10 Reasons to Give Thanks for Sweet Potatoes and 9 Recipes

10 Reasons to be Thankful for Sweet PotatoesPerhaps the official vegetable of the holiday season, sweet potatoes are a delicious addition to a healthy diet any day of the year.   It’s easy to eat well with sweet potatoes — they are packed with essential vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that are naturally designed to help your body attain peak performance.  If you don’t like sweet potatoes, keep an open mind (and mouth) and look beyond your grandmother’s icky-sticky, marshmallow sweet potato casserole — there are so many delicious ways to enhance the taste of this sweet, mildly earthy tuber. In a list I originally compiled for Core Power, here are my top 10 reasons to be thankful for the humble sweet potato — my favorite reason may be #5 – a healthy source of complex carbohydrates. Unless logistically impossible, I always include sweet potato with my night-before-a-big-race meal. Also, don’t forget to read down to discover my collection of Family Favorite Sweet Potato Recipes:

  1. Inexpensive Eats: The cheap price tag on sweet potatoes (less than $1/lb.) chops the “it costs too much to eat healthy” argument to the core.
  2. Year-Round Availability: While peak season for sweet potatoes is in the fall, this produce department staple is easy to load-up on year round thanks to a long shelf life and global economy.
  3. Stockpile Friendly: Don’t rush out and buy a lifetime supply, but do fill your cart when you see a sale — sweet potatoes stay good in the pantry for a season or two. Freshness can be maintained for up to six months when stored in a pantry, cabinet, unheated garage or other dark, cool space ideally in the 50 F degree range.
  4. Versatile Veggie: Sweet potatoes are awesome baked and eaten plain or can be cooked with much for creativity. Try them mashed, grilled in planks, oven-roasted in wedges, or add chunks to salads, stews and sandwich wraps. Sweet potato puree also adds lots of interest to smoothies, soups and baked goods. See my round-up of personal sweet potato recipes below!
  5. Healthy Complex Carbohydrates: Natural sugars in sweet potatoes are the “good” kind of carbs that are slowly released into the blood stream, providing sustained and balanced energy to fuel your body and brain. No blood sugar spikes and subsequent sugar crashes with this tasty tuber!
  6. Amazing Antioxidants: Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a super source of beta-carotene (from vitamin A) that can help protect eyes and damage from the sun, among other things. Purple-fleshed sweet potatoes feature powerful anthocyanins which have important antioxidant anti-inflammatory properties.
  7. Vitamin Rich: Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins, high in vitamin A, vitamin B5, B6, thiamin, niacin and riboflavin. In fact, this veggie offers 100 percent of the daily value for Vitamin A, a powerhouse shown to be beneficial for anti-aging, eyesight and cancer prevention.
  8. Quercetin Factor: Quercetin, a dietary flavonoid, is abundant in sweet potatoes. Studies have shown that quercetin can help lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation and serves as a natural antihistamine to fight seasonal allergies. Additionally, studies on athletes have shown that this phytochemical bolsters health during the 3 to 72 hour window of impaired immunity following heavy training and also may help increase endurance.
  9. Potassium: Potassium is a mineral that helps your body balance fluids and minerals, maintain a health blood pressure, and keep your neuro-muscular system function normally. A medium, baked sweet potato offers about 450 mg of potassium (about12 percent of your daily value) — even more than the famous banana!
  10. Iron: Grown under the soil, sweet potatoes are a great source for iron, a mineral needed for oxygen delivery throughout the blood system. A surprising number of athletes are low in this important mineral (foot strike can actually be a contributor to deficiency) and an iron boost can help restore energy, resistance to stress and optimal immune functioning.

Family Favorite Sweet Potato Recipes for Thanksgiving, Holidays and everyday weeknight dinners.

Cinnamon Chicken Cashew Sweet PotatoI also love this no-recipe “recipe” from the CookingLight.com blog, Simmer & Boil — Cinnamon Chicken and Cashews on Baked Sweet Potato. Just toss a half-teaspoon or of ground cinnamon with warmed shredded chicken, pile on top of a baked and fluffed sweet potato, sprinkle with cashews and dig in!  What an quick and easy solution for busy weeknight dinners during the holiday season!


