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Sweet Potato Potential

Sweet Potatoes May Reduce Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency in Children

Whether you like them mashed, baked, souffléd or in a pie, fall is the season that the sweet potato shines. This favorite autumn vegetable is delicious, nutritious and beautiful inside. Its vibrant orange color comes from beta-carotene, a healthful phytonutrient and a precursor to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps keep skin healthy, promotes good vision and eye health, and helps maintain a working immune system.

In a 2015 study published in World Development, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute studied the benefits of promoting orange sweet potatoes in 36 Mozambique villages with a high prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. They specifically looked at whether orange sweet potatoes could reduce the prevalence and severity of diarrhea in children, a side effect of vitamin A deficiency. Two-thirds of the villages were part of the intervention that supported growth of orange sweet potatoes in home gardens, while the remaining third served as controls. About three years after the beginning of the intervention, the data showed a reduction in the occurrence and duration of diarrhea, marking a correlation between vitamin A in sweet potatoes and gut health in children.

Vitamin A plays a major role in the health of the immune system, the link between vitamin A deficiency and diarrhea. Though vitamin A deficiency is less common in the United States than in developing countries, filling up on vitamin A from sweet potatoes can help maintain a healthy gut and keep the immune system strong as flu season draws near. One medium sweet potato packs nearly 370% of your daily vitamin A for just 112 calories.

The possibilities for including sweet potatoes or other vitamin A-rich foods in the diet are abundant. Sweet potatoes taste great mashed, cubed and roasted, or simply baked. Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or cayenne pepper for an extra kick of flavor. Keep our recipe for Turkey Vegetable Soup with Red Pesto—a tasty mix of Thanksgiving leftovers—on file for a sweet potato-packed fall dinner.

BONUS: Bananas may offer similar benefits. A study published in the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal found children given two bananas per day had 60% less evidence of infectious diarrheal diseases.

Published November 1, 2015

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