As fitness goes mainstream, humbler ingredients that pack a punch are getting their moment in the sun. And there’s no better example of this than the sweet potato. The unsung hero of the vegetable patch, this tuber is actually a powerhouse of nutrients that just hasn’t been tapped. Nutritionists and fitness gurus are now suggesting you include the tuber in your diet, and here’s why.
Research has found that sweet potatoes don’t just supply the body with brain-boosting essential nutrients, their action is so potent they could even help with your cognitive ability and memory. As a result, you learn better too. Contrary to what you’d expect, sweet potatoes don’t actually have more sugar than a regular white potato. What they do have in abundance are nutrients like vitamins A and C, and potassium.1 The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda too classifies sweet potatoes as a memory-enhancing food.2
Antioxidants Fight Brain Deterioration
Antioxidants can protect the body against oxidative stress. As researchers have discovered, higher oxidative stress levels and/or a deficiency of antioxidants in the body can put you at risk of cognitive decline.3 Animal studies have found that the purple sweet potato can inhibit proinflammatory molecule production, protecting you from inflammatory brain disease. In other words, you’d be able to keep your brain cells and memory in good shape.4
Sweet potatoes, with their high level of antioxidants in the form of vitamins, can help you counter oxidative effects and ward off decline. This is especially important in instances where the brain is degenerating, say due to a condition like Alzheimer’s disease. These antioxidants can slow the pace at which brain cells deteriorate, helping people retain their memory for longer.5
Carotenoids Protect Brain
The high concentration of carotenoids found in sweet potatoes helps you battle free radical damage in the body, including the brain. Besides protecting your brain cells, the body can, with the help of the nutrient, develop new connection and neurons, allowing the brain the flourish. As one study of 5000 human test subjects revealed, beta carotene could actually protect you from a variety of mental impairments, including memory loss. Test subjects aged between 55 and 95 with a high quantity of beta carotene in their diet had lower problems related to mental ability, like memory and attention span.
Enhance Your Memory
Purple sweet potatoes have another added benefit. Studies show that the richly hued vegetable can actually help improve your memory – a likely result of the antioxidant properties of anthocyanin.6
Improve Cognitive Performance
A separate study on animal test subjects found that purple sweet potato extract could actually help improve cognitive performance when there were deficits. The mice who were given oral solutions of the purple sweet potato color showed a significant improvement in how they performed in two separate tasks designed to check behavioral performance.7
Make It A Staple
As with any dietary change, the effects of consuming sweet potato or supplements will take time to bear fruit. So instead of confining it to featured appearances at the holiday table, make the sweet potato a staple in your diet. As some researchers have found, long-term usage can make all the difference.8 Try swapping your regular fries for delicious oven-roasted sweet potato chips; add oomph to your mash with some gorgeous orange or purple sweet potatoes in the mix; or even try your hand at sweet potato pie. The options are endless, and you could even take a cue from traditional African recipes if you’re adventurous.
|↑1||Sweet Potato,National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, US FDA.|
|↑2||Lad, Vasant. The complete book of Ayurvedic home remedies. Harmony, 1999.|
|↑3||Berr, Claudine, Bertrand Balansard, Josianne Arnaud, Anne‐Marie Roussel, and Annick Alpérovitch. “Cognitive decline is associated with systemic oxidative stress: the EVA study.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 48, no. 10 (2000): 1285-1291.|
|↑4||Wang, Yong-Jian, Yuan-Lin Zheng, Jun Lu, Guo-Qing Chen, Xiao-Hui Wang, Jie Feng, Jie Ruan, Xiao Sun, Chun-Xiang Li, and Qiu-Ju Sun. “Purple sweet potato color suppresses lipopolysaccharide-induced acute inflammatory response in mouse brain.” Neurochemistry international 56, no. 3 (2010): 424-430.|
|↑5||Engelhart, Marianne J., Mirjam I. Geerlings, Annemieke Ruitenberg, John C. van Swieten, Albert Hofman, Jacqueline CM Witteman, and Monique MB Breteler. “Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of Alzheimer disease.” Jama 287, no. 24 (2002): 3223-3229.|
|↑6||Cho, Jungsook, Jong Seong Kang, Pham Hoai Long, Jhang Jing, Yiho Back, and Kyeong-Soo Chung. “Antioxidant and memory enhancing effects of purple sweet potato anthocyanin and cordyceps mushroom extract.” Archives of pharmacal research 26, no. 10 (2003): 821-825.|
|↑7||Lu, Jun, Dong-mei Wu, Yuan-lin Zheng, Bin Hu, Wei Cheng, and Zi-feng Zhang. “Purple sweet potato color attenuates domoic acid-induced cognitive deficits by promoting estrogen receptor-α-mediated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling in mice.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 52, no. 3 (2012): 646-659.|
|↑8||Grodstein, Francine, Jae H. Kang, Robert J. Glynn, Nancy R. Cook, and J. Michael Gaziano. “A randomized trial of beta carotene supplementation and cognitive function in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II.” Archives of internal medicine 167, no. 20 (2007): 2184-2190.|