Sweet potatoes, a superstar ingredient in the Okinawan way of life
Okinawa is off the coast of Japan between the East China and Philippine Seas. It’s the largest island of the Ryukyu Islands and it’s known for its dense population of centenarians.
Centenarians in Okinawa, Japan lead long lives abundant in social connections, daily intentional movement, and regular consumption of a variety of whole plant foods. While there is an emphasis on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, spices, and legumes (soy - miso, edamame, natto, and tofu), it’s sweet potatoes (purple and orange) that take center stage in the Okinawan diet.
This mighty root vegetable, which is part of the morning glory family, is not to be underestimated. It’s divinely delicious, versatile, velvety smooth in texture, vibrant in color, and regarded for its abundance of nutrients. Sweet potatoes have been shown to support blood glucose regulation, while being high in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, and iron. The purple (Okinawan variety) is plentiful in anthocyanins, an antioxidant-containing pigment responsible for the bright purple color. Anthocyanins guard against certain cancers, cellular damage caused by free radicals, as well as cardiovascular disease. While orange sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that plays an important role in supporting eye health.
When it comes to optimal gut health, sweet potatoes are highly beneficial. Another added benefit to the fiber content is they provide food for the friendly gut bacteria to feed off, and in turn convert into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) via fermentation. SCFAs, including butyrate, acetate, and propionate, have been shown to play a role in the prevention of colon cancer and type II diabetes, as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
When it comes to finding unique and tasty ways to incorporate more sweet potatoes into your daily routine, The Blue Zones Meal Planner has no shortage of recipes!
To know sweet potatoes (and how to cook sweet potatoes) is to love them. They don’t overpower other ingredients, they elevate them. This salad is a colorful, nutrient-dense meal that does not disappoint. Prep and cook the sweet potatoes and quinoa ahead of time for easy assembly throughout the week.
While this recipe traditionally calls for yuca, sweet potatoes can easily be used instead. Don’t shy away from dressing these up to create a meal, customized to include other vegetables of your choice.
Sweet potatoes aren’t just for mains and sides, they’re perfect for snacks, too. These bites call for just four ingredients, and can be prepped in advance for healthy snacking. They also contain fiber, protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, while satisfying a sweet tooth.
Bring on breakfast with this brilliantly simple and delicious bowl of goodness. Full of antioxidants from the sweet potatoes and berries, omega-3 fatty acids from the flax meal, and crunch from the granola, you’re in for a treat.
Glow on and get yourself started on a bright, golden path for the day. Turmeric, ginger and sweet potatoes come together in a harmony of flavors sure to delight your taste buds.
Just as you bite into the rich, garlicky, crunchy chickpeas and broccoli, you’ll notice the sweet potatoes sing with their velvety texture and comforting flavor - a real match that leaves you feeling vibrant and satisfied.