Have you heard of ube? I hadn’t either…or so I thought. When I was in Kona for Ironman World Championships earlier this month, I realized not only do I know ube, but I’ve been eating it every year I’ve raced in Hawaii. For some reason, I wasn’t clued into this name. You, too, may know this trendy purple yam for something other than what it is. It’s flooding the mainstream in an unusual way: vis-a-vis ice cream!
What is ube?
Though it may be a beautiful work of food art, ube ice cream or ube cake are far from this tuber in its original form. Ube is another name for the purple, Japanese sweet potato I enjoy every year as the focal point of my strategic starching before race day. A one-cup serving of ube contains 37 grams of carbohydrates. Of those 37 grams, 5.3 grams are from fiber, 0.7 gram is from sugar and the remaining 31 grams are starches. Ube yams contain very little protein – about 2 grams per cup – and almost no fat.1 In essence, ube is a starchy food, much like the orange-tinted sweet potato everyone knows and loves.
The pros and cons of starchy foods
You probably eat starch every day, because it’s found in such common foods as bread, pasta, beans and potatoes (like the ube). Starchy foods are a primary source of carbohydrates and play an orchestrated role in the body. That’s why I, like many endurance athletes, plan the macronutrient ratios of my meals (what percentage of each meal will come from protein, fat and carbohydrates). I adjust this based on how long and how intensely I’ll be training that day or in the days to come.
Contrary to the advice you might come across in many magazines or blogs, eating a diet too high in carbohydrates – sometimes upwards of 70%2 – isn’t always the best approach. Using carbohydrates as the primary fuel source, whether for exercise or normal day-to-day activity, can actually work against you. This kind of carb-centric approach can, over time, increase your risk for many illnesses, including diabetes, insulin sensitivity, weight gain, decreased mental focus and poor sleep.3
That being said, starchy carbohydrates like the ube yam need not be omitted entirely from your diet. Once digested, carbohydrates break down into glucose – your body’s preferred source of energy. The key is to be mindful about when you consume these comfort foods and in what amount. By only using carbohydrates strategically to fuel an increased activity level, you can help transition your body into a more fat-burning machine. Becoming less dependent on carbohydrates and sugar can help you lose weight, increase mental focus, achieve balanced blood sugar levels, improve sleep quality and reduce your risk of other health concerns.4
How can I use ube in my diet?
Ube ice cream may be a nice treat once in a while, but you’d be better off enjoying ube in its purest form. For instance, the uniquely colored yam gets its purple tint from anthocyanins – the same way blueberries, cherries, red grapes and purple cabbage get their vibrant hue. Samuel Kramer, RD, LD, CISSN explains what’s great about anthocyanins, “Anthocyanins are the general term of flavonoids (functional nutrients) that contribute to the dark-colored spectrum of fruits and vegetables. And this spectrum of colors tend to contribute antioxidant properties.” In addition to its antioxidant powers, ube also provides the essential mineral potassium, plus vitamins A and C. To get the most benefits of ube, try it in a way that amplifies – instead of masks – its nutritional value. Here are a few ideas to start:
- Mashed and seasoned like your favorite Thanksgiving side dish (minus the heavy cream)
- Pureed into a hearty soup
- Pureed and mixed with nuts to make pre-workout energy balls
- Blended into a sauce you can spoon overtop lean protein
Or…you can try this eye-catching twist on seasoned potato wedges:
Baked Ube Wedges Recipe
- With a baking sheet inside, preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in cast iron skillet and sauté onion until brown. Set aside to cool.
- Wash ube and cut into evenly sized chunks or wedges.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and baking soda.
- Carefully add ube wedges and allow water to return to boil.
- Once boiling again, remove from heat and drain most of the water.
- Add 3 tablespoons coconut oil, using a spatula to carefully stir together.
- Remove baking sheet from oven and evenly spread ube wedges onto it. Bake 20-30 minutes, flipping once halfway through to achieve even browning.
- Once brown and starting to crisp, remove from oven.
- In a large bowl, mix together ube, onions and remaining 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Toss to combine.
- Sprinkle rosemary over top and serve.
- Nutritional Profile of Ube Yam. “Healthy Eating N.p., n.d. Web 11 Oct. 2016.
- “Carbohydrates – The Master Fuel | U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).” US Anti-Doping Agency USADA. N.p. n.d. Web. 11 Oct 2016.
- “Nutritional Ketosis Diet May Be Key for Optimal Health.” Mercola.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
- “Art and Science of Low Carb – Jeff Volek, PhD, RD & Stephen Phinney, MD, PhD.” Art and Science of Low Carb. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016