Sweet potato toast. Sweet potato rice. Sweet potato noodles. No doubt sweet potato creations are taking over your plate, and for good reason: this tuber is a terrific source of energizing and filling complex carbohydrates. It’s why active folks love them.
But potatoes are naturally starchy, since they’re…well, a starch. Which might make you wonder if they’re as good for you as all the paleo bloggers say.
Thankfully, they’re one health food that actually lives up to the hype. If you’re curious about the calories in a sweet potato: there are 103 in one, medium-sized sweet potato, according to the USDA. If you go for a large, you’ll get 162 calories. That’s not bad, so if you’ve been avoiding sweet taters because you’re worried about the calories, know that they can play an important role on your plate.
Plus, they’re loaded with nutrients. Check out the other stats per medium tater, courtesy of the USDA:
The key difference between the two (besides color) lies in the nutrients. The sweet potato has nearly twice as much fiber as a regular potato. That’s important if you’re looking to slim down, since studies have shown that upping the fiber intake in your diet (women should aim for 25 g a day) can aid weight loss efforts. Plus, fiber helps keep you full and satisfied—making you less likely to mindlessly snack during the day.
Sweet potatoes have more vitamin C than their regular counterparts. And unlike a sweet potato, a regular potato doesn’t have any vitamin A—important for sharp vision and smooth skin.
So basically, sweet potatoes are a great choice for your health and your plate. But remember: They can be vehicles for loads of butter and sour cream or sugary ketchup. Of course these things are fine to incorporate in your diet, but it also pays to read labels to choose the lowest sugar ketchup available, for instance. Or sub that dollop of sour cream with Greek yogurt for a bigger protein punch.
- 14 Calcium Rich Vegetables
- How much calcium do you really need?
- 1. Collard greens: 357 mg calcium
- 2. Edamame: 261 mg calcium
- 3. Turnip greens: 249 mg calcium
- 4. Nopales: 244 mg calcium
- 5. Kale: 179 mg calcium
- 6. Mustard greens: 165 mg calcium
- 7. Baby bok choy: 158 mg calcium
- 8. Dandelion greens: 147 mg calcium
- 9. Snow peas: 150 mg calcium
- 10. Broccoli rabe: 100 mg calcium
- 11. Acorn squash: 90 mg calcium
- 12. Sweet potatoes: 89 mg calcium
- 13. Stewed tomatoes: 87 mg calcium
- 14. Butternut squash: 84 mg calcium
- Where’s the spinach?
- Where will you get your calcium?
- Your turn:
- Food Articles, News & Features Section
- SWEET POTATO NUTRITION
- Sweet Potato Ranks Number One In Nutrition
- Nutrition Stats
- Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
- Are sweet potatoes better for you than white potatoes?
- Are sweet potatoes high in sugar?
- Are sweet potatoes the same as yams?
- Orange, yellow, or purple sweet potatoes: What’s the difference?
- Can you O.D. on vitamin A?
- How should I prepare them?
- Meet the Sweet Potato
- The Origin of the Sweet Potato
- What’s the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?
- How Many Sweet Potato Varieties Exist?
- What Makes a Sweet Potato Sweet?
- Are Sweet Potatoes Good for You?
- Sweet Potato Nutrition
- Sweet Potatoes Are Remarkably High in Vitamin A
- 10 Incredible Sweet Potato Health Benefits
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #1: They Support Digestive Health
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #2: They Keep Your Heart Healthy
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #3: They Help Stabilize Blood Sugar
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #4: They Can Boost Your Immunity
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #5: They Are Good for Your Eyes
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #6: They Fuel Your Brain
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #7: They Can Help Ease Stress and Anxiety
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #8: They Can Help Boost Fertility
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #9: They Can Help Fight Cancer
- Sweet Potato Health Benefit #10: They Have Anti-Inflammatory Effects
- How to Choose and Store Sweet Potatoes
- The Best Way to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
- 5 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes
- Sweeten Your Health with Sweet Potatoes
- The Nutritional Breakdown: Sweet Potato Fries vs. French Fries
- The Verdict
- Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts
- Sweet Potato Nutrition: Sweet Potato Benefits
- Sweet Potato vs. Yams
- Sweet Potato Nutrition vs. White Potato Nutrition
- Where to Find and How to Use Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Nutrition History
- Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
- Ask Keri: Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
- Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Basics
- Why Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
- Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Bottom Line
14 Calcium Rich Vegetables
Vegetables are a surprisingly good source of calcium.
“But where do you get your calcium?”
If you’re dairy free, I’m sure you’ve heard this question. Whether from friends, family, or a stranger in the checkout line, it’s usually spoken in a scandalized tone by someone who’s clearly agog that you don’t drink milk.
I confess, the question makes me a little crazy. Because—logically speaking—why would adult humans need to drink baby-cow growth formula just to get enough calcium?
Yet I understand why people are shocked. We’re taught from day one that milk is the source of calcium in anyone’s diet. Without milk, your bones are pretty much destined to dissolve as you age, right?
I don’t know about you, but that’s the message I got.
However, when you dig into the science, an entirely different picture emerges: Multiple studies have found that drinking milk doesn’t prevent fractures at all.1,2 One study even found that drinking lots of milk increased hip fracture risk in older women.3 Ironically, taking calcium supplements is also linked to broken bones4. In fact, it looks like getting enough, but not too much calcium, is the way to go.
So, what decreases fracture risk? Fruits and veggies.5 This may be because many fruits and vegetables contain not only calcium, but magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C, which are essential to strong bones. (Vitamin D also helps prevent broken bones; you can get it from sun, supplements, and fortified foods.)
So I’ve settled on an answer to the checkout lady’s calcium question. I simply say:
I get my calcium from the same place cows do: Plants!
Food for thought. 🍅
How much calcium do you really need?
Surprisingly, not that much. According to the U.S. government, women ages 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium per day. And that estimate may be high; the U.K.’s National Health Service states that adults need only 700 mg per day.
Since I’m in the States, I’ll list the current U.S. calcium recommendations for adults. (Guidance for kids here.) But if you’re in the U.K., apparently you’re off the hook. 😉
Recommended Daily Allowances (National Institutes of Health)
Luckily, just a few of servings of calcium-rich veggies can help you get the calcium you need while powering you up with a host of health-boosting nutrients. So grab your cutting board and a good, sharp knife. Let’s dig into some calcium-rich veggies!
