Yams are starchy tuber vegetables of West African origin. The yam vegetable has a lot of ritualism and symbolism associated with itself, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Yam belongs botanically to the Dioscoreaceae family, in Dioscorea genus. They have been cultivated since 50,000 BC in Africa and Asia. It is one of the most consumed foods in the world and is a staple food in South America, Africa, West Indies and the Pacific Islands (1)
Yam is available in around 200 different varieties with colors ranging from ivory, yellow to purple. The shape of this tuber is long and cylindrical with a rough exterior. The commercially important species of yam are White Yam, Yellow Yam, Chinese Yam, South East Asian and trifoliate yam. Yam in other languages is called as ‘Suran‘ or ‘Jimikand‘ in Hindi, ‘Kandagadda‘ in Telugu, ‘Senai Kizhangu‘ in Tamil, ‘Chena‘ in Malayalam and ‘Surangadde‘ in Kannada.
The plant which bears yam is a perennial vine which grows up to 2 meters in length. Yams are quite similar to sweet potatoes but they are no way related it. The major differences between the two tubers are: yams are larger in size; they have thick, brown to pink skin, depending on the cultivar type, while sweet potatoes are relatively smaller in size and have a very thin peel.
Yam is grown throughout Africa, Nigeria being the largest producer and exporter of Yam. Nigeria provides around 70% of the world’s total Yam production.
Yam Nutrition Value:
Yam is a good source of energy and each 100 grams contain 118 calories. It is mainly composed of complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber. It is an excellent source of B complex vitamins like Vitamin B6, Vitamin B1, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin. It also contains a good amount of antioxidants and Vitamin C. It provides around 20% of the required Vitamin C in the body per 100 grams. It also contains small amounts of Vitamin A and beta carotene levels. It is a rich source of minerals like copper, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. 100 grams of yam provides 816 mg of Potassium (2).
Health Benefits of Yam:
1.Heals Skin Diseases & Cures Respiratory Problems:
Yam has been used as a traditional medicine in China, Korea and Japan since centuries. It contains allantoin, a cell proliferate that expedites the healing process when applied topically on ulcers, boils and other skin diseases. Its decoction is also known to stimulate and relieve bronchial irritation, cough and other respiratory problems (3).
2. Good Source of Vitamin B6:
Yam is a good source of Vitamin B6 which is needed by the body to break down a substance called homocysteine, which can damage blood vessels walls (4). High levels of homocysteine can also lead to heart attack despite having low levels of cholesterol. Thus, having a good supply of Vitamin B6 in the body is believed to reduce the risk of developing heart diseases. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids and controls heart rate and blood pressure by countering the hypertensive effects of sodium. Low intake of potassium-rich food can also lead to hypertension. Dioscorin, a storage protein found in yam is known to benefit people suffering from hypertension. Dioscorin inhabits aniotensin converting enzyme which therefore leads to increased kidney flow and reduced blood pressure.
3. Supports Female Endocrine System:
Yam is particularly useful for menopausal women. It contains an enzyme that provides a natural alternative to hormonal replacement in women who have reached menopause.Wild yam is also known to support the female endocrine system. Its root has been traditionally used in conjunction with lactation. Vitamin B6 is an important supplement for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) in women, especially the depression that is triggered by it (5).
Artificial progesterone is also added to some wild yam as progesterone, androgens and cortisone were chemically manufactured from Mexican yarn in the 1960s. One cup of baked yam can provide you with 15.5% of the daily requirement of Vitamin B6. It is antispasmodic which means that it is capable of relieving spasms including those in the intestines that are caused due to muscle cramps. Yam can also be used to cure nausea during pregnancy.
It is a good tonic for the female system as it helps to balance the hormones. Yam is an herb which can help to heal the bodily conditions from a holistic standpoint. It supports the body and stimulates it to heal.
4. Source of Antioxidants:
Yam contains healthy antioxidants which also have anti inflammatory properties. The beta carotene and Vitamin C in this tuber work well to get rid of cancer-friendly free radicals (6). Free radicals can damage the body in reaction with DNA, so the antioxidants work to reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. It is also an excellent food for those suffering from arthritis and asthma.
5. Low Glycemic Index Healthy Food:
Diabetics can eat yam without worrying about the rise in blood sugar level. Glycemic index of a food reflects the food’s effects on a person’s blood glucose level. Fast glucose absorption is not desirable, so yam raises the blood sugar level slowly as compared to simple sugars and is therefore highly recommended as a low glycemic index healthy food (7).
6. Aids Digestion & Improves Bowel Habits:
The dietary fibre present in Yam reduces constipation and decreases bad cholesterol. It contains good amount of potassium which aids in healthy digestion (8) and stimulates smooth muscle contraction in the stomach for proper bowel habits.
7. Increases Nutrient Absorption of the Body:
Daily consumption of yam juice can increase nutrient absorption of the body (9). It also protects valuable enzymes needed by the body for healthier cells and maintains the good condition of the body. By drinking yam juice, all the vitamins and nutrients of it can be easily absorbed by the body in its liquid form.
8. Improves Cognitive Ability:
Yams also have the ability to increase learning and memory capacity in the human brain. According to a study, people who consumed yam for 6 weeks regularly noticed a significant increase in the cognitive abilities of the subject. This is mainly due to the antioxidant compound present in yams. It can also help to cure Alzheimer’s disease (10)
9. Cancer Deterrent:
Yam can also be viewed as a cancer deterrent especially of colon cancer. The dietary fibre in this tuber prevents colon cancer by preventing toxic compounds in the food from adhering to the colon mucosa (11). Vitamin A in Yam provides protection from lung and oral cavity cancer.
