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Although the yam resembles the sweet potato and has often been referred as a sweet potato, it comes from a different family of vegetable. The yam can get as large as 8 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds.
The yam has a tough skin and is often hard to peel but becomes soft after cooking.  The skin of the yam is usually either light pink or dark brown and the flesh of the vegetable can be purple, yellow, white, or pink.

Where are Yams Grown

Yams are a primary source of food in West Africa as well as in New Guinea.  It is thought that the yam dates back to 8000 BC when they were first grown in Asia and Africa.  Yams are still a vital commodity of the African culture as it is a food staple used in that region for survival.  Because yams can be stored for long periods of time, up to 6 months unrefrigerated, they are the main food source in Nigeria especially during the rainy season when food is scarce. 

How to Grow Yams

Yams are typically grown in tropical climates where the soil is at least 70-80 degrees F.  They are grown from slips, which sprout from yam while in storage.  The soil should be rich and soft and will grow better if the cultivator uses compost or other soil additives to make the soil loose and full of nutrients.  Yams can take up to a year to mature, thus they are best grown where the climate is continually warm.  Fertilizing is important and should be done every two weeks using a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen but high in phosphorous.  The cultivator should be sure to keep the soil moist and to keep a close watch for any signs of fungal infections.  Yams are generally harvested by using a pitchfork to dig underneath the vegetable and lifting them up out of the soil. 

Nutrients Found in Yams

Yams have an abundance of nutrients that are important in a healthy diet.  They are high in Vitamin B6, which is a co-enzyme and helps regulate the systems in the body.  Yams are also high in Vitamin C, which is important in cellular health by removing free radicals from the body which may cause cancer.  Because yams are rich in potassium but are low in sodium this helps keep a steady balance of sodium and potassium in the body which helps to protect from heart disease and osteoporosis.  Yams are low in saturated fats which can promote a healthy heart and help fight heart disease. 

Healthy ways to Prepare Yams

Yams can be prepared many ways; the healthiest ways to prepare them is by baking or boiling them with the skin on.  They can be served whole after baking or mashed.  Yams are also used in making breads, cakes, and pies and can be a healthy substitute compared to other dessert type products.

Health Benefits of Yams

Yams contain a high fiber content which promotes a healthy digestive system and may prevent irregularity and gastro-intestinal issues.  Vitamin C, which is very high in yams, is essential for healthy cellular growth and eliminating the free radicals that cause cellular damage and lead to the growth of cancer cells.  The vitamin B6, which is found in large quantities in yams, is essential for a healthy and properly working liver.  Yams are also quite beneficial for helping lessen the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome because they are rich in folic acid and other B vitamins which help to detoxify an over abundance of estrogen which is the leading cause of premenstrual syndrome.  In a study conducted by Wen-Huey Wu, PhD, Li-Yun Liu, PhD, Cheng-Jih Chung, MS, RD, Hei-Jen Jou, MD and Tzong-An Wang, MD, it was found that women whom replaced their usual food with yams for a period of thirty days will improve the status of antioxidants, sex hormones, and lipids in the body; the effects of which can reduce the chances of breast cancer or reduce the risk of heart related issues in postmenopausal women.