Note: Most calcium values that follow are per 1 cup cooked vegetable. See note in italics at the end of each vegetable entry for further details. All data from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database.
1. Collard greens: 357 mg calcium
This southern staple is a calcium powerhouse! Try Superfast Hoisin Collard Greens for a quick and easy way to enjoy. (357 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained collard greens, cooked from frozen.)
2. Edamame: 261 mg calcium
Image credit: United Soybean Board via Flickr Creative Commons
That tasty sushi-restaurant appetizer? It contains over a quarter of your daily calcium and nearly 22 grams of protein, nearly the same amount of protein as 4 eggs! (261 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained green soybeans)
3. Turnip greens: 249 mg calcium
Image credit: BigOakImages via Flickr
Possibly the tastiest part of the turnip, the greens are a great source of calcium. (249 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained turnip greens, cooked from frozen)
4. Nopales: 244 mg calcium
Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr
If nopales, or cactus paddles, are new to you, you’re not alone. But given how rich they are in calcium, they’re at the top of my to-try list. I’ll be starting with this scrumptious-looking Raw Papaya-Nopal Salad from Gastrawnomica. (244 mg per 1 cup cooked nopales)
5. Kale: 179 mg calcium
Kale is still cool, right? 😎 Well, when it comes to calcium, it certainly is. Think you don’t like kale? Try it in this absurdly addictive (and easy) Kale and Mango Salad with Creamy Ginger Dressing. You may just have a change of heart. (179 mg per 1 cup of boiled and drained kale; 137 mg per cup of raw chopped Scotch kale)
6. Mustard greens: 165 mg calcium
Mustard greens image credit: Amy Ross via Flickr
Slow-cooking brings out the best in calcium-rich mustard greens. I highly recommend these Vegetarian Mustard Greens from Budget Bytes. They’re tender and tasty for only $0.70 per serving. (165 mg per 1 cup of chopped, boiled, drained mustard greens)
7. Baby bok choy: 158 mg calcium
Erik Forsberg via Flickr
Also known as pak choi, baby bok choy is delicious braised, stir fried, or sliced into ribbons for salad. You can also try chopping up raw bok choy and tossing it with with grated carrots, hot brown rice or quinoa, ground flax seed, and a sprinkle of soy sauce. Easy and delicious! (158 mg per 1 cup of shredded, boiled, drained baby bok choy)
8. Dandelion greens: 147 mg calcium
Jessica and Lon Binder via Flickr
While they’re wildly nutritious, dandelion greens can be seriously bitter. To mellow them out, blanche them in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and rinse with cool water. Then proceed with sauteing and stir frying. (147 mg per 1 cup of chopped, boiled, drained dandelion greens)
9. Snow peas: 150 mg calcium
Su-Lin via Flickr
Delicious in stir-fries, snow peas—along with their cousins sugar snap peas—are a welcome addition to any veggie tray or lunch box. (150 mg per 1 cup of boiled & drained snow peas)
10. Broccoli rabe: 100 mg calcium
Miriam via Flickr
Pronounced “broccoli rob,” this is another vegetable I’ve never actually eaten. (In fact, I had to look up the pronunciation!) That said, I’m eager to give it a whirl in this yummy-looking potato and broccoli rabe casserole from FatFreeVegan.com. (100 mg per 1 NLEA serving of cooked broccoli rabe—about 4 stalks)
11. Acorn squash: 90 mg calcium
Calcium-rich acorn squash is the ultimate stuffing veggie. For an easy, tasty dinner, roast seeded acorn squash halves upside down on parchment paper or a Silpat at 375 for 45 minutes. Once tender and lightly browned, turn the halves over and fill with chili, stew, or sauteed veggies and beans. Voila: A simple, satisfying supper—with a hearty helping of calcium. (90 mg per 1 cup baked squash cubes)
12. Sweet potatoes: 89 mg calcium
Sweet potatoes: my favorite veggie! You can easily enjoy them sliced into fries, which you can microwave with a little water or roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Of course, I proceed to dip my fries in an absurd amount of ketchup, but that’s optional. 😉 I also love baked sweet potatoes smashed open and smothered with copycat vegan Hidden Vallen ranch dressing. Yum! (89 mg per 1 cup boiled and mashed sweet potato, without skin)
13. Stewed tomatoes: 87 mg calcium
If you’re a chili fan, you’re in luck: Stewed tomatoes have a nice dose of calcium. Not a chili fan? Try Peanut-Sweet Potato Stew. You’ll get an added calcium boost from the sweet potatoes. (87 mg per 1 cup canned, stewed tomatoes)
14. Butternut squash: 84 mg calcium
Who knew sweet, creamy butternut squash was a calcium king? You’ll love it in this meatless Stuffed Butternut Squash recipe from Rock My Vegan Socks, pictured above. (84 mg per 1 cup baked squash cubes)
Where’s the spinach?
I can hear the nutrition buffs now: But spinach has lots of calcium! Where is it?
You’re right, spinach does have loads of calcium. But it also has lots of oxalate, which blocks your body from absorbing calcium. And that means most of the calcium from spinach ends up in your 💩. (Oh yes she did.)
So while spinach is nutritious for about a thousand other reasons, calcium isn’t one of them.
Where will you get your calcium?
Dark leafy greens like collards sauteed with garlic and onions? Or maybe scrumptious butternut squash roasted until tender with cumin? Whatever you decide, your bones—and the rest of your body—will thank you.
Pin this handy guide for later!
- Are you dairy free: What was your #1 reason for giving up milk?
Click here for references
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Food Articles, News & Features Section
SWEET POTATO NUTRITION
See also: Sweet Potato Antioxidants — Sweet Potato Trivia
— Sweet Potato Recipes
According to nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the single most important dietary change for most people, including children, would be to replace fatty foods with foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes.
Sweet Potato Ranks Number One In Nutrition
CSPI ranked the sweet potato number one in nutrition of all vegetables. With a score of 184, the sweet potato outscored the next highest vegetable by more than 100 points. Points were given for content of dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars and complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Points were deducted for fat content (especially saturated fat), sodium, cholesterol, added refined sugars and caffeine. The higher the score, the more nutritious the food.
