I Tried the Sweet Potato Diet (It’s a Lifestyle, Really)

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am a pretty great trend forecaster. I knew, for example, that tiny-ass cat eyes were going to come into fashion long before yesterday when, while wearing a pair, I counted literally eight women in a two-block radius wearing the same exact ones. I had a hunch about leggings becoming pants (but think I’m the only person riding that train) and last year, in the non-fashion sector, I predicted that bread was making a health food comeback. I still feel pretty good about that prediction given the high volume of health food bread product launches that sprout like grains in Brooklyn these days and all the breakfast toasts that still permeate my Instagram feed, but I should stop boasting.

I have noticed lately that sweet potatoes are on the up and up. Haley thinks this is a pure function of how tasty and delicious and starchy and carby they are in spite of their status as a vegetable, but last year, a celebrity endorsed them as her holistic, very affordable plastic surgeon, stating that eating one each day made her look younger. Then recently, I heard someone say that if you were to subsist entirely on sweet potatoes for the rest of your life, you could live a nutritiously balanced existence.

Doesn’t that sound dramatic?

Slightly untrue?

Determined to find out whether or not this clause is fact or fiction, I’ve dedicated the past two weeks of my life to rabid sweet potato consumption. You name it, I’ve tried it: sweet potato toast (sweet potato on a slice of crunchy Ezekiel bread, sometimes seasoned with harissa but more often with like, high-fiber maple syrup), sweet potatoes as toast (which is to say, as the bread underneath avocado mash and poached eggs). I baked my own sweet potato fries last Friday night; I threw diced sweet potato wedges into quinoa; I drenched them in egg yolk (all on different occasions). I even went so far as to bathe in them! Just kidding, but don’t put it past me.

Here’s a brief list of good stuff about sweet potatoes. They are:

+Rich in: Vitamin A, which helps with lung, heart and kidney function. Also good for your immune system and !reproduction! Vitamin C, which helps keep you looking as ~young~ as you are. Manganese, which regulates your metabolism and blood sugar so that it doesn’t spike like hell then crash like a Dave Matthews Band song. Manganese is also good for brain function, which is important, you know, because what even is 1+1 if you think about it? There’s a lot of Vitamin B6 in them, too, also vital for metabolism regulation and adrenal function support (meaning: sweet potatoes will calm you down if you are nervous. Can you believe it? They’re like a bath, but literally sweeter!)
+Full of carotenoids (beta-carotene to be exact), which are antioxidants that are great for vision, which is an escalating problem among people who have iPhones, IM(un-researched)O.
+Fibrous, and apparently the internet is really into fiber lately.
+A fairly good source of potassium, which is good for swelling (or is it?), and phosphorus, which keeps your bones and teeth strong.

There are other vitamins present in the vegetable — vitamins B1 and 2, niacin, pantothenic acid, etc, etc, but you get the point. Let’s get to the fun, guinea pig stuff! Given the surge of sweet starch pulsating through my body…

How do I feel?

More or less the same. To be honest, I think my vision is actually blurrier, not better, but maybe that is a function of pregnancy. I will say that my sweet tooth is under control. Where I used to consume a cinnamon raisin bagel with blueberry cream cheese every morning for breakfast lest you meet the wrath of my fire-breath, I am now perfectly fine opting for eggs over medium with a side of sweet potatoes (and pumpkin seeds sprinkled over them!), thank you very much. M&M consumption has depreciated significantly as well.

I have not experienced very much stretch marking, which is perhaps a function of the Vitamin C. I know it’s really Vitamin D3 (or genetics) that is supposed to help with this, but I will make a case wherever I can. I don’t buy the potassium thing (re: swelling), but will go with the clause on phosphorous enrichment, both because I can carry 7.5 pound weights for the first time in my life and also because my back barely hurts in spite of the nine pounds of fetus human-backpacking on my front. (I will not discount a possible placebo effect.)

One thing that was a significant challenge — perhaps the most significant of my life — was learning the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Today I feel fairly confident that I get it. Yesterday, I did not. While they both fall squarely on the “healthy starchy vegetable” spectrum, it is the sweet potato that has a higher concentration of most of the aforementioned nutrients. Yams are starchier, and a little bit sweeter, but it is these that Olivia Munn (the aforementioned celebrity endorser) promoted, so if you want one or ten, go for it. I won’t stop you.

Per the challenge, though — determining whether you could truly live on them and maintain optimal health — they probably fail. Why? According to nutritionist Carley Mendes, they’re only rich in one macronutrient: carbohydrates. They have little protein and no fats, and we need both those things to function. There is also very little iron present in a sweet potato, which sucks for pregnant, menstruating and nursing women. I have a solution: blackstrap molasses on sweet potatoes. Boom!

Do you want to know anything else? I am hanging out in the comments until someone makes me get up.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Art Direction by Emily Zirimis. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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