Jewel of Fall

The versatile and delicious sweet potato

By Karen Frye

As the season moves from the heat of summer to the chill of fall, you will see more sweet potatoes at local markets and roadside stands. North Carolina is one of the country’s best producers, and Moore County, where some of the farms are second and third generation, is no exception.

Defining our diet for the season is a step toward better health. The sweet potato is a warming food, making it especially good to eat in the winter months. Look for foods that are grown within a 50-mile radius and incorporate these fruits and vegetables into your diet as much as possible.

The sweet potato is versatile. You can bake or steam it and serve with a little butter for a delicious side dish. Years ago, when the area was more agrarian and farmers spent much of their time outside in the fields, they would carry a baked sweet potato wrapped in a brown bag in a pocket for an energy-giving snack. I like to peel and cut a sweet potato into little cubes, roast them in the oven, toss the crispy cubes with some salt, and add them to my salad like sweet potato croutons. You can make sweet potato soup by boiling them in water, adding onions (or any favorite vegetable) and making a purée.

My family thinks of the sweet potato as a holiday food. My grandmothers were both exceptional cooks and would put out beautiful spreads of food, much of it grown in their gardens. The candied sweet potatoes, with a lot of butter and a little brown sugar, was one of the yummiest foods on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas and always the first to disappear.

There are many health benefits to eating sweet potatoes. They’re rich in vitamin A, beta carotene and lycopene — all valuable antioxidants. They are one of the few vegetables that boost the body’s production of B12, a vitamin most commonly found in red meat, significant for a plant-based diet. They have lots of vitamin C, potassium, iron and fiber. They can help reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract. And they can increase the production of dopamine, serotonin and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), allowing for sounder sleep.

Get your sweet potatoes locally, if possible, to support the farmers. Find some recipes and see how your health will improve this winter by eating one of the tastiest foods there is.  PS

Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Nature’s Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.

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