Sweet potato soup is in focus next to sweet potato chips.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, B and C. Sweet potatoes are also a source of antioxidants, which are important to reduce cancer and heart disease risk. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Midlife and menopause are stages of life when weight gain happens fast and weight loss can be very slow.

Let me share a secret that can help: sweet potatoes.

Many people are surprised to learn the sweet potato is a healthy food that can to be added to any meal and help us all keep a healthy weight and get daily vitamins and fiber at the same time.

The sweet potato qualifies as a superfood—a weapon against weight gain, belly fat and diabetes. It can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even as a snack.

The sweet potato has so many health benefits. For weight control, it is a low glycemic index food, meaning that while it contains carbohydrates, the carbs are slowly broken down in the blood and can be used by the brain, muscles and liver and not sent straight to the belly to become fat.

Low estrogen levels, which define the life stage of menopause, cause cravings for sugar or any simple carbohydrate, such as what is found in white potatoes, white rice or white bread. Our body’s response to stress or sleep deprivation can include a rise in insulin surges and insulin response, which can result in an increased waistline.

Including foods such as sweet potatoes in your diet can help slow weight gain and add many good vitamins and fiber.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, B and C. Sweet potatoes are also a source of antioxidants, which are important to reduce cancer and heart disease risk. Manganese is also in sweet potatoes and can help with your metabolism.

Being healthy is about using small tips and tricks in daily life. The sweet potato can be used in fast and easy ways. They can be roasted, boiled, steamed, or even eaten raw.

The vitamins are best preserved when steamed, but I tend to roast my potatoes because it is easier. I wash the sweet potatoes, poke holes in the skin to avoid explosions in the oven, and put them on a cookie sheet for an hour at 350 degrees. Once they are cooled, I use the cooked sweet potatoes in a variety of ways to make satisfying and tasty recipes.

For breakfast, especially on the weekend when I have more time, I love to make one of my favorites—sweet potato hash.

Sweet potato hash: 1/2 cup chopped onion, 3 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of greens such as spinach or Swiss chard, 1-2 cups cubed roasted sweet potato, and optional meat of 1/4 cup cooked sausage or cooked bacon. These ingredients are sautéed together and then topped with a fried egg. Maple syrup added around the edge of the plate makes a tasty treat.

Here are some other ideas:

Sweet potato snack: Cooked sweet potato mashed with a fork, covered with a tablespoon of real maple syrup, chopped nuts such as walnuts, almonds or pecans, and warmed in the microwave.

Fast lunch with sweet potato: Cubed sweet potato with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, warmed in the microwave and tossed with salad greens and leftover cold chicken or sautéed tofu. This is tasty, filling, and helps avoid sugar spikes.

Sweet potato french fries: For dinner, my kids prefer sweet potato fries, simply made by cutting the raw sweet potatoes into whatever shape works—sliced to be round (fastest) or cut into traditional fry shape. Simply place the pieces on a cookie sheet with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and bake at 400 degrees until brown or about 30 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through for evenness.

Sweet potato custard: Mash 2 cups of roasted sweet potato and add 1 beaten egg, 1/2 cup almond or cow milk, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and spices such as cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Place in a small baking dish or ramekins, placed on a cookie sheet and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Yum!