Have you noticed that almost every restaurant nowadays serves sweet potato fries in addition to their standard white potato fries?
While I’m all for healthier food swaps (is there really a healthier french fry?), the truth is, sweet potatoes have so many health benefits that they shouldn’t just be compared with white potatoes as a french fry substitute.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants.
Today I want to share some surprisingly awesome nutritional benefits found in sweet potatoes that you may not have known about.
For example, sweet potatoes are often synonymous with yams, but that’s actually incorrect. Yams are a totally different species and only grow in Africa. Sweet potatoes are moist and sweet; yams are dry and starchy.
Another bit of confusion arises because people believe there’s too many carbs in sweet potatoes and choose to avoid them. But this is also very wrong.
Yams vs. sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably in recipes, but they are quite different and are not even related botanically.
Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family, while yams are closely related to lilies and grasses.
Yams are native to Africa and Asia, and there are more than 600 varieties.
Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.
Why the confusion?
According to the Library of Congress website Everyday Mysteries, sweet potato varieties are classified as either “firm” or “soft.”
In the United States, the firm varieties came first. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate the two kinds.
African slaves had been calling the soft sweet potatoes “yams” because they resembled the yams they knew in Africa. Today, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term “yam” to be accompanied by the term “sweet potato.”
Unless you are specifically searching for yams, which can be found in international markets, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!
Sweet potatoes have more powerful nutritional benefits than yams do, Sweet potatoes and yams are both healthy foods, and they look similar.
Sweet potatoes, however, have higher concentrations of most nutrients and more fiber.
Aren’t Sweet Potatoes High in Carbs?
One medium-sized sweet potato has 27 g of carbs, which is a bit higher than most of the veggies I like recommending.
The carbs in sweet potatoes break down into sugars and starches, 32% of the carbs in sweet potatoes come from simple sugars (think: fructose, glucose, sucrose), while 53% of their carbs come from starches.
Because of this, sweet potatoes have a relatively medium to high rating on the glycemic index (GI), which measures how foods cause blood sugar levels to rise.
They rank anywhere between a 44 and 94 depending on variety and cooking method.
Keep in mind that the GI goes from 1 to 100, with foods that raise blood sugar levels on the high end of the scale.
You can see why the range for sweet potatoes is so confusing; a 44 isn’t too bad, but a 94 is almost like eating white rice or a refined baguette.
The reason sweet potatoes rank so high with GI is because they’re mostly made of rapidly digested starches (around 80%).
There are three categories of starches and they’re differentiated by the way they work in our bodies during digestion.
The starches in sweet potatoes break down as:
- Rapidly digested starch: which raises the GI value the most since it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream
- Resistant starch: which doesn’t digest and acts as fiber
- Slowly digested starch: which causes smaller rises in blood sugar levels because it digests slowly in the body
For those suffering from type 2 diabetes or even gestational diabetes, sweet potatoes are definitely not something to eat everyday, but for others, they can be worked into your menu planning if done carefully.
So now that we know the real breakdown of carbs in sweet potatoes, let’s get to some of the better nutritional benefits associated with these tasty tuberous roots.
Here are 13 healthy reasons to add some sweet potato to your diet.
Protein in Sweet Potatoes
A medium-sized sweet potato contains 2 grams of protein, which is relatively low.
Sweet potatoes contain unique proteins, called sporamins, that account for more than 80% of the total proteins.
The sporamins are produced in the potato whenever the plant is subjected to physical damage, to facilitate healing.
Recent research suggests that these proteins may have antioxidant properties.
Despite being relatively low in protein, sweet potatoes are an important protein source in many developing countries.
Sweet potatoes are relatively low in protein, but are still an important protein source in many developing countries.
1. Super Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A Source
As you can probably tell from their characteristic orange color, sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A.
One medium baked sweet potato has 438% of your vitamin A intake – 23767 IU!
“A number of studies show that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene and other vitamins and minerals have a lower risk of some cancers and heart disease”.
High levels of vitamin A have even been associated with a reduced risk of developing gastric cancer.
You’ll also find beta-carotene in other (orange colored) pigmented fruits and veggies like carrots, winter squash, apricots, and cantaloupe.
