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How healthy, nutritious is yam?



How healthy, nutritious is yam?

Yams make up over 600 varieties of tubers known botanically as ‘Dioscorea’, and they originate in Africa and Asia. They are now commonly found in the Caribbean and Latin America as well. However, 95 per cent of these species are grown in Africa.

Yam provides around 110 calories per 100 grams of product. Yam is high in vitamins C and B6, potassium, manganese and dietary fibre while being low in saturated fat and sodium. A product that is high in potassium and low in sodium is likely to produce a good potassium-sodium balance in the human body, and so protects against osteoporosis and heart disease. Yam helps to boost oestrogen, which explains why it is a good immune booster, energy booster as well as a fertility enhancer.

One big advantage of yam is that it has a good shelf life. You can store yam for up to six months. Some can stay for up to eight months. While many people today are worried about the menace of contamination and pollution of food through preservatives, no such fears are entertained with yams. In fact, yam is one of the very few food items you can buy in the market today without fear of contamination or chemicalisation.

I was at a conference sometime last year when I heard a ‘nutrition expert’ addressing a large crowd of medical personnel about the dangers of eating Yam. He told them that yam is the major cause of diabetes in the society and must be avoided by all people with diabates and those who want to avoid it. In other words, if you have diabetes, then you will never eat yam, and your favourite pounded yam again. The ‘nutrition expert’, advised his listeners to replace yam with grains such as wheat, millet and semolina.

The truth, however, is that yam is healthier than wheat, rice and millet, and people with diabetes need not avoid yam if they follow the correct instruction on how to cook yam below. Think about it, how is it that food that has served our forefathers very well for centuries and is a part of our culture suddenly become dangerous and toxic? And how come the only alternative being recommended are food from other cultures that have to be imported? Surely, there is a foul play somewhere.

Yam has a lower glycaemic index, about 54 per cent of glucose per 150-gram serving, much lower than the potato, rice and even millet. The glycaemic index (GI) is a numerical system of measuring how much of a rise in circulating blood sugar a carbohydrate triggers–the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. A low GI food will cause a small rise while a high GI food will trigger a dramatic spike.

The glycaemic index rates carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100, according to their impact on blood sugar levels. This measure doesn’t take into account a carbohydrate’s digestible content. Foods with a high glycaemic index increase blood glucose more than foods with a lower glycaemic index. The speed at which a carbohydrate is broken down into glucose determines whether it is “fast” or “slow.” Fast carbohydrates break down quickly and have a glycaemic index above 70 and a glycaemic load above 20.

Studies by different experts have yielded conflicting results, some demonstrating that these African foods could cause diabetes and obesity while some prove the exact opposite, namely, that these African foods protect against diabetes. In one study published in the December 2006 issue of ‘Fundamentals of Clinical Pharmacology’, none of the 1,381 subjects had diabetes, even though yam and cassava accounted for a full 84 per cent of their caloric intake. A second study, published in the October 1992 issue of “Diabetes Care,” noted that Tanzanians who ate yam and cassava regularly had a lower incidence of diabetes than those who rarely ate it.

My observation is that the matter may be more easily resolved if more attention is paid not only to the food in its raw state but to the actual finished products and how it is consumed. For over ten years, I have been recommending that people with diabetes eat yam. The problem is not eating yam; the problem is the way you cook your yam and how you eat it.

Always cook your yam with the peels. Never peel your yam before cooking. For those old enough to remember, you will recall that this was how our father and mothers used to cook their yam and even plantain. They never peel the skin until after cooking.


If you peel yam before cooking, then the yam is likely to raise your sugar level because of its high carbohydrate and starch content. But if you cook your yam with the peels, and peel it after cooking, what you have is already a balanced diet.


Yam peels are the most nutrient-rich part of yam. Do you think it is an accident that goats prefer to eat yam peels to eating the yam? Try it at home. Keep yam peels on one side and yam on the other side; the goat will always rush to eat the peels. They instinctively know that the peels are richer in micronutrients.


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