on plant based foods are at a risk of vitamin A deficiency. Especially, if they have inadequate food or their diet is not balanced. So, these sweet potatoes provide a low cost vitamin A source for every level of the economic level. Inclusive of the rich, the poor and those in the middle.
And just 125 g of orange fleshed sweet potatoes can provide you with your daily vitamin A requirements!
This may not be important to middle and high-income families. But to low-income families, this is a lifesaver. Because adequate vitamin A means, an improvement in overall health. Including, improved immunity, eyesight, skin and epithelial tissues.
Also, both the provitamin A and non-provitamin A carotenoids in the orange sweet potatoes offer powerful antioxidant properties.
These antioxidants play an important role in the prevention of tissue damage in the body. They reduce the risks of oxidative stress and diseases.
Additionally, this sweet potato has great potential as a healthy carbohydrate source in the healthy food industry.
Also, read about these in: The reason why avocadoes cause bloating in some people
Due to these benefits, various organizations are using orange sweet potatoes in interventions to combat vitamin A deficiency. Most of these programs are targeting high-risk regions such as Southern Africa.
As you can see, this is not a normal sweet potato. These sweet potatoes have so much to offer than their white-fleshed counterparts.
In the next article of the series, we discuss the nutritional value of orange fleshed sweet potatoes. Read it here: 12 Of the best orange fleshed sweet potatoes nutrition facts