Have you finished your Thanksgiving Day grocery shopping? Are the pies baked? (Mine are in the oven as I write.) Did sweet potatoes or yams make the cut? I love them both and whichever is picked for Turkey Day I’m okay with as they are both healthy and yummy. Healthy and yummy, but different and not interchangeable.
The popular saying is “puh-tay-toe” “puh-tah-toe,” but this time of year it switches to sweet potatoes or yams. So, as we get ready to celebrate all things thankful, let’s say thank you to both! Both are critical Thanksgiving Day side dishes and chalk full of nutrients. Okay, maybe not when mixed with brown sugar and marshmallows, but when done right, they really should be part of not only your Thanksgiving menu, but your year-long diet.
First things first: sweet potatoes aren’t yams and they’re not even true potatoes! According to my Concierge Choice Physicians newsletter, a potato is considered a “tuber” and a sweet potato is actually a root vegetable. Both potatoes and sweet potatoes grow under the soil and as for yams vs. sweet potatoes, they are both root vegetables but belong to two different plant families. And by “plants,” we’re talking real plants.
The sweet potato is from the morning glory family while the yam is related to the lily. Who knew?! Yams are generally more starchy and less sweet than their sweetly named cousins and they grow much larger. And other than Thanksgiving Day tables in the U.S.A., where you’re from may dictate which one you eat and cook with. Yams are commonly used in African, Asian, and Caribbean cooking while sweet potatoes are generally more popular in New World meals.
We all feel better when we order those “healthy” sweet potato fries instead of regular fries and many of you consider fresh sweet potatoes healthier than those canned cubes soaked in syrup, but ironically many of the popular canned yams you see this time of year are technically sweet potatoes. If you’re picky about one or the other, check the label. When buying fresh ones, you’ll also want to check your choice.
As you peruse the produce department, know that yams have long, tapered shapes and skin that looks like bark on a tree. They have a neutral flavor, tough flesh, yucca-like texture, and are best when boiled in savory recipes like soups, stews, and chilis.
The most common varieties of sweet potatoes have smooth orange or reddish skin, orange flesh, and a sweet flavor. But of course! Surprisingly, both (even the canned ones) are healthy depending on how you prepare them. Let’s start with yams.
Yams are linked to many health benefits including boosting brain health, reducing inflammation, improving blood sugar levels, inhibiting the progression of both osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and reducing cholesterol and LDL levels. A single yam also packs nearly 370 percent of your daily Vitamin A requirement and even canned yams are great sources of fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, and antioxidants. Canned yams in syrup are non-GMO, contain no preservatives, and are certified by the American Heart Association as a heart healthy food.
But what about all that syrup in the canned variety? What’s really in it? Basically, sweet potatoes, water, corn syrup, and sugar. Ick, right? No worries! You can actually remove the sugar by rinsing the pieces in water before cooking because pieces of sweet potato don’t absorb sugar. Whatever is in the can stays on the surface of them prior to rinsing, which can also get rid of much of the syrup. Perhaps best of all is the fact that canned sweet potatoes are already cooked meaning Aunt Carla’s famous Sweet Potato Casserole cooks fast and who doesn’t want at least a few Thanksgiving dishes that cook quickly? One more tidbit: about three unpeeled fresh sweet potatoes or yams are in a standard 29 ounce can.
Sweet potatoes on the whole have a higher concentration of most nutrients, have more fiber, and are generally more nutritious than yams. In fact, they are considered “nutrient dense” in that one cup of a baked sweet potato with the skin on provides more than 50 percent of your daily Vitamin A, C, and magnesium requirement and more than 25 percent of your Vitamin B6 and potassium requirement. Vitamin C supports your immune systems and helps absorb iron. Diets low in Vitamin C can increase your risk of anemia and no wants a low immune level. Sweet potatoes are also loaded with antioxidants that protect your body from inflammation and possibly even cancer, heart disease, and aging.
Sweet potatoes are also good for your gut as they are loaded with both soluble and insoluble fiber and their antioxidants promote healthy gut bacteria growth, the former may lower the risk of colon cancer and the latter is thought to limit conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
The eyes also have it with sweet potatoes! What food do we immediately think of as good for the eyes? Carrots, right? What color are carrots? Orange. What color is the flesh of a sweet potato? Orange. And yes, you guessed it; that orange color is due to high amounts of beta-carotene, which your body converts into Vitamin A and uses to form light-detecting receptors inside your eyes, much like it does with carrots. And, how ironic that both carrots and sweet potatoes are root vegetables.
