By Chioma OBINNA

Creamy or firm when cooked, yams have an earthy, hardy taste and usually a minimal amount of sweetness. Although they are available throughout the year, their season runs from October through December when they are at their best.

Yams are one of the most popular and widely consumed foods in the world. They play a staple role in the diet of most families. Thanks to mother nature; when she brings forth a food, she makes sure it integrates everything needed to contribute to the health and vitality.

Just as it is identified by different words in Nigerian languages — isu in Yoruba, ji in Igbo – yam is said to be a good source of vitamin B6. Studies have shown a link between yam and cardiovascular disease. Experts have found that intake of yams can protect against cardiovascular disease as Vitamin B6 is needed by the body to break down a substance called homocysteine, which can directly damage blood vessel walls.

Individuals who suffer a heart attack despite having normal or even low cholesterol levels are often found to have high levels of homocysteine. Since high homocysteine levels are significantly associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, having a good supply of vitamin B6 on hand makes a great deal of sense. High intakes of vitamin B6 have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Yam is a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps to control blood pressure. Since many people not only do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, but also consume high amounts of sodium as salt is frequently added to processed foods, they may be deficient in potassium. Low intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when coupled with a high intake of sodium, can lead to hypertension.

Yam is a good source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps with carbohydrate metabolism and is a cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses.

In yam, may also be of benefit to certain individuals with hypertension. Preliminary research suggests that dioscorin contained in yam can inhibit angiotensin converting enzymes, which would therefore lead to increased kidney blood flow and reduced blood pressure.

Again, a look at yam, diosgenin, and menopausal symptoms shows that yams do contain some unique substances called steroidal saponins, and among these substances are chemicals called diosgenins. Because of similarities between diosgenin and progesterone, questions were initially raised about the ability of our body to convert diosgenin into progesterone, but research has shown that the answer here is clearly no. Diosgenin does, however, have an impact on hormonal patterns in studies involving animals, and may be helpful in lowering risk of osteoporosis, although there are no human studies in this area yet. Wild yam also has some history of traditional use in herbal medicine, as a botanical that can affect organ system function. A wild yam has also been used to support the female endocrine system.

For example, there has been traditional use of this root in conjunction with lactation. Vitamin B6 has been an especially popular supplement with respect to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women, especially in conjunction with the depression that can be triggered by PMS. Yams’ complex carbohydrates and fiber deliver the goods gradually, slowing the rate at which their sugars are released and absorbed into the bloodstream.

In addition, because they are rich in fiber, yams fill you up without filling out your hips and waistline.


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