There are so many sweets and desserts associated with Autumn. Candy apples, apple pie, apple crisp, candy corn, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with marshmallows (yuck) - the list of Fall favorites goes on and on. What I find funny about this is that most of the fruits and vegetables used in these dishes are naturally sweet, and yet they are usually prepared with lots of sugar, masking their true identity as nutritional powerhouses. We could get so much nourishment from eating these fruits and vegetables if we just prepared them simply.
Sweet potatoes are the perfect example of this. Even though I have always liked sweet potatoes, they were never a part of my habitual diet. I always associated them with heavy preparations with lots of butter, sugar, and spices. They almost seemed foreign to me. But something changed this Fall, and I have been eating them often. One of the reasons I have been eating them so regularly is because I am trying to cut back on my intake of sugars and sweeteners. Sweet potatoes provide me with natural energy and a sweetness that hits the spot, which makes me not want dessert after my meals. When the weather changes and the leaves turn to their gorgeous hues of orange and red, I always crave warmer things that provide comfort and fill me up heavily. This fall I have not had any cravings for desserts or simple carbs, because the nutritional content of sweet potatoes is providing me with sustainable energy, and their natural sweetness is preventing any needs for finding refined sugar in other places.
Another reason that I have been eating them so regularly is their preparation and texture. I have to admit that I have been a bit boring in how I cook them, because all I ever do is wrap them in foil and bake them (usually at 375° F for 1 hour). Once they are baked, I can mash them up with seasonings and other ingredients, or just cut them into cubes and toss onto my salads. Tonight I added baked cubes to a pot with mustard greens and beans. Their texture is soft and mashable, yet they can hold their shape and get tossed in with other things.
Sweet potatoes are very nutritious. They are filled with vitamin A and C, both water-soluble vitamins that have antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin A is definitely the vitamin for Fall, as it is found in so many of the vegetables in season-squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes are the most obvious examples of this. They are also rich in manganese, copper, fiber, potassium, and iron. Even though these beautiful tubers are native to Central America, they have made their way into the diets of many cultures. Christopher Columbus brought them back to Spain, from where they then went to the Philippines. The Portuguese brought them to Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. I was even surprised to find Japanese sweet potatoes at the farmers market today. They were white and starchy, their texture almost reminding me of yucca.
The bottom line is that we have all of these naturally sweet, yet incredibly nutritious vegetables in season now. My favorite of the moment is the sweet potato, but I encourage you to find your own. And try them without sugar!!!