Carrots, cassavas, potatoes, and yams may look similar. However, they have fundamental differences.
Carrots and cassava are considered root vegetable crops, whereas potatoes and yams are edible tuber crops or tuber vegetables.
In this post, we offer a comprehensive guide into what tuber vegetables entail, with a special focus on their health and nutritional benefits.
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How to Tell Tuber Vegetables and Root Crops Apart
The primary difference between edible root crops and edible tuber vegetables lies in how these crop varieties grow.
Both root crops and tuber vegetables grow underground. However, root crops are considered true roots.
Like all true roots, root crops occur as compact, usually enlarged storage organs complete with hairy stems. They develop out of the root tissue.
On the other hand, tuber vegetables are considered false roots. Although they also appear as enlarged storage organs, tuber crops develop from elongated stem tissues or rhizomes, not from root tissues.
Tubers may also be defined as underground plant stems which swell to store nutrients required to nourish a plant throughout its growth cycle.
Based on the above explanation, it’s clear that all tuber vegetables are technically roots, albeit false ones. However, not all roots are tuber vegetables.
Another clear distinction between root vegetables and tuber vegetables is that once root crops are dug out, the plant bearing the roots usually wither and die. On the flip side, mature tubers may be dug from the ground but the plants bearing them continue to grow.
Also, it’s possible to produce a completely new plant off a part of a tuber crop. As for most root crops, the primary way to produce a new plant is by planting seeds.
Health and Nutritional Benefits of Tuber Vegetables
1. Promoting Digestion and Weight Management
Tuber vegetables are loaded with dietary fiber. These vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Now, fiber-rich foods have been cited for their potential for aiding digestion and promoting gut health.
Soluble fiber promotes digestion by providing the nutrients required by gut microbiome – the gut-friendly bacteria which live throughout the digestive tract. Besides nourishing gut microbiome, the soluble fiber in tuber vegetables may also aid your heart and cardiovascular health.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, aids digestion by bulking up the stool. Larger and bulkier stools translate to more frequent bowel movements. That explains why nutritionists generally recommend fiber-rich diets for relieving digestive disorders like constipation, flatulence, and bloating.
In addition to aiding digestion, dietary fiber is also noted for its role in weight management.
When you consume tuber vegetables, you’ll usually feel fuller for longer. You’ll also note a marked reduction in the food portions you consume in one sitting.
Reduced food intake, coupled with suppressed hunger pangs, is an effective way to keep your weight in check.
2. Provision of Energy
Many tuber vegetables are rich in carbohydrates. That may sound like a deal-breaker, considering that a high-carb diet is a leading cause of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
However, the high carbohydrates in tuber vegetables are an excellent source of dietary energy.
Besides, tuber vegetables like Irish potatoes contain a type of starch known as resistant starch.
True to its name, resistant starch isn’t readily broken down and absorbed by the body. Instead, it easily finds its way into the large intestine where it serves multiple useful functions, including nourishing your gut microbiome and reducing insulin resistance.
So, while starchy diets may be associated with blood sugar spikes, resistant starch produces the exact opposite effect – reducing insulin resistance and thereby stabilizing your blood sugar levels.
3. Boosting Immunity
Like all vegetables, tuber vegetables are loaded with powerful antioxidant compounds. These compounds could boost your immunity by counterbalancing the number of free radicals in your body cells.
Free radicals refer to highly reactive molecules produced as a result of various metabolic processes. If allowed to build up in body cells, free radicals may encourage oxidative stress, which might lead to disease.
The antioxidant compounds in tuber vegetables may help to keep a wide range of chronic diseases at bay. Examples include heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and osteoarthritis.
A special group of antioxidants found in tuber vegetables, known as anthocyanins, have been cited for their role in inhibiting pro-inflammatory markers, such as cytokines. Therefore, supplementing with tuber crops may offer protection against various inflammatory conditions, such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), osteoarthritis, and acne.
Beta-carotenes are another noteworthy group of antioxidants in tuber crops. When consumed, beta-carotenes are converted into vitamin A, where they’re used in forming light-detecting receptors inside the eyes. Diets high in beta-carotene may aid eye health while also lowering the incidences of vision-related issues like macular degeneration.
Examples of Tuber Vegetables
a) Sweet Potatoes
Scientific Name: Ipomoea batatas
High In: Calories, carbs, fiber, vitamins (A, C, and B6), manganese, potassium, and the antioxidants anthocyanins and beta-carotene
b) Irish Potatoes
Scientific Name: Solanum tuberosum
High In: Calories, carbs, protein, fiber, vitamins (B6 and C), potassium, manganese, and the antioxidants carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acid
Scientific Name: Dioscorea alata (white yam), Dioscorea cayenensis (yellow yam), Dioscorea bulbifera (potato yam), Dioscorea esculenta (Asiatic yam), Dioscorea batatas (Chinese yam), and over 600 other species.
High In: Calories, carbs, fiber, vitamin C, copper, manganese, potassium, and the antioxidants beta-carotene, polyphenols, flavonoids, steroid saponins, and linoleic acid
Scientific Name: Zingiber officinale
High In: Calories, carbs, fiber, vitamins (B3, B6, and C) magnesium, iron, potassium, and the antioxidant gingerol
Scientific Name: Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus
High In: Carbs, fiber, protein, vitamins (C and K), folate, manganese, and the antioxidants quercetin, rutin, silymarin, and gallic acid.
Other common tuber vegetables include:
• Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
• Earthnut pea (Lathyrus tuberosus)
• Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
• Ulluku (Ullucus tuberosus)
• Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)
Although commonly confused with other root crops, tuber vegetables are quite distinct from many root-based vegetables.
They’re loaded with essential minerals and vitamins that aid normal growth, as well as powerful antioxidants that come with disease-preventing properties.