Do you wind up eating the same foods day after day, week after week? Why not spice up your meals and snacks with a new ingredient?

Now, I admit, this one is no beauty—jicama (pronounced “heek-uh-muh” or “hik-uh-muh”) looks like a radish on steroids that’s been snugly wrapped in a brown paper bag. A member of the bean family, it also goes by the name yam bean and is a staple vegetable in South America and Asia. You’ll forget its homely appearance, though, when you peel off the tough skin to reach its sweet flavor and crunchy texture. Read on for more reasons to love it!

It’s good—and good for you

Of course, taste is key, but there are many other reasons why I love jicama. Eating lots of fibrous carbohydrates is a crucial component of weight control, and jicama is an excellent source of dietary fiber. Despite its sweetness, it’s low in calories (about 49 calories per cup of raw jicama slices) and full of a certain kind of fiber with the tongue-twisting name of oligofructose inulin.

For those of you trying to slim down, that type of soluble fiber is an inert carbohydrate, meaning your body doesn’t metabolize it into glucose (sugar). The fiber itself has zero calories! Inulin also helps your bones absorb calcium, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. Jicama is also a good source of vitamin C, B-complex vitamins and several minerals.

What to do with Jicama

Jicama can stand in for potatoes, cutting carbs and calories. But it’s equally delicious subbing for other veggies. No matter what you’re making, first remove the inedible skin with a vegetable peeler, or save a few minutes and opt for peeled, sliced, cubed or grated jicama, which you’ll find in many grocery stores. Here are some quick and easy ways to enjoy this vegetable:

Slice it. Slice into strips about the size of French fries, and eat as is or with a dip. Or do as they do South of the Border and marinate the pieces for a couple of hours in the fridge in a mixture of lime juice, chili powder and salt.

Chip it. Love the crunch and snackability of potato chips but not the calories and carbs? Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel a jicama and slice it as thinly as possible. Place the slices on a cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil. Be careful to not let the slices overlap. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. Bake for at least 1 hour, or longer if your slices are thicker.

Toss it. If you like coleslaw, you’ll love this tangy substitute. Grate about 2 lbs. of peeled jicama with a grater or food processor. Place between two clean dishtowels and pat dry. Prepare the dressing: In a jar with a tightly fitting lid, place 2 tbsp. of olive oil, 3 tbsp. of lime or lemon juice, 1 tsp. of coconut sugar or a touch of your favorite natural sweetener and salt and pepper to taste. Shake vigorously until well blended. Place the jicama in a bowl and toss with the dressing and serve. Serves 4. (Variations: Reduce the amount of jicama and replace some with grated carrot and/or grated celery root. Add chopped red onion or garnish with chopped cilantro and/or chili powder.)

Roast it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut a peeled jicama into 1½-inch cubes, pat dry with a dishtowel and place in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and fresh or dried herbs, salt and pepper. Turn the cubes at least once to ensure even browning. Check doneness after 45 minutes. Serve instead of potatoes with any main dish.

Tip: Store jicama in a cool, dark place as you would potatoes. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

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