Sweet potato baked 184
Potato, baked 83
Mixed Vegetables 52
Winter Squash, Baked 44
Brussels Sprouts 37
Cabbage, Raw 34
Green Peas 33
Corn on the Cob 27
Green Pepper 26
Romaine Lettuce 24
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington D.C.
The reasons the sweet potato took first place? Dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. The sweet potato received a score of 184; the vegetable ranked in second place was more than 100 points behind with a score of 83.
Sweet potatoes are high in the following: beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin C; fiber, thiamine, niacin, potassium and copper. They are also a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin E.
The numbers for the nutritional sweet potato speak for themselves: almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, four times the RDA for beta carotene, and, when eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes have more fiber than oatmeal. All these benefits with only about 130 to 160 calories!
Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts
(for one medium size sweet potato)
Fat 0.39 g
Protein 2.15 g
Net Carbs 31.56 g
Dietary Fiber 3.9 g
Calcium 28.6 mg
Sodium 16.9 mg
Potassium 265.2 mg
Folate 18.2 mcg
Vitamin C 29.51 mg
Vitamin A 26081.9 IU
Source: US Department of Agriculture
Among root vegetables, sweet potatoes offer the lowest glycemic index rating. That’s because the sweet potato digests slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar so you feel satisfied longer. It’s time to move sweet potatoes to the “good” carb list. Many of the most popular diets these days have already.
(See also: Sweet Potato Recipes)
SWEET POTATO NUTRITIONAL ASPECTS AND POPULAR DIETS
SOUTH BEACH DIET
For the nearly 12 million Americans counting carbohydrates as part of the Atkins or South Beach plans, the glycemic index plays a critical part in determining acceptable foods. The index ranks how quickly the body converts carbohydrates into sugar; the lower the glycemic index in a food, the less it will cause weight gain. Sweet potatoes rank significantly lower than white potatoes in the glycemic index, which explains why both carb-counting diets encourage substituting yams for Idaho potatoes. Sweet potatoes are introduced in the later phases of these diets as an acceptable food because they are nutrient-rich.
The Atkins Diet recommends introducing 10 grams of carbs in Phase 3 of the diet plan. Sweet potatoes have 10 grams of carbohydrates for every 1/4 cup. Sweet potatoes are on the safe list as a great substitute for other starches such as rice, potatoes and corn.
The popular “Sugarbusters” diet that swept the nation is also a strong advocate of including sweet potatoes in a healthy diet. The Sugarbusters diet recommends sweet potatoes as a great substitute for other foods high in sugar and carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and corn.
One of the Sugarbusters book’s authors reports that the part of a carrot that’s healthy is the beta carotene necessary for visual activity and needed for the retina that’s found in the pigment, not the fleshy part of the carrot that’s full of sugar. You can also get the beta carotene from sweet potatoes, which are not full of sugar.
Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry – www.sweetpotato.org
Whether you’re using sweet potatoes in a fancy-special holiday dish or just baking one for a quick after-work dinner, you’re getting a veggie with major health superpowers. Sweet potatoes are packed with plenty of minerals, fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients — they help both your body and mind. Not only that: They’re simple to prepare. You can cook sweet potatoes in a variety of ways, from baking to mashing to roasting to stir-frying. So don’t hesitate to toss ’em into your shopping cart!
Serving Size: 1 medium-size sweet potato
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
There’s a reason you find sweet potatoes in every salad shop special. Eating them can lead to:
- Healthy vision: All of that vitamin A helps maintain eyesight.
- Better immunity: Vitamin A also helps with other bodily functions, including cellular communication, growth, and differentiation.
- A sharper mind: Vitamin B6 is an essential coenzyme for cognitive development.
- A stronger heart: Both potassium and magnesium are involved in blood pressure support.
- Lower LDL cholesterol: The fiber can help reduce bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Now, get your top questions on sweet potatoes answered.
Are sweet potatoes better for you than white potatoes?
While sweet potatoes are significantly higher in vitamin A and slightly higher in fiber, the white potato wins when it comes to potassium and vitamin C content. Both white and sweet potatoes count as nutrient-dense foods. Switch it up and get the benefits of both.
Are sweet potatoes high in sugar?
Nope! They’ve got naturally occurring sugar, but there’s no added sugar in sweet potatoes (unless you’re adding some during cooking). In fact, research shows that sweet potatoes may be an excellent addition to a diabetic diet. It’s a common misconception that diabetics must avoid carbohydrates altogether. What matters is the type of carb and spreading them throughout the day. Sweet potatoes are a low-glycemic food and high in fiber, which means they release and absorb glucose into the bloodstream very slowly, preventing a spike in blood sugar.
Are sweet potatoes the same as yams?
Although many Americans use their names interchangeably, the two vegetables are not related. Yams are almost exclusively grown in Africa and Asia. Look for a cylindrical shape with a black or brown bark-like skin, as well as white, purple, or reddish flesh. They’re drier and starchier than sweet potatoes, and often only found in international supermarkets.
True sweet potatoes are more readily available in U.S. grocery stores. So what’s with the name mix-up? There are two main varieties of sweet potatoes grown in the U.S.: white flesh and orange flesh. Apparently, the orange variety only entered the American market several decades ago. In order to differentiate between the two, producers started selling them as yams. Therefore, the orange sweet potatoes are often mislabeled as yams in stores.
Orange, yellow, or purple sweet potatoes: What’s the difference?
Studies show that the different colored sweet potatoes may contain varying levels of phytonutrients, the health-promoting chemicals found in plants. For instance, orange sweet potatoes have the highest levels of beta-carotene, a carotenoid with antioxidant activity. On the other hand, purple sweet potatoes have more anthocyanins, the flavonoid found in blueberries. Anthocyanins also have an antioxidant effect and may support healthy brain function. Bottom line: Including a variety of colors in your diet is the way to go!
Can you O.D. on vitamin A?
While it’s true that excess levels of pre-formed vitamin A from supplements can lead to a toxicity known as hypervitaminosis A, large amounts of pro-vitamin A carotenoids (i.e., those from fruits and veggies) are NOT associated with major adverse side effects. However, eating excessive amounts of beta-carotene rich foods like carrots can cause a harmless condition called carotenemia, which is characterized by yellow pigmentation of the skin.
