Nepalis celebrating Maghe Sankranti cannot do it without yam, known as ‘tarul’ in Nepali. Consuming yam, ghee, chaku, and sesame laddu are parts of the rituals of this festival. Yams are generally boiled one day in advance before the Sankranti (the first day of Magh month), on the last day of Poush and eaten on the Sankranti day. This practice is in accordance with the old Nepali sayings ‘Poushko pakya, Maghma khanya’.
Besides the cultural connotation of yams among Nepalis, this ground vegetable has an abundance of medicinal benefits. Yam is a herbaceous vine producing tuber crop belonging to the family ‘Dioscoreaceae’ and genus ‘Dioscorea’. There are hundreds of species of yams with varieties of colours and sizes in the world. And, among them, ghartarul (cultivated yam) and bantarul (wild yam) are the most popular ones in Nepal.
Enriched in many nutrients and minerals like carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, potassium, vitamin B1, B6 and C, manganese, and many more, yam has many health benefits. Here are some of them.
1. Improve digestion
It is believed that consuming yams may help in improving digestion. A study confirms that the resistant starch found in yams “could ameliorate lipid metabolism in association with gut microbiota modulation, which could provide references for further medication.” Resistant starch feeds the good bacteria in the gut and also increases the digestive enzymes.
Also, resistant starches found in yams have the potential to alleviate many digestive ailments like inflammation, constipation, and diarrhoea, etc.
2. Fight cancer
Yams contain antioxidants properties that can help prevent cancer. In a study conducted in rats, it was concluded that the yam can enhance the antioxidant defence system and modulate inflammatory mediators that ultimately lead to the reduction of colon tumour growth.
Further, yams are rich in vitamin C that protects the body from cancer-causing harmful radicals.
3. Boost brain functions
It is proven by many studies that consuming yam is fruitful for enhancing cognitive functions and promoting neuron growth. In an animal study, it was concluded that diosgenin found in yams boosted the memory power and learning abilities in mice in the Morris water maze test.
4. Keep the heart healthy
Yams can help keep the heart healthy by improving blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol levels. In a study done on rats, they were given modified water yam flour (MWYF) as a supplement for four weeks. And, it was found that all MWYF showed the ability to decrease blood glucose levels in the rats.
Also, in another study, it was found that women who consumed 390 grams of yams daily for one month exhibited a 6 per cent drop in cholesterol levels.
5. Help in weight loss
As yams are full of dietary fibres, they can lower your food intake. Also, yams keep one full for a longer time. Also, they are low in calories as well.
In an animal study, it was found that yam extract ‘significantly reduced food intake, fasting blood glucose level, and body weight.’ There, dietary fibres in yams can aid in losing weight.