Antioxidants are a must for good health. Having enough of these beneficial compounds in your daily diet protects you all that much more from free radicals that can give rise to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

A delicious and very inexpensive way to get the daily value of antioxidants one needs is to add sweet potatoes to your diet. Mind you, we’re talking about those mouth-watering baked sweet potatoes packed with healthy goodness mom used to make, and not those salt-infested potato chips.

White, purple (Okinawan sweet potatoes) and orange potatoes (Jewel, Garnet, and Beauregard) when prepared the nutritious way are always good sources of antioxidants that promote good health. These starchy root vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. As such, they protect us from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can also damage DNA and trigger inflammations.

And what other great benefits are there to consuming sweet potatoes as part of your healthy diet? We’ve got seven big pluses for you:

1. Sweet potatoes might help fight cancer. Yes, they can, and that’s because the different types of sweet potatoes offer various antioxidants such as anthocyanins that help protect against certain types of cancers. Anthocyanins are abundant in purple sweet potatoes. Clinical studies show evidence they slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells, including those of colon and breast cancer.

It’s also been found that extracts of orange sweet potatoes and sweet potato peels have anticancer properties in test-tube studies. Research to test these effects in humans are underway.

2. Sweet potatoes help with healthy vision. It’s great sweet potatoes are very rich in beta-carotene, a plant-based compound the body converts to vitamin A. This vitamin creates the light-detecting receptors inside our eyes.

Some 200 grams of baked orange sweet potatoes (with skin) packs more than seven times the amount of beta-carotene the average adult needs every day.

3. Sweet potatoes might improve one’s brain function. The anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes can protect the brain by reducing inflammation and preventing free radical damage as is shown by animal studies. This antioxidant has also been found to improve learning and memory in mice, probably due to its antioxidant properties.

Studies have shown diets rich in fruits, vegetables and antioxidants are linked to a 13 percent lower risk of mental decline and dementia.

4. Sweet potatoes are nutritious. Here are the few of the many healthy vitamins and minerals you get from eating sweet potatoes: fiber: 6.6 grams; Vitamin A: 769 percent of Daily Value (DV); Vitamin C: 65 percent of DV; Vitamin B6: 29 percent of DV; pantothenic acid: 18 percent of DV; Niacin: 15 percent of the DV and copper: 16 percent of the DV.

5. Sweet potatoes help promote digestive health. Two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, work together to promote gut health and they’re found in sweet potatoes.

Some types of soluble fiber absorb water and soften stool. On the other hand, insoluble or non-viscous fibers don’t absorb water and add bulk. Studies have discovered that diets containing 20 to 33 grams of fiber per day have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer and more regular bowel movement.

6. Sweet potatoes might help you live longer. The people of Okinawa, Japan have among the longest life expectancies in the world. Western researchers discovered that one of their secrets to longevity is -- you guessed it -- a diet rich in sweet potatoes. They have the Okinawan or Japanese purple sweet potato to thank for that.

Okinawans mostly eat whole plant foods. And they get a remarkable 60 percent of their calories from sweet potatoes!

7. Sweet potatoes could enhance the immune system. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are one of the richest natural sources of beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A as mentioned earlier. It is a fact that Vitamin A is crucial to a healthy immune system.

Vitamin A is also needed for maintaining healthy mucous membranes, especially in the lining of your gut.