In the end, can you substitute sweet potatoes for yams and vice-versa? The bad news and short answer is “no,” so do your best to use what is listed on any given recipe. The good news is, those canned yams are not as bad as you maybe once thought they were. Want a sweet dish? Go for true sweet potatoes. Want a more savory dish? Opt for yams. Want it in a hurry? A canned variety is the way to go. However you say it and whatever version you use, I hope your sweet puh-tay-toe/puh-tah-toe/yam casserole dish is yummy! Let’s be thankful for it all.
Lastly, I’ve never made one but many swear by Sweet Potato Pie and sometimes even in place of my beloved Pumpkin Pie. If you have a Sweet Potato Pie recipe to share, please do!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone and here are a few recipes you might enjoy. I personally leave out the pecans in most but am including them for your preference.
Ann’s Perfectly Baked Sweet Potato
Wash potato and cut off both ends.
Put in cold oven directly on rack and above cookie sheet and then heat to 425.
Cook for 1 hour and then turn off oven but keep potato in oven for 30 more minutes.
Top with butter or toppings of your choice.
Candied Yam Soufflé
1 stick of butter
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
2 large (40 oz.) can large yams or sweet potatoes, drained
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
1 12 oz. jar marshmallow topping (or mini marshmallows)
Preheat oven to 325.
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.
Add brown sugar and pecans and simmer for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, place drained yams in large bowl and mash finely.
Pour sugar/pecan mixture over yams and stir until thoroughly combined.
Add cinnamon and nutmeg and stir.
Transfer to a metal pie pan and top with marshmallow topping or marshmallows.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and raise oven temp to 400 degrees and bake additional 10 minutes.
Watch carefully to keep from over burning.
Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¾ cup chopped nuts…pecans preferred
¼ cup melted butter
Sweet Potato Ingredients
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup salt
½ t vanilla
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
¼ cup butter
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine crust ingredients and mix in bowl. Set aside.
Pour sweet potato mixture into buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle crust mixture evenly on top.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Allow minimum 30 minutes to cool before serving.
Sweet Potato Casserole
The Sandy Show & The Pioneer Woman
4 whole medium sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 whole eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 t salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans
½ cup flour
¾ stick of softened butter
Wash potatoes and bake at 375 about 30-35 minutes or until fork tender.
When done, slice open and scrape out flesh into a large bowl.
Add sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt and mash slightly.
In separate bowl, combine brown sugar, pecans, flour, and butter and mix thoroughly.
Spread sweet potato mixture into baking dish and sprinkle with crumb mixture on top.
Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.
Praline Sweet Potatoes
3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla extract
½ cup milk
½ cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1/3 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 and butter 9 x 13 baking dish.
In large bowl, combine potatoes with brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and butter.
Pour into prepared baking dish.
In small bowl, combine pecans, brown sugar, and flour.
Stir in melted butter until crumble forms.
Scatter evenly over top of sweet potatoes.
Bake 30-40 minutes and until topping is golden brown or crunchy.
Heart Healthy Chipotle Chili
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
3 cups peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the same can)
2 cups water
2 teaspoons vegetable base
2 cups chopped kale (remove the hard stems)f
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh ground pepper to taste
6 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt (optional, for topping)
In large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and add onion and garlic. Sautee 3 minutes then add butternut squash, parsnips, and sweet potato, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. Add in chili powder, cumin, cocoa and cinnamon. Cook for one more minute.
Stir in tomatoes, chipotle peppers, water and vegetable base. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add kale and stir until wilted. Add black beans, cook an additional two minutes and add pepper to taste.
Serve with a dollop (one tablespoon) of Greek yogurt on top.
Roasted Sweet Potato Fries
- 1 large sweet potato (skin on)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the potato well and cut into thin strips.
In a large bowl or mix together the spices and olive oil. Toss in the potatoes and coat with spice mixture (you could also do this in a large plastic bag).
Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Turn and bake on the other side for an additional 15 minutes or until fries are browned and crisp.
Disclaimer: Always check with your health provider before adding anything to your diet or nutrition plan.