How should I prepare them?
There are so many delicious ways to reap the benefits of sweet potatoes! When purchasing, select firm tubers (no soft spots) with smooth skin. Store them loose for up to a week in a cool, dry, and dark place — not the fridge, as this can cause their core to harden and create an unpleasant taste when cooked.
Use the spuds in a variety of recipes, including breakfast dishes, casseroles, and even desserts. We love baking a batch of sweet potatoes for the week and adding them to both sweet and savory meals. Tip: Keep the sweet potato skin on to maximize the fiber content. Switch it up and try making:
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Roasted sweet potato “fries”
- Salads with roasted sweet potatoes
- Sweet potato brownies
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Good Housekeeping Institute Director, Nutrition Lab A registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, Jaclyn “Jackie” London handles all of Good Housekeeping’s nutrition-related content, testing, and evaluation.
Packed with vitamin A and a great source of energy-sustaining complex carbs, sweet potatoes are having their moment in the healthy-eating spotlight. If you haven’t been eating them because you’re worried about them making you gain weight, this should ease your mind.
Eating sweet potatoes can actually help you lose weight because they’re relatively low in calories. One medium baked sweet potato (about 3/4 cup) is just 100 calories. If you compare that to a slice of equal-calorie whole wheat bread, this orange tuber offers the same amount of carbs and almost twice the amount of filling fiber at 3.7 grams.
Aside from offering hunger-satiating fiber and energizing complex carbs, sweet potatoes have a relatively low glycemic index rating (50), which can prevent spikes in your blood sugar levels. They also contain a compound that increases levels of adiponectin in the body, the blood-sugar regulating hormone. When your blood sugar levels are regulated, it prevents sugar cravings that can make you eat half a pan of brownies.
Sweet potatoes, as the name suggests, are naturally sweet, and eating one can help satisfy your sweet tooth, so they’re a great alternative to a sugary muffin or bowl of brown sugar oatmeal. Pair your sweet potato with a source of protein and healthy fat and you’ll keep hunger at bay all morning long. Try a sweet potato smoothie, this avocado, tofu, sweet potato, and cashew bowl, warm sweet potato toast, or sweet potato tofu scramble.
If you want to nosh on sweet potato for dinner, aside from baked or roasted, try a chili-stuffed sweet potato or an easy-to-whip-up homemade sweet potato veggie burger. And for dessert? A slice of sweet potato banana protein bread!
With so many ways to enjoy this orange root veggie, don’t just wait until Thanksgiving or order sweet potato fries when you’re out to dinner. Bake a bunch on Sunday afternoon so you can enjoy them all week long.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Grace Hitchcock
When it comes to potatoes, the classic white variety doesn’t get nearly as much love as its sweeter, orange counterpart. These days, it seems as though sweet potatoes are more commonly touted for their nutritional benefits, while white potatoes are largely looked at as something you might allow yourself on a cheat day.
So what’s the deal? Are white potatoes really that bad for you? We asked Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., sports dietitian at Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Sports Nutrition, for her take on the issue.
Sweet potatoes are better for you than white potatoes because they contain more nutrients such as complex carbs, vitamin A, beta-carotene, magnesium and manganese. White potatoes are higher on the glycemic index scale, and are also seen as fattening since they’re often made as french fries or loaded with toppings like butter, salt, sour cream, and bacon.
Here’s how the two types of potatoes compare: One medium baked sweet potato contains 103 calories, 24 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 7 grams of sugar, and vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
One medium white potato contains 164 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 4.5 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 1.8 grams of sugar, and vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and zinc.
What does all of that actually mean for your health? While both types of spuds have complex carbs, sweet potatoes are indeed lower on the glycemic index versus white potatoes, according to Nisevich Bede. This means sweet potatoes are slower to digest and have less of an impact on blood glucose levels. Fueling with carbs that take longer to digest means that you can ride longer without totally bonking.
Both potato varieties contain fiber, which keeps your digestive tract regular and stabilizes your blood sugar so there are no major drops or spikes. They also both contain protein to build and repair your muscles postride, but white potatoes contain twice the amount of protein as sweet.
The various vitamins and minerals in both potatoes help maintain strong bones and muscles, and a healthy immune system.
White potatoes get a bad rap, “probably because they are typically enjoyed in a high-calorie fashion,” Nisevich Bede says. “They don’t contain serious amounts of flavor or moisture when cooked, so people tend to rely on fat and salt to make up for the flavor.” Think: loaded baked potatoes with all the fixings or deep fried french fries.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them though. In fact, white potatoes are a great source of potassium, especially if you leave the skin on. “White potatoes are one of the top sources of potassium in the American diet,” Nisevich Bede says. Just scrub the skin clean before consuming.
They also pack a ton of vitamin C—42 milligrams, or about half of the recommended daily amount.
To retain the white potato’s health benefits and save on calories, Nisevich Bede recommends topping them with things such as salsa, greek yogurt, or spices.
“I believe in moderation, but I also believe in making your calories work for you. So if you choose a more indulgent way to enjoy potatoes, offset this with lean meats and nutrient-dense veggies,” she says.
For instance, if you’re really craving french fries, allow yourself a small serving and pair them with a piece of salmon and broccoli or green beans on the side.
While white potatoes are totally fine to eat, don’t count sweet potatoes out if that’s what you enjoy more—they still contain plenty of nutrients that will benefit you on and off the bike. And don’t worry too much about the fact that this type of spud contains more sugar. Nisevich Bede says you should be more concerned about added sugar in your diet than naturally-occurring sugars like the kind in sweet potatoes.
“I consider either potato a source of carbohydrate, and for most endurance athletes, carbs are a great source of energy before a workout, throughout the day, and to restock glycogen stores post-workout,” Nisevich Bede says.
The bottom line? Both types of spuds are a great addition to a healthy diet, so just choose your favorite. Whichever one you go with, avoid prepping them with added fat, salt, or sugar—baked is best.
Danielle Zickl Associate Health & Fitness Editor Danielle specializes in interpreting and reporting the latest health research and also writes and edits in-depth service pieces about fitness, training, and nutrition.
When I was a kid growing up in British Columbia, my kale and turnip-loving parents didn’t feed us processed sugar of any kind.
