There are nearly 200 varieties of yams (Dioscorea), and almost as many health benefits from eating them. These root vegetables pack a powerful punch with estrogen-like substances that can substantially ease menopause symptoms, help you watch your weight, boost your energy and protect you from degenerative disease associated with age.
1. Yams are loaded with mighty menopause soothers. Yams are an important menopausal ally because they contain a unique phytoestrogen known as diosgenin, a chemical compound with estrogen-like properties that can substantially decrease menopausal discomfort. In fact, diosgenin from yams is so important, it is a key ingredient in natural pharmacy-compounded bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which mimics the body’s own hormones.
A Taiwanese study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who ate yams twice a day for 30 days increased their estrogen levels by as much as 27%. A control group of women who consumed sweet potatoes instead of yams showed no changes in hormone levels following the trial, a fact that underscores the importance of choosing yams over sweet potatoes when you head to the produce section.
2. Lower postmenopausal disease risk with yams. The ovaries produce estradiol, the most powerful form of estrogen. When the ovaries shut down at menopause, production of estrogen is taken up exclusively by body fat and your adrenal glands, the small walnut-sized glands above your kidneys, both of which produce a weaker form of estrogen known as estrone.
Without adequate protective estradiol, menopausal women are at increased risk of developing degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer. The Taiwanese study indicated that eating yams boosted levels of both estradiol and estrone in participants, so it makes sense to eat yams every day to safeguard your health. In addition to helping balance and increase your hormone levels, yams are high in vitamin C — a potent antioxidant that helps eradicate free radicals that can destroy your vitality.
3. Stay slim and fight menopausal fatigue with yams. Yams contain complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber that help slow the rate that sugars are released and absorbed by the bloodstream during digestion. And because yams fill you up fast, you eat less. Not only do yams help you maintain a healthy weight but, because they are full of the trace mineral manganese, they also fight fatigue, a common problem during menopause as the body’s endocrine system adjusts to a new hormonal reality. Yams taste good, and they give your energy a boost.
4. Buy yams instead of sweet potatoes. Most root vegetables sold as yams in the US are actually orange-colored sweet potatoes. The confusion dates to the mid-1900s, when US growers began cultivating sweet potatoes with orange flesh instead of white flesh. To distinguish this new orange-colored sweet potato, producers tweaked the African word “nyami” to come up with “yam,” thus forever befuddling shoppers. True yams are in the same family as pumpkin, butternut squash, orange bell peppers and carrots. It’s easy to tell the difference. There’s little sweetness in yams, and the rich, earthy flavor is indicative of their potent healing powers. You may have trouble finding authentic yams in US stores, even specialty purveyors. Your best bet is an international grocery.
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