Yam, a starchy root, is a favourite food in most Jamaican homes and even for those in the diaspora who are willing to pay a big price for a taste of this simple yet delicious food item.
There are different varieties of yam, and they all have a unique taste, flavour and texture. Some are dry, some waxy, some soft, and the sweet yam- mmmmmm (mainly available a little before and after the Christmas season) - is even softer. Might I add that the latter is my favourite; soft and so delicious when mashed with ... - I will not disclose - it is a heavenly experience.
In the Caribbean, yam is in the staples food group because the main nutrient provided is carbohydrates. Yam provides the body with:
fibre, starch and sugar
vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins help us to get energy from carbohydrates and fat.
Yam is referred to as a complex carbohydrates food source because, in addition to the starch and sugar that provide energy, yam has soluble and insoluble fibre. Four ounces of cooked yam provides 80 to 100 kilocalories and four grams of fibre. There is more soluble fibre present in yam than insoluble, which makes it easy to digest and is a suitable food for young children.
The fibre in yam:
Slows the release of sugar or glucose from the blood into the cells. For this reason, persons with diabetes should consume yam to achieve better blood sugar control.
Increases satiety or makes the person feel full for a longer period of time. Yam is a recommended food for persons who are trying to lose or maintain weight because they will feel hungry less often.
Reduces the risk of being constipated (hard bound), because fibre increases bulk in the stool and with adequate amounts of fluid in diet, waste products and toxins will be removed from intestines or tripe.
Lowers low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or the bad cholesterol, by holding on to LDL cholesterol and removing it in the faeces.
Reduces the risk of colon cancer by not allowing harmful substances that are eaten to stick to the lining of the colon (large intestines).
Yam is rich in potassium and four ounces of cooked yam has about 816 milligrams. The potassium is needed to:
Control heart rate
Control blood pressure
Maintain sodium and potassium levels in the cells
Potassium is usually restricted in the diet of persons with kidney disease and it is recommended that they seek guidance from a registered dietitian in meal planning. To reduce potassium in yam, it can be soaked in water overnight. Water should be thrown off three to four times then cooked in fresh water, a process called leaching.
Yam has protein, about one gram in every four ounces. Of all the roots and tubers, yam has the highest amount of protein but should be consumed with peas or beans or fish or any food from animals to improve the protein quality.
Yam has no fat, no gluten and is a poor source of iron.
The versatility of yam makes it an interesting food but most Jamaicans are comfortable just peeling, slicing and cooking it. Yam can be used for flour, drinks, casserole, porridge and salads.
Yam, like all carbohydrates-rich foods, should be eaten in moderation. The end product of yam digestion is sugar (glucose) and too much sugar in the body is stored as fat, which may cause weight gain if adequate exercise is not done.
Yam should be consumed with protein-rich foods to maintain one's health
Yam should be part of a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables.
Introduce yam to children early so the food can be liked. Mash and offer to infant at seven months old.
Make yam part of your gluten-free diet.
Consume yam for good health and to improve our Jamaican economy.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org