But once in a while, on a special occasion, we’d have sweet potatoes. When they were baking in the oven, our tiny cabin would fill with warmth (which was its own special treat, especially in the Canadian winter!) and the exquisite smell of sweet-potatoey goodness.
Clearly, I’m extremely fond of sweet potatoes. So when I decided to write an article about them, I had to check all my happy memories at the keyboard and look at the evidence.
Are sweet potatoes good for you? Are there any sweet potato health benefits? Where do they come from?
How can we prepare them, aside from in holiday casseroles and pies? And most confusing of all (to almost everyone), what’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?
Meet the Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are large, starchy, sweet-tasting vegetables. They actually belong to the morning glory family.
Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potatoes used to make French fries or potato chips. Non-sweet potatoes (including red, white, and Yukon gold varieties) are part of the edible nightshade family. Other members include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, pimentos, and Goji berries.
Sweet potatoes are root tubers. Other root tubers include beets, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, and turnips. Root tubers store water and energy, like starch and other carbohydrates, underground. They draw upon these resources to feed the aboveground parts of the plant.
The Origin of the Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are some of the oldest foods known to humanity.
They are native to Central and South America. We have fossil evidence that sweet potatoes were growing in the Americas 35 million years ago. But very recently, scientists discovered 57-million-year-old leaf fossils in India that appear to be ancient morning glory leaves. This could beat the American claim as the point of origin of the sweet potato family by about 22 million years.
Wherever and whenever they originated, and however they have traveled the globe, I’m incredibly thankful that most of us have sweet potatoes in our lives today.
What’s the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?
People often mistakenly refer to sweet potatoes as “yams.” But these two plants aren’t actually related at all.
Yams are related to grasses and lilies and native to Africa and Asia. They’re usually cylindrical with black or brown, rough, bark-like skin, and white, purple, or red flesh. Sweet potatoes have characteristic tapered ends with smoother skin.
You can find sweet potatoes at just about any grocery store. However, in North America and Europe, you will only find true yams stocked at international and specialty markets.
You might be thinking, “but I see yams at my grocery store all the time” — and you’d be right that they’re labeled that way. But this label is deceiving.
There are actually two types of sweet potatoes in most mainstream produce sections: firm and soft. Grocers needed a way to differentiate between the two types. The soft kind, which includes the Garnet and Jewel varieties, resemble yams. This is how they picked up the false name.
How Many Sweet Potato Varieties Exist?
While most supermarkets carry one or two different types of sweet potatoes, about 25 varieties are available in the United States. And I was amazed to discover that this represents only a tiny fraction of the total diversity of sweet potatoes.
The sweet potato geeks of the world may be fascinated to know that the International Potato Center in Peru maintains a gene bank consisting of over 6,500 varieties of sweet potato. I don’t know about you, but personally, I wish I could try them all!
Sweet potato varieties range in color from dark red to brown to purple to orange-yellow to white. They also have different tastes, sizes, shapes, and textures.
Here are Just a Few of the Most Popular Types of Sweet Potatoes:
- Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard sweet potatoes have reddish-orange skin and deep orange flesh. These are often the ones masquerading as yams at mainstream grocery stores. Who knew sweet potatoes could be so sneaky?
- White sweet potatoes are crumbly, with white flesh and golden brown skin. They don’t contain as many antioxidants as orange varieties.
- Okinawan sweet potatoes are also known as purple sweet potatoes because of their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, blue, and violet plant foods their beautiful colors. Anthocyanins are also what give Okinawan potatoes 150% more antioxidant power than blueberries.Despite their name, Okinawan potatoes are actually native to the Americas. They were brought over to Japan sometime in the 16th century, where they grow well and have become a staple in Japanese dishes. In North America, you will most likely find true purple sweet potatoes in an Asian supermarket.
- Japanese or Satsumaimo sweet potatoes are known for being sweeter than most other types. This is especially true when they start caramelizing in the oven.
Sweet potatoes are very hardy vegetables. They’re able to grow at many altitudes, in many climates, and under compromised soil conditions. Even if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs, sweet potatoes are pretty forgiving with just a little TLC.
What Makes a Sweet Potato Sweet?
Have you ever smelled a sweet potato caramelize in the oven or used them to make a pie or a cake?
If so, you know that even though they aren’t related to what we think of as potatoes, at least the “sweet” part of their name is entirely appropriate.
When you heat sweet potatoes, an enzyme starts breaking down their starch into a sugar called maltose. Maltose isn’t as sweet as table sugar. But it’s enough to satisfy a sweet tooth that hasn’t been entirely overwhelmed by M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses.
You can control the sweetness of sweet potatoes somewhat by how you cook them. Cooking sweet potatoes quickly (for instance, by steaming them or cutting them into smaller pieces before roasting) can reduce their ultimate sweetness.
On the other hand, cooking sweet potatoes slowly on low heat will allow that maltose-making enzyme more time to convert the starch into sugar — giving you sweeter sweet potatoes.
Looking for even more control over the sweetness? The sweet potato enzyme is activated once they reach around 135°F and stops working at around 170°F. (That’s 57° to 77°C). So the more time they spend in that range, the sweeter they’ll be.
Are Sweet Potatoes Good for You?
The people of Okinawa, Japan have traditionally enjoyed one of the highest life expectancies in the world. I discovered this when my dad was researching his book Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples.
One of those secrets, it turns out, is lots and lots of sweet potatoes. The traditional Okinawan diet consists of minimal meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods. Instead, they eat mostly whole plant foods. And they get a remarkable 60% of their calories from sweet potatoes alone.
It’s partly because of this high-fiber and antioxidant-rich dietary pattern that Okinawans enjoy such a long lifespan. Living to be one hundred years or older is not uncommon in Okinawa. Okinawans also experience less chronic disease than Americans do — with significantly fewer deaths from heart disease and cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate.
Traditional Papua New Guinea Highlanders have also been known to eat a lot of sweet potatoes. In fact, tubers like sweet potatoes and yams provide 90% of their calories!
They don’t eat much, if any, meat either. How has a sweet potato-based diet affected their health?
A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 1994 found that, when these native groups still followed this traditional way of eating, they enjoyed lower blood pressure and weight than Westerners. And they almost never experienced heart disease, strokes, or other modern chronic diseases.
So are sweet potatoes good for you? Yes, they are!
What makes them so good for you?
