Sweet potatoes’ reputation as a so-called superfood seems to be on the rise, and not just as a low-carbohydrate, high-fiber food source.
Now, they have the backing of the American Heart Association, which in November 2010 certified fresh-market sweet potatoes to bear the association’s heart-check mark.
“I think sweet potatoes are a well-positioned nutritionally, anyway, but with this getting certified for use of that heart check mark, it adds a little to what we’re doing,” said Charles Walker, executive secretary of the Columbia, S.C.-based U.S. Sweet Potato Council.
“They have consumer surveys that say seeing that heart check mark on a product or package, people that are looking for healthy foods kind of use that check mark as a guideline in making heart-healthy purchases.”
The process of getting sweet potatoes certified by the heart association goes back to 2006, Walker said.
“They’re making some effort, I believe, to get more produce items certified with the heart check mark,” he said.
Achieving the heart association’s endorsement is the latest in a string of positive developments for marketing sweet potatoes as a high-nutrition food, marketers said, citing the first big bump during the Atkins and South Beach diet crazes of several years ago.
“We believe that we have a good, strong nutrition message, and we are developing various strategies for implementing a very strong nutrition message in our marketing efforts,” said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.
The health message has helped sweet potatoes climb to a new marketing level, said Sandi Kronick, chief executive officer of Eastern Carolina Organics, Pittsboro, N.C.
“They’re still getting a fair amount of press, as far as being a very exciting item that’s kind of a Southern food that has kind of made its way and established itself in the broad culinary world,” she said.
Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, said the heart-check certification is a major plus for sweet potatoes.
“The nutritional value of the sweet potato is well known,” Graves said.
“Anybody who’s serious about their diet has already picked up on that. In fact, the new processed product has high nutrition. Betty Crocker has a mashed sweet potato mix now.”
Other suppliers and marketers note the other dietary pluses that sweet potatoes carry.
“The low-carb part of that is it’s a complex carbohydrate and the low glycemic is where it’s being pushed now,” said George Wooten, owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.