Most people know vitamin A as being beneficial for keeping our vision strong, and it’s especially helpful for our vision in low light conditions.
But “vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin” too.
The deeper the color of a sweet potato, the more beta-carotene your eyes and body will be enjoying.
Orange and yellow versions contain more vitamin A than other varieties (yes, there are white sweet potatoes!).
Everyone should try to eat sweet potatoes just to ward off macular degeneration alone.
Just imagine a world without your sight for a second; is that enough to motivate you? Because it definitely works for me.
2. Good Source of Fiber
Just one cup of baked sweet potato has 6.6 g of fiber.
We know that most Americans eat less than half of their recommended daily fiber intake, so sweet potato is an excellent choice to raise those levels.
You’ll have a bit of soluble fiber (around 23%) to help keep you feeling full, but sweet potato’s fiber is mostly insoluble fiber.
Which means it helps your digestive system move along smoothly by adding weight to your system’s waste.
To get the most fiber from your sweet potatoes, keep the skin on when you eat them.
Make sure to scrub them clean before baking and you’ll enjoy a crunchy, healthy fiber alongside the sweet, creamy flesh.
3. May Help Control Blood Sugar
For such a relatively starchy food, it might seem counter intuitive to eat sweet potatoes if you’re suffering from type 2 diabetes.
But some studies suggest that the resistant fiber.
And slowly digested starches found in sweet potatoes may not raise blood sugar levels during digestion.
According to SFGate: “Eating sweet potatoes in moderate amounts will help you keep your blood sugar levels in the healthy range even if you have diabetes”.
I’m not going to overly promote this one to diabetics because I do think they have too many carbs, but it’s worth a mention
4. Hello, Vitamin C!
One cup of baked sweet potato has 65% of your vitamin C for the day – 19.5 mg.
We all know that vitamin C is crucial for keeping our immune system in tip-top condition, but this immunity booster is also helpful for lots of other functions in our body.
For example, vitamin C helps with bone and tooth formation and even plays a role in forming blood cells.
Not to mention that vitamin C has been known to increase collagen production so your skin looks supple and wrinkle free.
Current research claims that vitamin C has even been called a natural sunblock because it prevents the sun’s harmful rays from damaging our skin.
5. Stay Strong with Vitamin D
While our bodies love grabbing vitamin D straight from sunlight, we can also round some up by noshing on sweet potato.
“Vitamin D plays an important role in our energy levels, moods, and helps to build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin, and teeth, and it supports the thyroid gland”.
Without adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D, our bones start to become brittle and may be prone to breaking easily (ouch!).
But vitamin D is also crucial for regulating the development and function of the nerves in our nervous systems.
Vitamin D may be protective of cells that face oxidative damage and may even prevent mental disorders like dementia.
It’s important to make sure you get enough vitamin D because when you have low levels, you’ll feel like you’re in a constant brain fart (like forgetfulness, mental fog, etc.).
I always try to get enough vitamin D to keep myself alert during my hectic schedule.
6. Pumped Up with Potassium
This powerful electrolyte performs a ton of functions in our bodies. It regulates our heartbeats, helps relax muscle contractions, and even reduces swelling.
Potassium is also important for keeping our blood pressure down, which is especially critical for those suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure.
We need about 4,700 mg of potassium a day, which definitely sounds like a lot.
Typically, the banana is considered king of potassium, but guess what?
One cup of baked sweet potato has 950 mg of potassium, which is twice the amount found in a medium banana (422 mg)!
If you’re short on potassium, you could experience “fatigue, muscle cramps, heart palpitations, and dizzy spells”.
Studies show that increasing potassium levels reduces blood pressure for those dealing with hypertension and even lowers risks of strokes by 24%.
Maybe athletes will start eating sweet potatoes on the sidelines instead of bananas…
7. Calms and De-stresses
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of magnesium, the mineral Psychology Today describes as “the original chill pill”. This is a good description for it because magnesium helps us relax and puts us in a calm, happy state of mind.
It’s even crucial for letting us fall and stay asleep so we can recuperate from our busy days.
It’s been reported that around 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, which may explain why so many of us are stressed out instead of happy.
8. More Manganese
Manganese is a mineral that’s integral to the performance of enzymes that metabolize carbs, proteins, and fats. It’s also responsible for helping activate antioxidants to protect our cells.