Sweet Potato Nutrition
They get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is a pigment and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also contain a modest but helpful amount of protein — around four grams per cup when cooked.
When compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and antioxidants. Surprisingly, considering their sweeter taste, they also have a mildly lower glycemic index score. This makes them slower to digest.
But the greatest sweet potato nutritional glory of all may be its rich supply of vitamin A. A single sweet potato offers over double the daily value for vitamin A.
Sweet Potatoes Are Remarkably High in Vitamin A
Worldwide, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to a lack of this critical nutrient. Half of these children die within a year of losing their sight.
Hoping to solve this problem (and with perhaps a few other less noble motives in the mix), over the last several decades, biotechnology companies, governments, foundations, and scientists have spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to develop and popularize “golden rice.”
This is a form of rice that’s been genetically engineered to provide beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). Despite decades of effort, the product still hasn’t reached the market.
How ironic that this same effort could have gotten sweet potatoes and the means to grow them into the hands of most of the impoverished families now suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Of course, that wouldn’t have made biotech company, Syngenta, any money. But it would have helped a whole lot more people than golden rice ever has, and most likely, ever will.
News flash: The biotech industry and its supporters have long promoted GMO golden rice as an urgently needed solution to vitamin A deficiency. But in late 2018, in a surprising twist, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded its consultation process on golden rice by informing the current developers, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), that golden rice does not meet the nutritional requirements to make a health claim.
In effect, the FDA was saying that GMO golden rice offers no meaningful nutritional benefits.
Which again raises the question: How much better off would people be if the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on developing golden rice had instead been used to support the growth of sweet potatoes, carrots, and other vitamin A-rich vegetables in parts of the world where vitamin A deficiencies are a problem?
10 Incredible Sweet Potato Health Benefits
The unique nutritional profile of sweet potatoes makes them powerful allies in preventing disease and supporting overall health.
Here are some health benefits of adding sweet potatoes to your diet.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #1: They Support Digestive Health
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of fiber, especially when you eat the skin. Fiber is important for your digestive health, preventing constipation and serious diseases, such as colon cancer.
One medium sweet potato has six grams of dietary fiber. They also contain resistant starch, a type of starch that plays a role in feeding your body’s “good” bacteria.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #2: They Keep Your Heart Healthy
The high fiber content of sweet potatoes can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, helping to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Sweet potatoes are also high in potassium, which works in balance with sodium in your body to maintain healthy blood pressure.
They’re also high in copper, an essential metal for making red blood cells and keeping your heart healthy. Low levels of copper have been linked to dangerously high homocysteine, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol levels.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #3: They Help Stabilize Blood Sugar
The fiber and complex carbohydrates in sweet potatoes can help keep your blood sugar stable. And it can help you feel full longer. Sweet potato varieties also contain other substances that benefit stable blood sugar.
A 2004 study published in Diabetes Care successfully used Caiapo, an extract from white sweet potatoes, to naturally reduce and manage blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes.
The 30 participants who were given 4 grams of Caiapo every day for 12 weeks saw a decrease in their HbA(1c) (going from 7.21 to 6.68), fasting blood glucose (143.7 vs. 128.5), and two-hour blood glucose (193.3 vs.162.8). The 31 participants who were given a placebo instead saw no such results.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #4: They Can Boost Your Immunity
Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants that prevent free radical damage in your body.
One cup of baked sweet potato contains 52% of your daily value for vitamin C, which is important for wound healing and tissue repair.
And the vitamin A in sweet potatoes helps your body make immune cells that stave off infections and disease and have anti-tumor effects. Purple sweet potatoes contain especially potent antioxidants.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #5: They Are Good for Your Eyes
Sweet potatoes contain several nutrients that have been linked to improved eye health and vision. Some of the most powerful are the carotenoids. They include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Beta-carotene, when taken as a supplement in isolation from the other carotenoids, can cause imbalances. But when eaten in foods, where it is always accompanied by, and in balance with, an entire suite of carotenoids, it’s been shown to have powerful anti-cancer and vision-enhancing properties.
Orange sweet potatoes (as well as other orange plants, including carrots) have particularly high concentrations of carotenoids.
It’s not just the orange sweet potatoes that are good for your vision, though. A class of anthocyanins called PSPA, derived from purple sweet potato roots, might also benefit your eyes.
A study published in Food & Nutrition Research in 2015 looked at whether PSPA could influence the health and growth of human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells.
Why does this matter? The RPE is responsible for helping your eyes absorb light. It also directs immune response when faced with a threat to eye health. The researchers found that PSPA promoted DNA synthesis and healthy RPE cell growth and survival. They concluded that PSPA could potentially find use as a supplement for maintaining healthy vision.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #6: They Fuel Your Brain
Sweet potatoes also contain compounds that help your brain function at its best, including choline and manganese.
Choline is an essential nutrient for brain growth and development, as well as the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that sends messages between cells.
Manganese is also important for brain health. It binds to neurotransmitters and helps move electrical impulses through your body faster. You can find 43% of your daily value of manganese in one cup of baked sweet potato.
The anthocyanins unique to purple sweet potatoes may also have memory-enhancing properties.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #7: They Can Help Ease Stress and Anxiety
Sweet potatoes may help you relax. They’re high in magnesium, which has been shown to play a role in calming the brain. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression, mood disturbances, and headaches.
Other good sources of magnesium include avocados, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
(I’m dreaming right now of a loaded baked sweet potato piled high with a soft nut cheeze, avocado, a drizzle of flax oil, and a sprinkle of seasoning. It’s also accompanied by some freshly steamed and piping hot leafy greens for a delicious, magnesium-rich meal.)
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #8: They Can Help Boost Fertility
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for healthy reproduction. And as we know, sweet potatoes are a fantastic source.
Sweet potatoes also offer a rich supply of iron, which has also been shown to be important in supporting fertility.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #9: They Can Help Fight Cancer
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, especially in their skin. They have other anti-cancer properties, too.
Up to 80% of the protein in sweet potatoes is a type of storage protein known as sporamin. This unique protein has been studied for anti-cancer ability and found to be effective in several disease types.
Research has been promising in the use of sporamin to inhibit tongue, gallbladder, and colorectal cancers. It has also been shown capable of slowing cancer cell growth and reducing cell migration and invasion in metastatic cancers.
