Sweet potatoes, locally known as ‘Ibijumba’ are a favourite dish for many and one will rarely miss them in most of the restaurants in Kigali. In fact, nutritionists say they are a good source of countless nutrients.
There are different varieties of sweet potatoes and they interestingly come in different colours as well. However almost all of them contain the same health benefits, according to experts.
Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins and mineral salts.
Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at Oshen King Faisal Hospital says sweet potatoes are important in the prevention of diseases like cancer and also help in immune boosting.
The tubers, he says, are as well nutritious and healthy as they are good sources of anti-inflammatory nutrients, vitamins A and C.
“This makes them a vital choice of food for those suffering from arthritis and asthma. Those with diabetes are also not left behind because this root vegetable is has a sound role in regulating blood glucose levels,” he says.
Tabaro says sweet potatoes contain vitamin A and C, both of which are vital when it comes to supporting the immune system, which is important in resisting against illnesses such as flu.
He adds that vitamin A is also key in maintaining a healthy skin, good vision and a sound body organ functioning.
Because of the presence of magnesium, consumption of potato stimulates a healthy skin, therefore it is important to make it part of your diet. It also safeguards one from bone- related illnesses.
“Potatoes also function as antioxidants that protect cells against aging. Those that are purple in colour have more antioxidants because of the pigment that gives them antioxidant properties.”
Tabaro notes that the sweet potato is a natural and abundant source of beta-carotene and vitamin A. This is essential in helping the body fight off infections, and it also helps to remain resistant to them.
Joseph Uwiragiye, head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital says because of the sedentary lifestyle people are exposed to nowadays, it’s easier for one to get chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other heart diseases.
Several studies have shown that sweet potatoes are categorized as low on the glycemic index scale; this can minimize the occurrence of insulin resistance and low blood sugar levels as well as high blood sugar in people with diabetes.
The studies also indicate that relatively low glycemic index means that sweet potatoes release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, unlike other starchy foods. This is what aids in controlling the blood sugar levels.
Besides, Tabaro says consuming sweet potatoes is helpful because they contain natural anti-inflammatory compounds that help the body fight foreign invaders and that it also has a role in repairing damaged tissues.
The sweet potato also contains magnesium, which helps in sweeping excess sodium and fluid out of the body thus helping in lowering blood pressure and reduces strain on the heart, he says.
Potassium found in sweet potatoes also helps regulate the heart rhythm and muscle contractions.
“Because of their starch, the food is filled with a fibre-like substance that the body doesn’t digest or absorb. Therefore, replacing other carbohydrates with the resistant starch increases in fat burning thus one can lose weight easily,” he says.
Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association says that because of magnesium in sweet potatoes, it helps when it comes to stimulating normal body functioning.
This magnesium, he says, helps reduce stress and anxiety. He notes that studies have shown that an increase in magnesium deficiency has resulted in a significant increase in the cases of depression.
Musengimana also notes that because of their large amount of fibres in sweet potatoes, consuming them aids proper digestion.
He explains this saying that this is possible because fibre helps improve the health of the gut and hence aiding proper digestion.
He adds that higher fibre content in these foods can also aid in preventing constipation both in children and adults.
Tabaro supplements this saying that high doses of vitamin A in sweet potatoes, makes them ideal for women of childbearing age because they enhance their fertility. Iron found in sweet potatoes is essential in the promotion of fertility amongst women.
“Increase in dietary intake of iron from sweet potatoes helps reserve secondary fertility. It also reduces the chances of women ending up suffering from ovulatory infertility,” he adds.