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African American Botanist Sowed Seeds of Good Health

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

There is a long list of “power foods,” and at the top of the heap you’ll find sweet potatoes and peanuts. Surprisingly the two have more in common than their popularity on the “hot” list. Both of the foodstuffs were studied by Dr. George Washington Carver who invented numerous uses for them. Carver was an African American botanist and inventor in Alabama during the early twentieth century. His life’s work focused on agriculture and these foods among others.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Panel recently released its report that will be used as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) review the Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans (RDA), for the 2015 guideline update. The report advises:

  • A higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

  • More plant-based foods that are generally lower in calories.

  • Consuming those nutrients counted as shortfall nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E and C, along with folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.

Peanuts and sweet potatoes fall into the groups of food choices that the panel advises are beneficial for good health.

Peanuts in reality are legumes; they are in the same family as beans and lentils. They are an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, unsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals. Peanuts are high in vitamin E, and folate, other vitamins include thiamin, niacin, riboflavin. Minerals include calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc. They do contain fat; however, it is unsaturated which is the better-for-you fat. Calories from eating nuts can add up quickly but remember moderation is the key. The recommended serving is one ounce, or about 28 peanuts.

These groundnuts can be enjoyed as snacks, as an ingredient in other dishes, or processed into peanut butter (invented by Dr. Carver). For those on vegetarian or vegan diets, peanuts are an excellent option.

The sweet potato itself is low-fat—it’s the ingredients we add that can tilt the scales in the opposite direction. The sweet potato is high in beta carotene and vitamins A and C. It is a good source of manganese which helps control blood sugar. The tuber is also an excellent source of antioxidants, carbohydrates and fiber. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet tasting however the sugars are slowly released which aids in maintaining a consistent source of energy and avoiding a “avoiding a sugar rush” which can lead to fatigue and weight gain.

Sometimes referred to as the super spud, sweet potatoes are very versatile—they can be served baked, boiled, mashed or fried. You can also serve them raw and sliced to pair with and served raw with other vegetables as a snack with a low-fat dip.

In counseling clients, I include both peanuts and sweet potatoes—they are readily available, easy to add to any meal plan, and most people like them. When Dr. Carver worked with them, his focus was on their benefit to improve the health of the soil where they were grown. Today we recognize the bonus of his work in boosting the health of both farmland and people.

Take Away: Peanuts and sweet potatoes are basic good for you foods. Make them regular additions to your meal plan to help you reach your well-being goals.

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