Sweet potato peels, particularly those of the purple varieties, may be especially powerful when it comes to cancer prevention.
A study published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2016 looked at the antioxidant and anti-cancer effects of an extract from sweet potato peels. They found promising anti-cancer activity for cancers of the breast, colon, ovary, lung, and head/neck.
Sweet Potato Health Benefit #10: They Have Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Eating sweet potatoes may also help reduce inflammation.
This is chiefly due to their high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and magnesium. Their abundance of antioxidants doesn’t hurt here, either.
One of the particular antioxidants that’s found most abundantly in purple sweet potato flesh is cyanidin. Cyanidin has been linked to reducing inflammation, especially in the digestive tract.
How to Choose and Store Sweet Potatoes
Next time you shop for sweet potatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind.
When you pick one up, take a close look at its skin (no, you don’t have to pack your magnifying glass). It should all be mostly the same color without visible signs of decay or cracking.
Give it a little squeeze. You don’t want your sweet potato to be squishy anywhere, as this could indicate rotting.
When you get your sweet potatoes home, make them a nice place to rest in a basket on your countertop or pantry. You should keep them dry and cool (room temperature, not refrigerated).
Typically, you should use sweet potatoes within a few weeks of purchase.
The Best Way to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
Maybe you eat sweet potatoes regularly. Or maybe you only think of them as a seasonal side dish.
Me? I’ve enjoyed a baked sweet potato for breakfast with a delicious organic tofu chive spread on it. Or for lunch with salad dressing or a peanut curry sauce. Or as a base for dinner, or even dessert.
I haven’t tried a steamed sweet potato smoothie (although, come to think of it, maybe I should!). Sweet potatoes are delicious, incredibly versatile, and you can eat them in more ways than you think.
You can prepare them by boiling, steaming, baking, stir-frying, grilling, or cooking and mashing.
But the bottom line is: You just might want to cook sweet potatoes in whatever makes you most likely to eat — and enjoy them.
The only way I’d recommend not preparing sweet potatoes is by deep-frying them. This isn’t the healthiest way to cook food anyway. But for sweet potatoes, it can actually lead to the creation of acrylamide — a potential carcinogen.
If it works well with your recipe, try leaving the skin on for some potent fiber and nutrients. Sweet potato skin is also full of antioxidants. In fact, sweet potato skin may have over 10 times the antioxidant power of the flesh inside.
Including a few grams of fat in your sweet potato recipes can significantly increase the amount of beta-carotene your body absorbs from the meal. Just use a small amount of nut butter, avocado, olive oil (if you use oil), or have a fat source in the same meal.
Can You Eat Sweet Potatoes Raw?
Regular raw potatoes, especially green ones, can contain the toxic enzyme solanine, so they shouldn’t be eaten raw. Sweet potatoes can be consumed without cooking them; however, they might cause some digestive issues.
If you do decide to try them — maybe grated in a smoothie or salad — you may not want to eat too many raw sweet potatoes because they have an enzyme inhibitor that makes it harder for your body to digest protein and can make digestion difficult when consumed in large quantities. (Cooking destroys this protein inhibitor.)
Bloating, cramps, and gas could be possible when eating raw sweet potatoes. They might also make you fart because they contain raffinose, one of the sugars responsible for flatulence.
5 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes
My mouth is watering as I think about all the ways you can prepare sweet potatoes.
Check out some of these healthy recipes if you want some delicious ideas.
Oil-Free Baked Sweet Potato Fries from the Conscious Eater
These healthy, seasoned, oil-free fries take little time to prepare and could pair well with just about any meal.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Herbed Mushroom Stuffing from Forks Over Knives
Sweet potatoes provide the base of this filling, nutrient-packed casserole layered with mushrooms, onions, cranberries, and savory herbs.
Berry-Stuffed Breakfast Sweet Potato from Forks Over Knives
Sweet potatoes may not be a traditional breakfast, but this hearty recipe will have you starting your day with a slew of antioxidants and a nice, warm belly.
Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup from Minimalist Baker
Here’s a sweet and creamy soup with a little bit of spice and fewer than 10 ingredients.
Healthy Sweet Potato Pie from Chocolate Covered Katie
You don’t only have to reserve your sweet potato pie consumption for the holidays. Enjoy this flavorful, filling, healthier dessert any time of year.
Sweeten Your Health with Sweet Potatoes
Fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are essential for good health. And sweet potatoes are a fantastic way to add them to your diet.
Many of us have ancestors who reaped their benefits for a very long time, and there’s certainly no need to stop now. Luckily, sweet potatoes are affordable, easy to use and store, and available in many parts of the world all year long.
Sounds pretty sweet to me!
Tell us in the comments:
Did any of the sweet potato health benefits surprise you?
Will you eat more sweet potatoes now?
What’s your favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes?
- Are potatoes healthy? The surprising truth about this controversial vegetable
When you scan the menu at your favorite restaurant, you’ll probably think about making some swaps to score some health points. Some changes—water over soda, a salad before your meal—are no-brainers.
Another switch that feels like a win? Sacrificing your side of French fries for something that feels more like a proper serving of vegetables: sweet potato fries.
“In the great debate of white potatoes versus sweet potatoes, many people prefer the taste of white over sweet, but believe that sweet is much healthier,” says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N.
But are sweet potato fries really any better for you than regular French fries? Or is that just the product of a misleading nutrition myth? We asked a few experts to weigh in.
The Nutritional Breakdown: Sweet Potato Fries vs. French Fries
“Many people believe that by ordering sweet potato fries over regular they are doing a great service for their health,” says Moskovitz. “The truth is you’re not really doing much.”
ROUND 1: Macronutrients
In terms of raw nutritional value, the difference between sweet potatoes and white potatoes is miniscule. “Both potatoes clock in around the same calories (100 to 120 calories) and carbs (25 to 30 grams) for a small to medium potato,” says Moskovitz. “Both contain around 4 g of fiber and contain less than 1 g of fat before any butter or oil is added.”
As for protein? Both serve under 4 g, but white potatoes tend to score a bit higher, says Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., creator of the 5-Minute Mindful Eating Exercise.
ROUND 2: Nutritional Perks
Here’s where they differ. White potatoes contain more iron, potassium, and vitamin C. They also have less natural sugar, says Rumsey.