What is the one Thanksgiving dish you can’t live without? Do you have any big plans for the holiday?  Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer


Marathon Taper Week: What to Eat and Drink

I’ve put in (most) of the mileage, knocked out the speed workouts and juggled my already-crazy life around marathon training; why does it still seem so hard to taper?  I’m not talking about the kind of “hard” that other runners complain about, those A-types who miss the daily pavement pounding and the quantitative atta-boys doled out by stopwatches and training logs. Personally, I sort of like the fewer and more leisurely-run miles gifted to me during the tapering period before a marathon.  Ahhhh.

But, I start to freak out about food; perhaps “obsess” is a better description.  Normally, I’m really not much of a diet worry-wart. I typically eat with my health in mind, but don’t have a problem splurging when the opportunity presents. But, between the fear of bonking (again), the panic of finding an on-course port-a-let due to GI distress (again), or the dread gaining enough weight in one week that I can’t fit into my cute racing shorts (hasn’t happened yet, but who knows), all I can think about this week is what I should be eating and drinking. Although I’ve run plenty of marathons over the last 20 years and should know every trick of the trade (but always forget), I pulled together this list of tips to remind myself how to be as prepared as possible with my nutrition for the week leading up the marathon.

Match calorie input with energy output. Since most training plans have runners reducing mileage 30-50 percent during the last two weeks, calorie intake should be tweaked down as well to avoid real weight gain (however you will temporarily gain some water weight as I mention below). For me, this is only about 250 fewer calories a day in the last week, and is as easy as cutting out my bedtime snack. However, remember that the taper period is not the time to restrict calories with weight-loss in mind; you need to rebuild muscle fibers and top off your glycogen tanks. So, if your body is legitimately saying it’s hungry, eat!

Don’t be a slave to the scale. If you are eating a nutritiously-sound diet and have cut out most of your now-unnecessary refueling snacks, you are not going to pile on the pounds.  That being said, you may actually gain two to four pounds of water weight during the tapering process just by “carbo-loading.”  For ever one ounce of glucose put into reserves, your body stores another three ounces of water.  So a diet a little heavy in carbs the week before, is going to make you retain water – a good thing to prevent dehydration and bonking on the course.

Make clean carb choices.  An unhealthy, high-carb diet includes empty calories found in sugary, processed foods such as candy, cookies and pastries. The simple carbs found in these snack food spike blood sugar in a crash-and-burn manner unlike the longer-lasting energy found in complex carbohydrates (foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy or soy products). Plus, often too many of the simple carbs are also paired with high-calorie fat, sabotaging your ability to efficiently “carbo-load” while still getting enough protein.

Eat your meat (or alternative protein). Just because the food focus during taper week is on complex-carbohydrates and increasing glycogen stores, the importance of lean protein should not be overlooked. Protein has essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that aid in the building and recovery of muscle tissue. Also, many protein choices, such as lean beef, are loaded B vitamins which help efficiently convert those carbohydrates I’ve been talking about into the fuel needed to make it through the marathon. Don’t know how much protein to eat? The average adult requires 0 .8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day, equating to about 55 grams for a 150-pound person. Runners and other endurance athletes should aim for approximately 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2 lbs), or 82 to 95 grams for a 150-pound person.

Time to hydrate. Taking in enough fluids before the marathon is vital and will help you keep from becoming dehydrated on the course (although, you’ll still have to take in fluid during the actual race). Don’t let cold or overcast weather trick you into thinking you don’t need to drink; I once became severely dehydrated in 35-degrees and pouring down rain. Water is a great choice for hydration, or the sports drink of your choice.  This is not the time to experiment with your beverages, stick to the tried-and-true sports drink used during training runs. Experts warn about over-hydrating (hyponatremia) which can throw off your electrolyte balance and put your life in jeopardy; listen to your body and don’t force water, if you’re not thirsty.  To get a benchmark on your level of hydration, check out this “pee chart” below which shows you the optimal range of urination colors.

Forty-eight hours and counting.  Two days out from the marathon, I suggest continuing the complex-carb and protein diet, but reduce the amount of fiber being consumed. You don’t want stuff moving through you too fast, if you know what I mean. The day before the marathon, consider eating your largest meal at lunch, not dinner. This gives you more time to digest the food, leaving you nourished but not weighed down in the morning. Continue to hydrate, but avoid alcoholic beverages and too much caffeine which could both leave you dehydrated. Also, if you are a “sweater” or the weather is warm, drink your preferred electrolyte beverage and/or salt your food more than usual.