The A-Z of Indian Superfoods: Yams

Used as an Ayurvedic remedy for centuries, the yam is an underrated vegetable in Indian cuisine. Here’s why this superfood deserves to be part of your diet, and some delicious ways you can eat it.

By Shreya Maji
12 Dec 2021

Locally known in India as suran, jimikand or ole, yams are a starchy, delicious tuber vegetable belonging to the genus Dioscorea. They originate from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean islands, and have found use in traditional and folk medicine of Asia and Africa for centuries. In India, yams are recommended by Ayurveda for their nutritional benefits, and as a natural remedy for treating acute rheumatism and haemorrhoids.


Yams are high in manganese and potassium, two essential nutrients for maintaining bone health and heart health. They also contain copper, which is important for red blood cell production in the body, and Vitamin C, an antioxidant with immuno-protective abilities. Eaten fried, roasted, mashed or in curries, these highly versatile tubers can thus benefit your health in many ways.



  • Can alleviate inflammation

Research published in Diabetologia in 2015 shows that chronic inflammation is connected to a number of long-term health conditions like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The antioxidants present in yams can help manage such inflammation. Yams also contain resistant starches, which feed your healthy gut bacteria while also increasing the production of digestive enzymes, which in turn reduces inflammation of the gut. Several studies, such as that published in Preventive Nutrition and Food Science show that the anti-inflammatory properties of yams can help prevent ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


  • May improve blood cholesterol levels

Due to their high soluble fibre content, yams can help maintain LDL or bad cholesterol levels. This is because soluble fibre binds itself to cholesterol, preventing it from getting absorbed by the body. This benefit of yams was proven by a study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition where women who consumed yams everyday over 30 days experienced a 6 per cent decrease in their cholesterol levels.


  • May strengthen brain function

Yams contain a unique compound called diosgenin, which has been found to promote neuron growth, and enhance brain functions like memory and learning abilities. A study published in 2015 in Nutrients shows that people who took a yam extract supplement for 12 weeks scored better on a brain function test.


  • Can help ease the symptoms of menopause

Some traditional medicinal practices suggest using yams to treat the symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and night sweats, and research shows that there is some scientific truth behind this. Estrone and estradiol are two estrogen hormones that decrease during menopause, and studies show that eating yams can improve the levels of these hormones by 26 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. This suggests that they can help alleviate menopausal symptoms.


  • Great for your skin and hair

Yams help in collagen production in the body, which is key to keeping your skin elastic and youthful. Yams are also high in beta-carotene, a B vitamin which helps in hair growth and keeps your hair from becoming dull and lifeless.


How to Add Them To Your Diet

  • Mashed Yams: Similar to mashed potatoes, boil yams until soft, then peel and mash them. Add milk and seasonings of your choice, such as oregano, thyme or nutmeg. Serve as a side-dish with rice, fish or meat.
  • Yam stir fry: A popular way to cook yams in the Andhra cuisine is the kanda gadda vepudu or yam stir fry. Peel and chop yams to 1 inch long pieces and boil them until they are soft, but not mushy. In a pan, heat oil or ghee, and add cumin, mustard, hing, ginger and garlic. Add the boiled yam pieces, salt and pepper, and fry until golden in colour.
  • Yam chips: Slice yams into very thin pieces, and marinate them for 10 to 15 minutes with turmeric powder, red chilli powder, 1 to 2 tsp lemon juice and salt. Shallow fry them in a hot pan, and serve garnished with coriander.


What to Keep in Mind

  • If you have a family history of hormone-related cancers (such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer) check with your doctor before regularly consuming yams, as there is a slight risk of them causing estrogen imbalance in the body.
  • An animal study indicated that diosgenin present in yams may interact with certain kinds of hormonal birth control. Although research is insufficient, you should still talk to your healthcare provider for advice.
  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid wild yams.


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