Being a vegetarian, I eat a lot of sweet potatoes. Their role in our health and particularly eyesight was something I never gave it much thought. But as a part of the ABC and the United Nations Foundation’s Million Moms Challenge I learned that besides tasting great, the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that were on most American tables this Thanksgiving are rich in vitamin A and play an important role in protecting our eyesight.
There are 127 million pre-school children and 7 million pregnant women who are vitamin A deficient. In Africa most sweet potatoes are the white variety lacking almost all beta-carotene that the orange sweet potatoes contain and therefore fail to be a source of vitamin A.
In fact, about 60 children per hour go blind because of a vitamin A deficiency.
In the U.S. it is easy to forget how serious vitamin A deficiency can be. Each year, it is estimated that 670,000 children will die from vitamin A deficiency and 350,000 will go blind. Almost all of these children are in Africa and Southeast Asia.
There is a simple solution: a variety of sweet potato that is particularly rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts easily into vitamin A. And just half a cup a day of this type of sweet potato protects the health of children and also dramatically reduces maternal mortality rates.
The Million Moms Challenge is working with the Helen Keller International to supply sweet potato vines to people. You can donate here if you choose.
And if you join the Million Moms Challenge for every person who joins the Challenge, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 — up to $100,000 — to help moms and children in need.