“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This well-worn aphorism certainly applies to veggies…especially the sweet potato. This starchy root vegetable is, to be honest, not the most attractive food—with its odd shape, imperfect skin and dusting of dirt. But don’t let the appearance stop you from incorporating it into your meals. Chock-full of vital nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, folate, fiber, B vitamins and manganese, the sweet potato is one of the healthiest complex carbs around.

Sweet potato or yam?

Before we get too far along, let’s clear up this confusion about sweet potatoes versus yams. Here’s the truth: Even though they’re both tuberous root veggies, a yam is not even botanically related to a sweet potato! Real yams are typically imported from the Caribbean and generally sold only in international food markets in the US. A true yam, which has white interior flesh, is starchier and drier and not nearly as tasty as a sweet potato. It’s worth noting, though, that the veggies that are often mislabeled as yams are actually soft sweet potatoes. With their copper-colored skin and orangey flesh, this variety becomes fluffy and moist when cooked. So opt for this one if you want to bake it—and especially if you’re looking for that classic roasted sweet potato with the crispy skin and sweet, orange flesh.

Sweet potatoes come in purple, too.

Did you know that there’s a variety of purple potato that is actually a sweet potato, too? Available commercially in the US for about 10 years now, it is packed with even more antioxidants than its orange cousin. The purple hue is a giveaway that this variety is filled with anthocyanins—the same phytochemicals found in blueberries—which are powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that fight such diseases as heart disease and diabetes. For this reason, it’s a good idea to splurge on purple potatoes (they usually cost about twice as much as regular sweet potatoes) whenever possible in lieu of the less nutritious white-fleshed varieties. No matter what type of sweet potato you choose, it’s fun to add them to your diet in new ways. My favorite spud ideas: Cube potatoes, roast them and add to salads or even mac and cheese…bake, scoop out the insides and add to baked goods such muffins or pancake mix. Or try my sweet potato hummus recipe…

Sweet Potato Hummus

Change up your basic hummus by making it sweet…or spicy, depending on your taste preference. Ingredients…

1 medium sweet potato, washed

1 15-ounce can of garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained

2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon of tahini (optional)

Sweet spices: 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice

Spicy spices: ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon of paprika
and 1 teaspoon of cumin

Instructions: Preheat oven to 400ºF. With a fork, poke holes in the sweet potato all over (both sides). Place the sweet potato on a baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes (until you can squeeze it). Once cooked, remove the skin and chop the potato into pieces. Add the chopped sweet potato and the other hummus ingredients into a blender, and mix until it makes a smooth consistency with no visible pieces of sweet potato. Add either sweet or spicy spices. Taste and add more spices, if needed. Then enjoy!