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Sweet Potato Surprises

The ultimate holiday vegetable is shockingly good for you.

With more fiber than a bowl of oatmeal, more vitamin A than a cup of carrots, and more potassium than a banana, a sweet potato is the healthiest — and possibly least appreciated — holiday food.

Rich in vitamin C, it's loaded with carotenoids — powerful antioxidants that protect against cancer and heart disease and boost immune function. Its high potassium content helps control blood pressure. And at 150 calories, it is naturally low calorie, says nutritionist Joy Bauer, author of Slim & Scrumptious.

Alas, we tend to drown this nutritional powerhouse in butter and sugar, negating all its natural goodness. But Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef, says unadorned sweet potatoes are making a comeback. "I use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes in all my favorite recipes," adds Smith, who recently shed 100 pounds.

For a healthier alternative to classic candied yams, try Smith's sweet potato salad. There's no better match for roasted turkey or ham.

Expert Advice: Chew on This

Most of us sabotage our diets even before we sit down to our Thanksgiving Day meal, because we nibble on prefeast snacks.

At the Cornell Food and Brand Lab we recently asked just over a thousand people about their holiday food choices and found that most ate about 10 percent of their total calories before the turkey was served.

One trick for eating less: Limit your premeal grazing to what ­ ever homemade goodies are provided, and shun the store-bought crackers, cheese, and nuts. You'll please the person who made the treats — and you'll have more room for the big meal. — Brian Wansink, Ph.D.