Fitness Friday: Consider the Sweet Potato.

“Fitness Friday? Is that a ~thing~ now?”

Yes. Sometimes. When we feel like it. (Which is right now.)

Hey, so remember when we were talking about how laziness (properly channeled) can IMPROVE health? This is the second installation of that series.

I love food. LOVE it. I like eating it and cooking it and learning about it. What I *don’t* like is vegetables — not just because most of them taste gross (they do) (I dislike bitterness), but because almost every vegetable requires some sort of preparation in order to be edible (much less palatable). You can chuck a banana or apple in a lunch bag and call it good. You can’t just toss a raw zucchini or pumpkin in your lunch bag and eat it. (Can you? Can you eat raw zucchini? That sounds terrible.)

FORTUNATELY, the sweet potato.

Not only is it the only vegetable I will admit to liking, but it requires virtually zero preparation. Yeah, you still have to cook it, but it’s easy — stab it a few times, chuck it in a preheated oven, check back an hourish later, and have a sweet potato. You don’t even have to peel it! Yay!

WHAT IS A SWEET POTATO

It is NOT a yam. Yams are about the length and thickness of an arm or forearm. They resemble tree roots. They have an extremely tough, fibrous, woody exterior, and a tough, fibrous, interior. If you are not somewhere vaguely tropical, odds are good that the thing you are calling a “yam” is just a sweet potato. (There is an orange-fleshed variety of sweet potato called a “garnet yam,” but it is not a true yam. It is a variety of sweet potato.) I give you permission to be extremely pedantic this Thanksgiving.

Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that look quite similar to regular potatoes. They come in multiple colors; the flesh may be yellow, orange, white, or purple, and the exterior may be red, tan, brown, or purplish. The varieties may differ somewhat — in my experience, orange-fleshed varieties are moister and cook up softer (perfect for mashed sweet potatoes, or to throw into soups), while the white-fleshed ones are stiffer and make for better baked/steamed/boiled dishes. They all taste sweetish and less starch-y than regular potatoes. (At my grocery store, the orange-fleshed ones come in the reddish-purple jackets, and the white-fleshed in the tan jackets.)

WHY EAT THEM

They are delicious, but they are also SO good for you. They contain a bazillion vitamins and minerals — Vitamins A, C, B 1/2/3/6, manganese, copper, potassium — as well as a lot of fiber (fills you up! eases constipation!) and even stuff like biotin (makes your hair and nails pretty. Also, breaks me out if I take it as a supplement). This is the Captain America of “superfoods” — wholesome, sweet, pretty. (YES I MANAGED TO WORK CAPTAIN AMERICA INTO A HEALTH FOOD POST, DEAL WITH IT.)

WHY NOT JUST EAT REGULAR POTATOES THO

I mean, go ahead and eat regular potatoes, too! Regular potatoes are delicious. But if you suffer from hypoglycemia (me) or diabetes (not me — yet), you might be familiar with the concept of “glycemic load” (and the useful glycemic index) — basically, throwing too much sugar at your body at once results in Bad Things. A low ‘glycemic load’ is good — it means your body won’t have to deal with too much glucose all at once. Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic load compared to regular potatoes (11 vs 42 — a pretty big discrepancy). (And I think they taste better than regular potatoes.)

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH IT

Pretty much anything. It’s a versatile vegetable — it tastes good when prepared salty, savory, or sweet; as a main dish or side (or dessert); when fried, baked, roasted, sauteed, boiled, mashed. (In my opinion, it is not good when eaten raw.)

THAT’S A LOT OF THINGS. GIVE ME JUST A HANDFUL OF THINGS I CAN DO WITH IT.

Okay!

RECIPE 1: ROASTED SWEET POTATO

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Or 400, or 350. Sweet potatoes aren’t picky — which means if you’re already baking something else, it’s easy to chuck a sweet potato in the oven with it.
  2. Buy and wash a sweet potato. (Preferably, it will be roughly the same thickness all the way through — it cooks more evenly that way — but if not, that’s fine too.)
  3. Stab it with a sharp knife or fork.*
  4. Place it on a foil-lined baking sheet, or wrap it loosely in foil (though if you do this, make sure the foil is sealed tight), or throw it in whatever pan you’ve got in the oven already.
  5. Bake for 40 – 80 minutes. This depends on the thickness of your potato, the temperature at which you’re cooking, and your desired softness. If I’m going to mash it, I like it very soft; if I’m roasting is as its own dish, I like it a bit firmer (can be pierced with a fork, but not too mushy).
  6. Let it cool some.
  7. Slice open the skin and eat it.
  8. (If you must, add a little butter and brown sugar. Honestly, I think it’s good on its own.)

*Some people may tell you that you need to rub it with oil before baking. You can if you want to. I don’t.

RECIPE 2: SAVORY ROASTED SWEET POTATO

  1. Preheat oven to 400(ish) degrees.
  2. Cut sweet potato into thick slices (somewhere between 1 or 1-1/2 inches).
  3. Toss it with olive oil, salt, and your preferred herbs or spices — this time, I went with thyme, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Rosemary is also delicious.
  4. Arrange on foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 40-ish minutes, or until you can pierce it with a fork.
  6. Eat.

(I made these last night so I could eat in solidarity with my coworker, whose painfully-restrictive diet allows sweet potatoes. Alas, I ate them all as soon as they were out of the oven.)

RECIPE 3: THIS IS MY #1 FAVORITE FOOD, NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING

(This is from the Land o’Lakes Treasury of Country Recipes. It involves butter.)

“Apple-Filled Sweet Potatoes”

6 medium sweet potatoes

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

pinch of nutmeg

1/2 tsp grated orange peel

1 cup peeled, cored, coarsely chopped apple

1/4 cup pecan halves

[The instructions are my paraphrase.]

Preheat to 375*F. Stab sweet potatoes. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until squishy. Slice hotdog (not hamburger), scoop out goop,  mash everything together (except apples and pecans) with a potato masher, or use an electric mixer. Fold in apples and pecans by hand. Enjoy vegetables, for once.

OTHER IDEAS THAT I PROBABLY STOLE FROM SOMEONE ELSE AT SOME POINT BUT IT WAS SO LONG AGO THAT I DON’T HAVE REFERENCES, SORRY

Throw diced sweet potatoes into soup (if your soup includes curry or coconut milk, it is probably a VERY good fit)

Top baked sweet potato with sauteed onion, kale, and avocado (kale AND avocado? This is the most hipster thing I’ve ever eaten)

Top baked sweet potato with feta, olives, and/or sundried tomatoes (other cheeses that are good with sweet potatoes: goat cheese, blue cheese, Parmesan) (I’m curious about smoked Gouda, though)

Top baked sweet potato with maple syrup and bacon crumbles (bonus points if it’s freshly-cooked bacon and not the stuff that comes in a jar) (THIS IS SO GOOD)

Squeeze orange slices (or lime) onto your baked sweet potato

Slice sweet potatoes into wedges/fries, toss with olive oil and salt (or parmesan cheese!), and bake

I GET THAT IT’S HEALTHY, BUT HOW DOES THIS COUNT AS ‘LAZY’

What other vegetable can be thrown — skin intact — into an oven, left for forty minutes, and emerge ready to eat as a perfect, delicious, self-contained superfood meal? (In its own tidy jacket, no less?) None.

Got a favorite recipe? Share with the group! You know you want to!