I am very familiar with sweet potatoes and the many health benefits it provides, I am also lucky to live in an area that is one of the largest produces of sweet potato in Australia, but, until now, I had never heard of, or seen a Okinawan Sweet Potato (technically, I still haven’t seen one in the flesh).
A member of one of the vegan groups I am a member of posted this image of one she has and I was completely stunned at how amazing this tuber looked; it reminded me of some kind of purple crystal and straight away, went searching for them, to buy and hopefully find some to grow.
I lucked out on the buying angle, but found somewhere to buy some that I can grow, so will be ordering some very soon.
Health Benefits of Okinawan Sweet Poatoes
Looking at this picture, I instantly recognised the amazing colour this tuber has and thought, like similarly coloured fruits and vegetables, that it must provide some great antioxidant health benefits and it does.
The vibrantly purple Okinawan Sweet Potato, which is a heavily grown staple of Hawaiian cuisine, is rich in flavour and packed with nutritional benefits. In Hawaii, it is known as the Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potato.
The Okinawan sweet potato is not related to the potato but is actually in the morning glory family. Native to the Americas, it was brought to Japan sometime between 1492 and 1605. The hardy plant grew well in Japan and quickly became popular in a variety of Japanese dishes. It eventually made its way to the Hawaiian Islands, brought by the Polynesians, where the crop flourished in the rich volcanic soil.
Sweet potatoes of all varieties are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. Sweet potatoes are known to improve blood sugar regulation and may also provide significant antibacterial and antifungal properties. The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels. The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the brilliant purple colour of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their colour.
Blueberries, which a few years ago received the label of a superfood and had everyone buying them, are well known for their high antioxidant levels, however, the Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries.
Antioxidants help to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, so the more you can easily get into your diet, the better.
Okinawan Population’s Long Lifespan Attributed To Sweet Potato
South of mainland Japan lies Okinawa, a group of islands known as the “land of the immortals.” Residents there have some of the longest life spans in the World, with the islands having the highest rate of centenarians in the world. Two-thirds of those who reached 100 were still living independently at the age of 97, according to one study. Okinawan’s have also been found to have low rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
The people of Okinawa, Japan have traditionally enjoyed one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Now, while other factors, such as genetics are at play, one of those reasons, for the longevity of Okanawan’s is lots and lots of sweet potatoes. The traditional Okinawan diet consists of minimal meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods. Instead, they eat mostly whole plant based foods. And they get a remarkable 60% of their calories from sweet potatoes alone.
It’s partly because of this high fibre and antioxidant-rich dietary pattern that Okinawan’s enjoy such a long lifespan. Living to be one hundred years or older is not uncommon in Okinawa. Okinawan’s also experience less chronic disease than Westerners, with significantly fewer deaths from heart disease and cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate.
So, if you can find them, try and get some Okinawan Sweet Potatoes into your diet, I know I am going to.