In the village of Ogimi, famous for its high ratio of Centenarians, as much as three times higher than most Western Nations, Michael and I found the richly colored deep purple Okinawan sweet potato to be a staple of their daily diet. This vibrant potato, rich in flavor and packed with nutritional benefits has long been thought to be one of the reasons the Okinawans are among the world’s longest-living people and suffer far less from common diseases associated with the aging process, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The Okinawan sweet potato, not related to the potato, is actually part of the morning-glory family, a vine coveted for its beautiful deep purple flower. Native to the Americas, the “Okinawan” sweet potato was brought to Japan sometime between 1492 and 1605 and after World War II, became a staple of the native survivors left on the island of Okinawa because it was such a hardy crop.
Not only high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese, they are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron and have been shown to improve blood sugar regulation and insulin production. More recent studies have discovered significant antibacterial and anti fungal properties, yet another indicator of why the Okinawan Centenarians maintain remarkably vibrant health.
The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels. Antioxidants help to guard against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Anthocyanin, the antioxidant responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh, is the same anthocyanin pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their color. The Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries.
These little purple powerhouses are also a rich source of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone.) This is a precursor hormone – a substance that remains latent until it converts into a hormone that the body needs. DHEA can become estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, all essential for your body’s anti-aging defenses to work. As we age, the body’s level of precursor hormones like DHEA drop dramatically in Western cultures, but drop at a much slower rate among the long-lived Okinawans, a phenomenon attributed by many to their diet rich with Okinawan sweet potatoes.
Enjoy these potatoes baked, roasted, boiled, steamed, sautéed, scalloped (with almond milk), or mashed with coconut water and sea salt. They are also great mashed with a little applesauce, cinnamon, nutmeg and grated orange zest. They make a great substitute in a sweet potato pie, or any other recipes you would normally use yams or bright orange sweet potatoes. So begin today adding the Okinawan Sweet Potato to your diet … and remember, “By birthright, we are all entitled to live A Longer Healthy Life!”
Diane Haworth and Michael Varbaek, Longevity Researchers www.ALongerHealthyLife.com