10. Source of Energy & Antioxidant:
Yams contain complex carbohydrates and fibre which gradually slow the rate at which sugars are released and absorbed in the mainstream. Being high in fibre, yam keeps you full without putting on those extra kilos. Yams are also a good source of manganese, a mineral that aids carbohydrates metabolism and is very important for energy production (12) and antioxidant defences.
11. Mediates Metabolic Functions:
The vitamins present in yam mediate various metabolic functions in the body. Carotenes are very essential to convert Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A maintains healthy mucous membranes and skin. It also improves vision. Vitamin C in yam plays an important role in anti-ageing, improves immunity, wound healing and bone growth (13).
12. Helps in RBC Production & Improves Blood Flow:
The minerals present in Yam also play major roles in the body. Copper is very useful for the production of red blood cells and improves blood flow in the body. Iron further improves the blood circulation in the body. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (14).
[ Read: Beetroot During Pregnancy ]
Skin Benefits of Yam:
13. Delays Ageing Signs:
Yam has amazing anti-ageing benefits. It contains amazing skin-friendly nutrients like beta carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and antioxidants which can help to prevent wrinkles and other signs of ageing (15).
14. Stimulates Collagen Production:
It contains a high amount of antioxidants which protect the skin from harsh sun rays and environmental hazards. It stimulates the production of the skin collagen (16) and brings smoothness and elasticity to the skin. Yam also renews damaged skin and improves the appearance of the skin.
Boil some yam and leave aside to let it cool. Mash it properly and add a dollop of honey. Apply it all over the face and let it stay for 30 minutes. You can also soak your feet in the boiled water to calm and relax your feet.
Cut slices of yam and place them on your eyes. Tubers have natural bleaching properties which help to reduce stubborn dark circles and rejuvenate the eyes and treat wrinkles as well.
Yam can also help to treat crow’s feet. They are high in Vitamin A which boosts collagen and helps to reduce wrinkles. Boil the yam for around 20 to 30 minutes and cut in into cubes. Mash the yam with the help of a masher and add plain yoghurt to it. Apply the pack on your feet and leave it for 30 minutes. This pack will moisturize and exfoliate the skin to treat the ailment.
[ Read: Fenugreek for Diabetes ]
Hair Benefits of Yam:
15. Promotes Hair Growth:
Yam is considered as an excellent source of natural health promoting compounds like antocyanins (17) and beta carotene. It also contains Vitamin A which is highly beneficial for cell growth, including growth of hair. A deficiency in beta carotene can lead to dry, dull and lifeless hair which flakes off into dandruff.
16. Hydrates Scalp:
Vitamin A in yam helps to produce and protect the oil in the scalp. This will keep the scalp hydrated and will prevent hair fall due to breakage. It will also keep the mane silky and shiny. Thus, yam can help to maintain hair and a fabulous scalp (18).
17. Prevents Premature Hair Greying:
Yam will also prevent premature greying as it contains a good amount of Vitamin B6 which creates melanin and gives the hair its colour (19).
18. Promotes Blood Circulation in the Scalp:
Iron in yam helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen and promote blood circulation in the scalp. Low levels of iron in the body can lead to hair loss and baldness in both men and women. Thus, regular consumption of yam will prevent hair loss and will promote hair growth (20).
[ Read: Olive Oil for Hair Fall ]
Selection and Storage:
Yams are available all year around but are mainly harvested in the month of August. Nigeria and Ghana celebrate a new yam festival every year with great pomp.
The flesh is white to light pink in colour and some are even available in yellow colour. Choose yams that are firm and do not have any cracks, bruises or spots. Do not buy refrigerated yams as cold temperatures can alter their taste. Yam should be stored after drying several hours in the sunlight in the barn. This way, they can be kept for several hours without refrigeration. Yams should ideally be stored in a cool, dark and well ventilated place. You can cut it in sections and store in the refrigerator. But it is best if consumed at the earliest.
Yam, however, cannot be eaten raw and should be cooked properly before eating as it contains many naturally occurring plant toxins. Yam should be peeled and cooked to remove the bitter proteins. Japanese yam can be eaten raw in salads or grated unlike the African yam. It has a rich starchy flavor. You can also soak yam in vinegar water solution to neutralize oxalate crystals in the skin. Yams taste creamy and turn quite firm when cooked. Cooked yam has an earthy taste with slight sweetness.
Yam can be used in a variety of cuisines, either boiled, baked, fried and even roasted. It can also be used in the preparation of cakes, muffin and bread. You can also puree cooked yam or can add chunks of yam to your roasted vegetables or meat. You can also use yam as a supplement in capsule form. It works really well especially for women’s health as it helps to support the female system.
Researchers have concluded that roasted yam is a better option than boiled yams as yams, when boiled can lead to some nutritional loss. Wet heat cooking or steaming is the best mode of cooking yam, as this avoids submerging the food in water and risking excessive leeching of water soluble nutrients.
Side effects of Yam:
Yam is not an allergenic food and does not contain too much of oxalates or purines but precautions should be exercised while consuming. Speak to your doctor if you suffer from kidney or gall bladder ailment as even the small amount of oxalates can also cause kidney damage. People who have a healthy digestive tract are better able to absorb the nutrients of yam without any side effects. There might be side effects like nausea, vomiting, headache and diarrhoea. Do seek medical attention if any of these side effects occur. Since wild yam is a disenin, it can react with estriol in the body and could make birth control ineffective. Pregnant and lactating mother should avoid wild yam.
Hope you found this information useful. Have you tried yams?
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