You can find good sources of manganese in foods such as pineapple, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
At 28% of your daily manganese value, sweet potatoes get you one step closer to better carb metabolism, which leads to better blood sugar levels.
9. All About Antioxidants
Our body is constantly fighting off oxidation and free radicals that damage our cells. The more damage we have, the more at risk we become for developing serious health issues like cancer.
Dark fruits like blueberries are one of the best antioxidant powerhouses. But if you can find purple sweet potatoes (yes, they’re real), those will have the highest antioxidants of all sweet potato varieties.
And get this: purple sweet potatoes were discovered to have 3 times the amount of antioxidant activity of blueberries!
I don’t know how good purple sweet potatoes will be in smoothies or yogurt parfaits, but I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for them.
10. Anti-inflammatory Properties
“Due to the color-pigmented vitamins, sweet potatoes are high in anti-inflammatory benefits”, nutritionist Laura Flores told LiveScience.
Besides protecting our cells from damage, antioxidants also have anti-inflammatory properties.
And we now know that purple sweet potatoes are high in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is what gives red, blue, and purple fruits and veggie their color.
Sweet potatoes help mitigate inflammation from health issues like Alzheimer’s, chronic inflammation, arthritis, and cancer.
11. Chock Full of B Vitamins
Sweet potatoes house vitamin B5 and vitamin B6, both of which can’t be better for you.
Vitamin B5 (commonly known as pantothenic acid) specifically breaks down carbs and fats so our bodies can use them as energy. B5 also helps our bodies produce all the necessary hormones it needs to keep up with our cognitive functions, moods, metabolism, and reproductive health.
On the other hand, vitamin B6 is responsible for metabolizing the amino acids digested from the food we eat. B6 helps our body produce new red blood cells and can even lower our risk for heart disease.
It’s safe to say these B vitamins are A+ for our health.
12. Low in Fat, High in Flavor
Sweet potatoes don’t have to be the unhealthy side dish you know (and still love).
A medium-sized baked sweet potato with skin on will only set you back about 100 calories!
Whether you top that sweet potato with a bit of butter and cinnamon, or pour some veggie chili over it for a satisfying, healthy lunch, you’re going to have a tasty treat in your belly that will keep you feeling full.
Who wouldn’t want that from something so easy and inexpensive?
13. May Prevent Cancer
Thanks to their high levels of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes have been studied for their anti-carcinogenic powers.
In fact, studies suggest that the beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes “seems [to] decrease the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer, including those with a family history and those who use alcohol excessively”.
It also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer in postmenopausal women.
Those are some pretty outstanding results.
But to get the most cancer fighting abilities, try to choose purple sweet potatoes, as they’ve been deemed more effective than their orange brothers. Don’t worry; if you can’t find the purple ones, orange ones will still help.
Sure, sweet potatoes are not as healthy as other veggies like kale, but they’re still the healthier potato choice.
Their glycemic index number is lower, they have more fiber, and they have a ton of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that regular white potatoes don’t have.
Whether you’re eating sweet potatoes to replace your white potato addiction (the struggle is real when mashed potatoes are on the menu!).
Or adding them to your vegetarian and vegan bowls for beautiful color, fiber, and protein, know that you’re making an excellent decision for your health.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Regular Potatoes
Many people have substituted regular potatoes for sweet potatoes, believing sweet potatoes to be the healthier choice.
Let’s compare the two.
The two species (boiled, without skin) contain similar amounts of water, carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Sweet potatoes contain higher amounts of both sugars and fibers, and do sometimes have a lower glycemic index.
This is likely due to slower absorption of sugar as a result of complex starch and soluble fiber content.
Both are good sources of vitamin C and potassium, but sweet potatoes also provide excellent amounts of vitamin A.
Regular potatoes may be more satiating, but they also contain glycoalkaloids, which can be harmful in large amounts.
In conclusion, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index, are a better source of fiber.
And provide similar or slightly higher levels of vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin A) than regular potatoes.
Based on this summary, sweet potatoes are the healthier choice of the two.
Based on this comparison, sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes.
They have a lower glycemic index, more fiber, contain excellent amounts of vitamin A and do not contain any toxins.