Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World

Okinawan purple sweet potatoes

My friend calls me a yaki imo (roasted sweet potato) addict. He told students that I teach that I have “yaki-imomania”. It isn’t far from the truth. I’m crazy about them! They are sweet, carby, filling, satisfying, and nourishing – the ultimate healthy comfort food. They give me an extra burst of energy and mollify my troubled soul on days when nothing seems to go quite right. But I can always rest contented knowing that I’ve given my body and soul what it needs – a whole foods solution.I didn’t really embrace my love of sweet potatoes until I read the book Sweet Potato Power. There I learned about the glory that is all things sweet potato, realized there were other people out in the world as crazy about sweet potatoes as I am (some even somewhat close by!), and became totally convinced that sweet potatoes can, in fact, save the world.

Why?

First of all, sweet potatoes can nourish the world. Crops of sweet potatoes are more efficient to grow and produce food for large amounts of people than rice, corn, and wheat, grains that are causing chronic medical conditions in developed nations (especially when combined with frankenfoods and sugar overloads). Sole dependence on these kinds of crops is also potentially unstable in developing nations, as we saw with the rice shortage and food crisis of 2008.

Secondly, sweet potatoes are one thing we all can agree on.

I see so much division throughout different food communities. Paleo/Primal vs Vegans. Vegans vs. Meat-eaters. Gluten-free is just a “fad”. Food allergies are all in your head. (Seriously, someone has said this to me). Eat only local foods. Eat only raw foods. Peanut butter is the devil.  Even within groups there are varying opinions about what is best –  the SCD community, the paleo/primal community, the vegan community. Why can’t we just be a whole foods community? We’re all usually working towards the same thing – better health and better food. No more genetically-modified grains or soy. No more pesticides in our produce. No more e.coli in our beef OR our spinach due to poor commercial farming practices. No more crap in school lunches that is encouraging out-of-control student behaviour. We want to stop living in a commercialized, overprocessed, frankenfood world, and we need to work together to change that. See this inspiring TED talk for the ins and outs, then check out Robyn O’Brien’s article on changing the Farm Bill so all of us have access to healthy, affordable, REAL food.

Sweet potatoes are my favorite real, whole food. They are healthy, affordable, and over-the-top delicious. Almost everyone can eat them – diabetics, vegans, paleos, picky-eaters, kids, people with food allergies, adults – heck if you have got gums you can eat mashed sweets or sweet potato puddin’. Sweets – their nickname in our family – are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, anti-inflammatory, and a nutritionally dense food. They are also a complex carbohydrate, unlike refined flours or sugar, which means that they won’t cause those unhappy blood sugar spikes and crashes that leave you feeling woozy and unsatiated. They safely and totally soothe my carb cravings. Most importantly – they are so bloody amazing. I can’t get enough of them. Naturally sweet, easy to cook (the hardest part is waiting patiently enough for them to reach peak roasted-ness), and the perfect solution for my energy-low, carb-craving moments.

Some people, like my younger brother, think or thought that they didn’t like sweet potatoes. That is because we destroy their natural goodness by boiling them, adding refined sugar and another frankenfood – marshmallows – and calling that a “vegetable” at Thanksgiving. That might turn me off of them too. But now the Norwegian bombshell (my brother’s nickname from youth soccer) inhales sweet potatoes roasted with coconut oil. Roasting sweet potatoes is the best way to introduce them to your diet – all you do is throw some into the oven and then go about your business while waiting for caramelized goodness to be delivered. Once you have a roasted sweet potato, you can eat it as is, take it on the go as a snack, slice it and add it to salads or breakfast porridge, puree it with soups, mash it and turn it into a healthy dessert, spread with nut or coconut butter, or turn it into a birthday cake. I’ve compiled a huge list of recipes at the end of this post.

If you want more recipes featuring the ultimate comfort food – nourishing, healthy, and good for your soul – get a copy of Sweet Potato Power! This is a great book that highlights the incredible health and environmental benefits of the sweet potato, shows you why you should choose complex carbs over refined flours and sugars, instructs you how to find optimal health for your unique metabolism, AND gives you recipes. Have mercy! I devoured this book in two days and have gone back to reference it countless times.  If you’re trying to lose weight and you want to lose the guilt, emotional rollercoasters, and unhealthy diets too, this book is perfect for you. If you are struggling with your overall health and can’t find specific answers that are just right for you and your unique situation, this book is for you. If you love sweet potatoes, or if you don’t love them but you want to, this book is for you. Like whole foods, this book is for everyone!

So, sweet potatoes are now my rallying cry, a banner around which to show you that whole foods are not only the healthier and sustainable option for everyone, but they are so delicious and versatile that you won’t be able to get enough! Look for a sweet potato linguine recipe this week and some cool summer treats in the near future. I’m so excited to share some sweet creations with you. Get excited, we’re on the sweet potato train!

How to roast a sweet potato: Rinse and clean your sweet potatoes. Put on a baking sheet. I never pierce them, but simply lay my eco-friendly parchment paper (it’s compostable!) on a baking sheet and add the potatoes in a well-spaced single layer. Give them room to breathe. Place in the oven and set to 425 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes for small potatoes or up to 90 minutes for large potatoes. They are done when easily pierced with a fork and look like they have “slightly shriveled inside their jackets”. If it is too hot to run your oven, try this crock pot method for making sweet potatoes.

Everyone Loves Sweet Potatoes!

Diet, Dessert & Dogs (vegan, anti-candida) Sweet Potato Buns

Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations (paleo) Sweet Caveman Pie

Spunky Coconut (gluten-free, casein-free, sugar-free) Sweet Potato Cakes

Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen: Buckwheat Cinnamon Rolls with DF cream cheese frosting (the secret’s in the sweet potatoes!!! I think I need to make that into a t-shirt)

Chocolate Covered Katie (vegan, healthy desserts & more) Sweet Potato Chili

Low Amine Recipes: Sweet potato and Leek Fritatta

101 Cookbooks (vegetarian, whole foods) Nikki’s Sweet Potatoes – a Johnson family favorite – mashed with coconut milk and topped with toasted hazelnuts

Affairs of Living (gluten-free, allergy friendly recipes, tips for living with Lyme disease) Sweet Potato Crumble Bars

Becca’s Green Kitchen (vegetarian, environmentally-conscious) Sweet Potato Runner’s Recovery Smoothie ~ so delicious and satisfying!

Real Sustenance – Caramelized Onion, Bacon, and Sweet Potato Perogies

and from me!
International Breakfast Hash
Sweet Potato Pudding Spread
Sweet Potato Cakes

so good you can make it on two continents

p.s. Through Sweet Potato Power!, I learned that a sweet potato festival takes place in Okinawa each year, and that sweet potatoes are a coveted, widely-available snack. I think I’ve died and gone to squash-addict heaven. Attending that festival definitely went on the Celebration of Life (bucket) List!