Yams look very much similar to sweet potatoes, which makes us think they belong to the same family. But surprisingly they are not even distant relatives. Cultivated widely in various regions of Africa, this root vegetable is a popular food item consumed throughout the world. They come in different varieties, varying in color, shape and length. Depending on the variety, they can be either firm or creamy when cooked. Yams make a great addition to a healthy diet as they are a good source of numerous body beneficial nutrients. Certain bioactive components in yams makes them a medicinally important vegetable as well. They are also associated with various rituals and cultures of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Nutritional profile of Yam
Yam is a wonderful source of dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates, which is slowly digested in the intestine without causing any unnecessary fluctuations in the blood sugar levels. This property makes it qualified as a low glycemic index food, fit for people with diabetes. Yams are also particularly rich in vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C and B group vitamins like vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. Minerals needed to sustain a healthy life, such as calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron and phosphorus can also be found in yams.
Health benefits of Yam
Yam, as mentioned above is a nutrient rich vegetable that provides numerous health benefits. The consumption of fruits and vegetables have long been associated with a reduced risk of several serious health problems. Studies have revealed that eating plant foods such as yam and sweet potatoes helps in promoting a healthy body as well as preventing many lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity etc. Given below are a few benefits provided by yams:
- Yams, a storehouse of antioxidants
Yam are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that help in getting rid of free radicals that can damage your DNA and cause serious health conditions such as cancer and heart diseases. Vitamin C increases the production of collagen that improves the elasticity of the skin and makes it smooth and supple. It also helps in maintaining a youthful appearance by preventing the occurrence of aging signs like wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots.
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- Yams are cardio protective
It is a well known fact that eating fiber rich foods can protect the cardiovascular system and reduce the risks of heart diseases. Yams are packed with good amounts of dietary fiber that help lower the levels of bad cholesterol. They are also high in vitamin B6, which helps the body in breaking down homocysteine, a substance which can contribute to the damage of blood vessel walls and lead to heart problems. Potassium is another nutrient found in yams that helps neutralize the effects of sodium in the body as well as control blood pressure and heart beat rate. Dioscorin is a storage protein present in yams that exhibits vasodilating effects, thus helping to reduce high blood pressure.
- Yam is beneficial for the skin
The best thing about eating yams is that it delays the appearance of ageing signs and keeps your skin looking younger and vibrant. This vegetable is packed with vitamin C, beta carotene and other nutrients that have amazing antioxidant power. These nutrients destroy the harmful free radicals and protect the skin cells from damage. As a result, your skin remains healthy and free from wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines. Vitamin C stimulates the production of collagen, regenerates damaged skin and makes your skin elastic and smooth. Placing yam slices or applying grated yam over the eyes is said to be helpful in removing dark eye circles. An effective face mask can be prepared using yam by boiling it, mashing it and mixing it with honey. Apply this mask all over the face, keep it on for about half an hour and then wash it off. This mask helps in rejuvenating your skin and also cleanses the skin by exfoliating it.
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- Yams can help you lose weight
Being a low calorie food with plenty of nutrients and dietary fiber, yams are considered to be an excellent diet food when you are trying to lose weight. The fiber in this vegetable fills you up faster and reduces your urge to snack frequently. Consuming even a small portion of yam would leave you feeling fuller for longer hours. This helps in preventing overeating and in promoting a healthy weight loss.
- Yams help maintain regularity
The high fiber content in yams are extremely beneficial for digestive health. It makes the stool bulky and ensures smooth and regular bowel movements. The roughage in yams is very helpful in preventing various digestive disorders like constipation, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.
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- Yams help maintain a healthy nervous system
Yams are rich in B group vitamins, which are known for improving the health of the nervous system as well as in supporting many metabolic functions. According to various studies published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, yams have the ability to enhance memory and learning capacity in humans. Folate found in yams has been found to help in reducing cognitive decline and in lowering the incidences of Alzheimer’s disease while the mineral potassium helps increase blood flow to the brain and improve concentration, cognitive abilities and neural activity. Various antioxidant enzymes present in yams are believed to play a major role in increasing cognitive response. These antioxidants guard our brains by fighting off the free radicals and thus protecting your brain cells from damage.
- Yams for controlling menopausal symptoms
The symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, nausea etc are believed to be caused by an imbalance of hormones. These symptoms are usually treated with hormone replacement therapy. Yams contain unique chemicals, such as diosgenins that affect the hormonal patterns, thus reducing the symptoms of menopause. This chemical is in fact used in the production of steroids such as estrogen and progesterone. Also, vitamin B6 present in yam is found to be beneficial in treating premenstrual syndrome.
- Yam is beneficial for pregnant women
There are plenty of benefits of consuming yam during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 in this vegetable helps provide relief from morning sickness, nausea and vomiting. It also helps in preventing low birth weight in new born babies. The high levels of antioxidants help protect the body against oxidative stress, thus preventing many diseases. Yams contain good amounts of potassium that helps maintain normal blood pressure levels. Constipation is main problem seen in many pregnant ladies. The high fiber content in yams helps in preventing constipation and many other digestive disorders. Yams contain large amounts of folate that is beneficial in preventing neural tube defects in the fetus. They are also rich in iron that helps increase the count of red blood cells and thus prevent anemia.
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- Yam is good for diabetics
Yams help keep the blood sugar levels well balanced and so is an ideal choice of food for people with diabetes. They have low glycemic index rates, which means they do not cause unnecessary spikes in the blood glucose levels. The high amounts of fiber in this vegetable slows down the rate of carbohydrate digestion, which in turn prevents the occurrence of blood sugar spikes.
- Hair benefits of yam
The excellent nutrient profile of yams makes it healthy not only for your body, but also for your hair and scalp. Some of these nutrients hydrate the hair and helps prevent hair loss and scalp problems like dandruff. Yams are rich in vitamin B6, which supports the production of melanin, thus preventing the premature graying of hair. The high iron content in them increases the number of red blood cells and improves blood circulation, which is helpful in the healthy growth of hair and prevention of hair fall.
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- Yams support eye health
Yams are rich in beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A inside the body. Vitamin A is extremely beneficial in supporting the health of the eyes and also in reducing the risks of eye infections. In addition to vitamin A, yams are also rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that play a major role in destroying free radicals and preventing eye disorders like cataract and age related macular degeneration.
- Yams boost the immune system
A healthy immune system is very important for protecting your body against microbes, bacteria, and viruses that invade the body and jeopardize your health. The intake of foods rich in antioxidants is helpful in enhancing the health of the immune system, which in turn helps ward off diseases and infections. Yams are packed with antioxidants like vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system by enhancing the functions of the white blood cells.
Yams may contain certain toxins such as diosgenin, dioscorin and tri-terpenes. They should only be consumed after peeling off the skin and cooking them, which helps get rid of these toxins. They can be stored for longer periods of time and hence they form one of the major sources of food in areas where food is scarce. They are affordable and easily accessible. In addition to providing amazing nutritional benefits, the regular consumption of yams can also provide a healthy supply of energy.