Eating sweet potatoes, taking Vitamin D and giving up smoking for November

November 1, 2011

The story has been updated to reflect the correct amount of Vitamin D needed daily.

Produce: Sweet potatoes

With Thanksgiving just around the bend, it was easy selecting this month’s produce: sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes (and yams, which are botanically quite different but culinarily interchangeable) have a lot going for them, says Jennifer R. Reilly, a D.C.-based registered dietitian, who blogs about nutrition and has just published “Cooking With Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Skinny Dish!”

“Sweet potatoes taste fantastic,” Reilly says, “and you can’t do them wrong, unless you add lots of brown sugar and marshmallow fluff. Which you don’t need to do, because they’re sweet enough already.”


Fiber in sweet potatoes can help reduce cholesterol. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Sweet potatoes’ orange color signals the presence of antioxidants, particularly betacarotene, the water-soluble form of Vitamin A, Reilly says. “That can stop DNA damage from free radicals, which can show up as wrinkles on your face now and cancer down the road.”

A medium-sized sweet potato has about 100 calories and nearly 4 grams of fiber (about 15 percent of the daily value), “a couple more grams than white, which makes sweet potatoes more filling,” Reilly says. Sweet potatoes also have a relatively low glycemic index, a measure of the rate at which carbohydrates turn into sugar in the bloodstream, Reilly explains. And its fiber helps reduce cholesterol by latching onto it and whisking it out of the body, she says.

Reilly suggests baking sweet potatoes because heat enhances betacarotene’s antioxidant activity, which keeps the glycemic index low.

Another way to try sweet potatoes is by grating them and adding them raw to salads or mixing them into pancake batter or chili. “Or just scrub the outside, boil and mash them and add a bit of salt and a touch of olive oil,” she suggests. “They’re very versatile,” Reilly says.

Recipes:

Crushed sweet potatoes with roasted garlic and ginger

Curried sweet potatoes and apples

Louisiana chicken and sweet potato hash

Mashed sweet potatoes with sour cream and scallions

Vitamin D days:

When daylight savings time ends Sunday, our access to sunshine — and to the Vitamin D that sunlight’s ultraviolet rays help our bodies produce — will be abruptly curtailed. So should we consider compensating by taking Vitamin D supplements?

Most of us probably should, says Anthony Norman, professor of biochemistry and biomedical science at the University of California at Riverside.

Norman says Vitamin D’s contributions to our health extend beyond building strong bones. The vitamin also inhibits cell proliferation, supports the immune system, facilitates insulin secretion, promotes cardiovascular health and more.

Norman is among the many experts who disagree with the Institute of Medicine’s 2010 recommendation that most people consume between 600 International Units (IU) and 800 IU of Vitamin D daily, primarily to support bone health. Norman says most of us need more like 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU per day, an amount he says is “very safe” and likely to boost the level of Vitamin D in our blood to the 40 nanograms per milliliter or more that he says makes us “Vitamin D sufficient.”

Norman suggests people ask their physicians to perform a “25 hydroxy Vitamin D assay” blood test as part of every annual checkup to check their Vitamin D levels. If your Vitamin D is low, he says, the easiest, safest way to bring it up — particularly in these dark winter days — is to take Vitamin D3 supplements.

Great American Smokeout

Smokers who wish to kick the habit have a chance to do so with plenty of support on Nov. 17, the 36th annual Great American Smokeout.

Bill Blatt, director of tobacco programs for the American Lung Association, offers these tips to help smokers begin living a tobacco-free life.

→Realize you don’t have to quit alone. The lung association offers a nationwide quit line, 800-784-8669 that connects you with a someone in your state and lets you talk with a live counselor.

→Tell friends and family that you’re trying to quit. “People understand that it’s difficult; they’ll give you a little leeway” if you’re not quite yourself as you learn to live without cigarettes.

→Know the difference between a slip and a relapse. A single slip doesn’t mean you’ve relapsed into smoking. But to ensure that it doesn’t go any farther, “Treat a slip as an emergency. Get rid of your cigarettes and see if you can figure out what happened. If you have a friend who has already quit smoking, call that person” for support and advice.

→Understand that “every moment you spend without smoking is a success, and you should be proud” of each one. On Nov. 17, take note of those moments and “realize you can use them as a basis for quitting for good.”

Navigating the Thanksgiving feast

Melissa Joy Dobbins, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says the key to navigating holiday feats is to prepare in advance for the challenges of the Thanksgiving table.

One of her top tips: “Give your willpower a break. Don’t put yourself in tempting situations without a plan. Don’t rely on willpower. It won’t work.”

Other ideas for keeping your eating in check while enjoying Thanksgiving to the, er, fullest include:

→Plan for “small indulgences.”’ Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, you can decide in advance to take small bites of your favorite treats, be they appetizers, desserts or side dishes. “Planned treats allow you to still feel in control and are the key to staying healthy for the long term.”

→Pack in the protein. Protein fills you up and can help you resist fatty, carb-filled foods, so grab some nuts (which also contain filling, heart-healthy fats) before the big meal, or fill your plate with lean turkey or ham.

→Don’t skip the gravy. “Gravy gets a bad rap, but it’s not all that bad.” A little drizzle over your food makes it special without adding lots of calories or fat.

Finally, Dobbins offers advice for those who, despite their planning efforts, end up overindulging. “Don’t beat yourself up. That will only make things worse. Instead, learn from it. What was the trigger? What made it spiral out of control? Then get back on the horse” right away.”

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