It’s great being able to travel. Being the health fanatic that I am, I love to observe the diet and health of the people in the various parts of the world where I’ve had the opportunity to visit.
On a recent visit to Southern Africa, the thing that really stood out to me, is that the men were mostly all very slim and trim, with small waists, and no bulging bellies like we often see here in the U.S. or Europe. Although the women had very curvy hips, they had small waists and did not look unhealthy or obese.
People from Zambia and other African countries seem to eat a lot of very starchy foods, but mostly in the form of root vegetables, unlike the highly processed, grain-based, sugary foods we have here in the United States and other industrialized countries. It’s pretty evident that these natural, fibrous starchy root vegetables are beneficial to health and help fight obesity.
Researchers studying cancers of the intestine discovered that tribes and populations in Africa had oddly low rates of bowel cancers. However, the African diet is generally composed of very starchy foods like yams, sweet potatoes, corn and bananas. These are all foods that are relatively high in carbohydrates that most people now have an urge to stay away from. It wasn’t just protection against bowel cancer. What the African group researchers studied also had good cardiovascular health and low rates of diabetes and obesity as well! Scientific researchers noted that there had to be something besides just fiber that contributed to the remarkable health of the Africans, along with extremely low rates of bowel cancer.
The carbohydrates found in sweet potatoes and yams are full of fiber and ‘prebiotics’ which feed the healthy gut bacteria and encourage their growth. Prebiotics also help to create short chain fatty acid that aids in weight loss, blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.
By supporting the growth of good bacteria in the gut, prebiotics helps to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria. Both probiotics and prebiotics contribute to the balance of bacteria in the gut, or the microbiome.
In addition to the obvious benefits of promoting good bacteria in the gut, prebiotics also provide other benefits. The most well-studied prebiotics are fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), inulin (a type of FOS), and galacto-oligosaccharide.
Once these substances pass through the digestive system, they help to increase short chain fatty acids including butyrate, acetate, and propionate. These SCFA’s help with regular bowel movements, decrease the risk of colon cancer, and maintain a healthier gut balance to fight off harmful bacteria and yeasts.
Certain starches in our diets are called ‘resistant’ starches which means they actually pass through the digestive system and are not broken down. Resistant starch is a type of soluble fiber which is very good for your gut.
Resistant starch also helps to improve insulin sensitivity, helping to lower blood sugar levels, reduce appetite, and improving digestion.
There are actually a variety of different types of resistant starch. These include the type that is found in grains, seeds, and legumes, another type found in potatoes, green bananas, and plantains. A third type is formed when foods like potatoes or rice are cooked and then cooled.
Even if you reheat foods like rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes after cooling them, they still retain a good amount of resistant starch. The action of cooling actually changes some of the digestible starches into more resistant starch.
Resistant starch is a type of soluble, ferment-able fiber. When it travels through your digestive system undigested, it actually feeds the friendly gut bacteria in the large intestine.
When the gut bacteria digest the resistant starches, they form several compounds which are extremely valuable to your health, including short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate is very important to the health of the digestive system, and is known to help conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diverticulitis, and other inflammatory conditions. It can help prevent colon cancer as well.
Butyrate is also known to improve insulin sensitivity, and help speed up metabolism, making it effective in fighting diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s which has been called “diabetes of the brain”.
Bottom line is that some starchy foods are especially good for your health. Sweet potatoes are one of them. On top of all that great fiber, sweet potatoes are super high in vitamin A, C, B6 and potassium. But keep in mind, sweet potatoes are not the same thing as yams.
I’m sure you will enjoy this delicious version of spicy African Sweet Potato Chili! And don’t forget to save lots of it for leftovers, as the cooling and reheating increases the healthy resistant starch in the soup!
1 Tbsp olive oil, butter or ghee
1 onion sliced
1 ½ lbs ground free range turkey thigh, natural chorizo, or spicy Italian sausage
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp cumin
2-4 cloves minced garlic
3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks, you can leave skin on
2 cups water
4 cups chicken broth or bone broth
1 small can black beans
¼ tsp cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper
Top with pumpkin seeds
Heat the oil or butter over medium high heat in a large pot. Add the onion, meat, chili powder and other seasonings. Brown the meat and crumble up. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
Add sweet potatoes in same pot with the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Brown the sweet potatoes, add garlic, water and broth. Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Using an immersion blender or a potato masher, blend up the sweet potatoes until smooth. Add meat, beans, and hot pepper, back to the sweet potato liquid and stir. Heat through and serve.