Just like its name, this kind of potato is orange in colour with a sweet aroma when cooked. Apart from being delicious, the potato is extremely rich in beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, according to nutritionists.
Good for children and lactating mothers
Dr Kirimi Sindi, the county manager International Potato Centre (CIP), says pregnant, lactating women and children under five (especially children under two) are the most affected by malnutrition in general. The reason for this is the high nutrients needed at these stages, but when consumed, the potato can correct that.
He notes that only 125 grams of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) can supply the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for children and lactating women.
“A family of five could generate an adequate annual supply of vitamin A from a 500 square metre plot,” he says.
Kirimi adds that promotion of OFSP is highly complementary to vitamin A capsule supplementation and food fortification efforts, and particularly appropriate for rural areas where these alternative strategies have limited reach.
“The potato makes an excellent complementary food for infants and young children (6 to 24 months old).
He explains that this is so because it has lot of vitamin A that is necessary for the body. That is, the body easily absorbs the Vitamin A in the orange-fleshed sweet potato.
Further, he notes that this potato, when consumed, is vital during the first 1,000 days of the life of a child, which is roughly the time between conception and one’s second birthday.
“This is a unique period when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established,” he adds.
Rich in vitamins and minerals
According to Marie Grace Nkundabombi, a nutrition specialist at CIP, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals, which the human body converts into vitamin A.
She notes that Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for a strong immune system which plays a role in brain development and good eyesight. Additionally, the potatoes are a good source of energy.
Like any other vitamins, Vitamin A and minerals help the human body to fight diseases.
According to Nkundabombi, OFSP also play a role in the elimination of malnutrition, especially hidden hunger, which is a form of malnutrition caused by deficiency in micronutrients.
“The high level of Vitamin A in OFSP can be used to eliminate hidden hunger/Vitamin A deficiency,” she says.
Low energy intake is another cause of malnutrition. Nkundabombi says that the energy level of OFSP can be used to increase the energy intake of children under five, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers.
This variety, according to Nkundabombi, can also be used as a substitute for green vegetables, fruits, especially the orange ones such as carrots and pumpkins, and still provide vitamins necessary for the health of the body.
How to maintain the nutrition value
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital (CHUK), says it is always good to mind time and how you cook your food to preserve its nutrition value.
OFSP can be prepared in different ways, as long as you don’t cook them at a very high temperature for a long time, Nkundabombi says.
She explains that one can boil, roast or deep fry OFSP roots. The roots are also used to make mandazi (also known as the Swahili Bun), bread, biscuits and cookies, among others. She adds that it is advisable to use OFSP pure when baking to retain more beta- carotene/vitamin A.
However, Nkundabombi warns against sun drying as it results in a big loss of beta-carotene/vitamin A. OFSP leaves can also be consumed as vegetables by frying them or boiling them with other foods.
“When eating, everyone should mind about their body nutrition status and health. OFSP roots can be eaten alone as well as alongside other foods and still provide the nutrients required by the body,” she says.
To complement them, Kirimi says one can opt for protein source foods such as beans, peas, meat, fish, and eggs among others, as well as more vegetables to get the other vitamins and minerals the body needs.
The potato can be harvested within a short period of time, like three months, compared to other types of potatoes.