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New Breed of Sweet Potato Likely Culprit in Reducing Cancer Risk

It seems the color purple in a new breed of sweet potato is a likely culprit in reducing cancer risk. Researchers at Kansas State University are studying the purple sweet potato for its remarkable anti-cancer components.

Purple sweet potatoes have high contents of anthocyanin (the pigment responsible for the purple colors in foods like blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage) which have been established for its reduced cancer risk.
Purple sweet potatoes have high contents of anthocyanin (the pigment responsible for the purple colors in foods like blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage) which have been established for its reduced cancer risk.

The new study has determined that the purple sweet potato had significantly higher anthocyanin contents compared to the other potatoes. Dr. George Wang, associate professor of human nutrition at K- State and lead study researcher suggests that the purple sweet potato “should be generally recognized as safe and won’t need to be evaluated by FDA for an approval.”

This new breed of powerful sweet potato was developed by K-State’s Ted Carey, professor of horticulture, at John C. Pair Horticultural Center in Haysville. “If we claim it for a health benefit such as cancer prevention in the future, we still need scientific data to convince FDA for a health claim approval” said Wang.

The benefits of the purple pigment do not end there. Further research suggests that the purple sweet potato has significant aging-reducing properties. According to K-State’s Soyoung Lim, doctoral student in human nutrition who is also working on the study “compounds [in the purple sweet potato] have been found to have anti-aging and antioxidant components. The specially bred purple sweet potato had a much higher total phenolic content and antioxidant capacity than the other regularly occurring purple sweet potatoes.

Lim presented the research at the Experimental Biology Meeting in New Orleans in April. She is doing a follow-up study this summer that will involve treating animal cancer cells with the pigments. Further research will determine how many and how often one should eat the purple sweet potato for its antic-cancer properties to be effective. Currently, this breed of sweet potato is available at Asian grocery stores, however, Wang advises that the unique variety developed by K-State contains “much higher contents of anthocyanins.”

If purple is not your color, or impatience serves you well, conventional sweet potatoes contain unique root storage proteins that have been observed to have significant antioxidant capacities. Studies suggest that these proteins had about one-third the antioxidant activity of glutathione-one of the body’s most impressive internally produced antioxidants.

Additional research at K-State also suggest that if you are frequently exposed to second hand smoke, sweet potatoes may save your life. While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency. Baybutt’s earlier research had shown that laboratory animals fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. He suggests that a diet rich in vitamin A can reduce the effects of emphysema.

Baybutt believes vitamin A’s protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. “There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers,” he said. “Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema” he said.
Sweet potatoes by their nature are an excellent source of Vitamins C and A (also known as the anti-aging vitamin). According to Jennifer Haas a dietician with the Nova Medical Group in Virginia, “Both beta-carotene and vitamin C are very powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate free radicals.” Free radicals damage cells and can cause heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

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