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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.

Did you know the month of November has been set aside to recognize the sweet potato? This root vegetable is high in many vitamins, minerals and fiber. At the top of the list is vitamin C, which is needed to promote a healthy immune system. However, it is also important in the repair of all body tissues, creation of collagen, absorption of iron and wound healing. Furthermore, vitamin C is needed for healthy cartilage, bones and teeth.

Even higher on the list of health enhancing nutrients is vitamin A. In fact, sweet potatoes are incredibly rich in beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A), the antioxidant responsible for the vegetable's bright orange color. Likewise, purple sweet potatoes are also rich in beta- carotene and anthocyanins that may prevent vision loss and improve eye health.

Additionally, anthocyanins found in purple and orange sweet potatoes have been found to slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells in early stage studies. This includes cancers of the bladder, colon, stomach and breast. The health enhancing benefits of sweet potatoes do not stop here.

For those concerned with cognitive decline, both purple and orange sweet potatoes may improve brain function. Studies have found the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes can protect the brain by reducing inflammation and preventing free radical damage. We know diets rich in fruits, vegetables and antioxidants are associated with a 13 percent lower risk of mental decline and dementia. The high amounts of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, has been linked in early studies to improving memory and learning.

Furthermore, there is a healthy gut connection with sweet potatoes. We have already mentioned vitamin A for vision and eye healthy. However, of great importance is the vitamin A connection to gut health. It is key for maintaining healthy mucous membranes, especially in the lining of your gut. The gut is where your body is exposed to many potential disease-causing pathogens. In addition, studies have shown low vitamin A increases gut inflammation. This can impair probiotic ratios, food sensitivities, neurotransmitter production and more.

Sweet potatoes are easy to add to your diet. They can be enjoyed with or without the skin and can be baked, boiled, roasted, fried, steamed or pan-cooked. The natural sweetness makes these potatoes a good pairing for both savory and sweet dishes. Bottom line: Sweet potatoes are a nutrient dense food adding a healthy option to your diet. Here are some ways to enjoy sweet potatoes:

- Sweet potato chips: Peeled, thinly sliced, and baked or fried.

- Sweet potato fries: Peeled, cut into wedges or matchsticks, and baked or fried.

- Sweet potato toast: Cut into thin slices, toasted, and topped with ingredients like nut butter or avocado.

- Mashed sweet potatoes: Peeled, boiled, and mashed with milk and seasoning.

- Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole in the oven until fork-tender.

- Sweet potato hash: Peeled, diced and cooked with onion in a pan.

- Spiralized sweet potatoes: Cut into spirals, sautéed and sauced.

- In baked goods: Sweet potato puree adds moisture without fat.

Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for more than 30 years. Core to her practice remains use of nutrition to improve health, vitality and quality of life. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master's degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.

ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH MISO-TAHINI SAUCE

2 small sweet potatoes (about 10 oz. total)

2 Tbsp olive or avocado oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp white miso

2 tsp distilled white vinegar

1 scallion

1 tsp. raw sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit. Rinse two sweet potatoes, rubbing to remove dirt from skins.

Cut potatoes into quarters lengthwise, then cut each wedge in half crosswise into 2-inch-long pieces

Toss potatoes, 2 Tbsp oil, and tsp salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing every 5 minutes, until a knife easily pierces flesh but exterior is still crispy, 1520 minutes total

Meanwhile, mix 2 Tbsp tahini, 2 Tbsp miso, 2 tsp vinegar, and 1 Tbsp water with a fork in a small bowl until smooth.

Trim root end off 1 scallion, then thinly slice from bulb to dark green tip.

Heat a small dry skillet over medium. Toast 1 tsp sesame seeds, tossing constantly, until fragrant and golden, about 30 seconds.

Spread tahini sauce on a platter. Arrange potatoes over. Top with sesame seeds and scallions.

Dip the roasted sweet potatoes into the tahini sauce and enjoy!

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