“Sweet potatoes, meanwhile, are higher in fiber, calcium, and vitamin A,” she says. In fact, just one whole baked sweet potato will serve you more than a day’s worth of vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health.
ROUND 3: Prep
It all comes down to how your potatoes are being prepared. If sweet potatoes are deep-fried in oil like french fries, they aren’t any better than what you’d get at the drive-thru. Both of them will typically weigh in at more than 300 calories per serving after they’re fried.
One example: If you go to TGI Fridays, an order of seasoned fries comes in at 320 calories, while sweet potato fries actually serve up more at 390 calories.
Fiesta Steak and Potatoes:
Baked fries—no matter your spud of choice—are the winner.
That’s why there is a sliver of truth to the hype surrounding sweet potatoes. “While most fries made from regular potatoes are deep fried in oil, sweet potato fries often can be found as a baked version,” says Rumsey. Before you make the swap, ask your server how each version is prepared and always opt for the baked variety.
Eat them both to get the best nutritional bang for your buck. Just be mindful of how much you’re eating in one go. “Keep portions to no more than half a cup at a time” to keep your calories in check, says Moskovitz. “Ideally, you should prepare your potato at home from scratch, not a freezer bag.”
Try this recipe for sweet potatoes wedges if that’s more your style, or go for these classic wedges if you’re craving the white spuds. Either way, take this as your excuse to make some fries this week. No guilt necessary.
Macaela Mackenzie Macaela Mackenzie is a freelance journalist specializing in health, culture, and tech, and she regularly contributes to outlets like Prevention, Women’s Health, Shape, Allure, Men’s Health, the John Hopkins Health Review, and more.
Striking the balance between vibrant, versatile and delicious, sweet potatoes have become a pretty common component of the modern diet. From sweet potato fries to casseroles to pies and beyond, there are a myriad of ways to enjoy this tasty tuber. Still, many people have doubts when it comes to the sweet potato nutrition profile.
This is because sweet potatoes are usually associated with regular potatoes, which are often served deep-fried, salted and in massive portions that are loaded with extra fat, sodium and calories. But are sweet potatoes bad for you? And if you’re on a diet, are sweet potatoes fattening or weight loss-friendly? Keep reading to find out what you need to know about sweet potato nutrition and why you should include a serving or two in your diet.
Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts
Sweet potatoes are high in many important nutrients. They contain a good amount of fiber as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese and several other vitamins and minerals.
One medium cooked sweet potato contains approximately: (1)
- 103 calories
- 23.6 grams carbohydrates
- 2.3 grams protein
- 0.2 gram fat
- 3.8 grams dietary fiber
- 21,907 international units vitamin A (438 percent DV)
- 22.3 miligrams vitamin C (37 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligram manganese (28 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram vitamin B6 (16 percent DV)
- 541 milligrams potassium (15 percent DV)
- 1 milligram pantothenic acid (10 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (9 percent DV)
- 1.7 milligrams niacin (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (8 percent DV)
- 30.8 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
Related: Kabocha Squash Nutrition Benefits Digestion, Blood Sugar & More
In addition to the nutrients above, sweet potato nutrition also contains riboflavin, phosphorus, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium and iron.
Sweet Potato Nutrition: Sweet Potato Benefits
- Stabilizes Blood Sugar
- High in Antioxidants
- Boosts Brain Function
- Enhances Immunity
- Promotes Vision Health
- Aids in Weight Loss
1. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Sweet potatoes are an excellent dietary addition for those with diabetes as they have been shown to help reduce and regulate blood sugar levels. In fact, there are several studies focused on learning more about the connection between the sweet potato and diabetes. Caiapo, in particular, is a type of white sweet potato that has been studied extensively for its anti-diabetic properties.
In one study out of the University of Vienna in Austria, 61 participants with diabetes were given either four grams of Caiapo or a placebo daily for three months. At the end of the study, the sweet potato group had significantly lower blood sugar levels than the control group. (2)
Another small study published in the journal Metabolism showed that treating diabetic patients with Caiapo for six weeks helped improve insulin sensitivity. (3) Insulin is the hormone responsible for the transport of sugar from the blood to the tissues where it can be used as energy. Improvements in insulin sensitivity allow it to work more efficiently in the body to maintain normal blood sugar.
Additionally, sweet potatoes are high in fiber, with each medium sweet potato fulfilling up to 15 percent of your fiber needs for the entire day. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar to help prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
2. High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that help fight off harmful free radicals to reduce the risk of chronic disease and prevent damage to the cells. Antioxidants may protect against diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. (4) Besides being rich in fiber and many important vitamins and minerals, sweet potatoes are also loaded with these beneficial antioxidants.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are especially high in beta-carotene, which is the pigment responsible for their characteristic vibrant orange flesh. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can help promote healthy vision, improve respiratory health and even protect your skin. (5, 6, 7)
Studies show that colored sweet potatoes, in general, exhibit more potent activity against free radicals than white sweet potatoes with purple potatoes, specifically, containing the highest amount of antioxidants. (8)
In addition to sweet potatoes, other top antioxidant foods include goji berries, blueberries, dark chocolate and pecans.
3. Boosts Brain Function
Some research has found that eating sweet potatoes could help boost brain function and improve memory thanks to their abundance of nutrients and antioxidants.
One animal study out of Chungnam National University’s College of Pharmacy in Korea, for instance, treated rats with purple sweet potato extract and found that it prevented oxidative damage in the brain, enhanced cognitive performance and improved memory. (9)
Another animal study conducted in China in 2010 showed that purple sweet potato extract helped protect against brain aging and improved spatial learning and memory ability in mice. (10)
Avocados, beets, broccoli and leafy green vegetables are examples of other brain foods that can help boost focus and memory.
4. Enhances Immunity
Sweet potato nutrition is jam-packed with vitamin A, with each medium potato cramming in about 438 percent of the daily vitamin A requirement. This vitamin plays a role in many aspects of health, but it is especially important in terms of immunity.
Vitamin A helps stimulate the production of immune cells that fight off disease and infection. (11) It also can help kill off harmful cells and has been shown to have anti-tumor properties in some animal studies. (12) Many studies have even reported that vitamin A supplementation can help reduce the risk of death from infectious diseases in certain areas where vitamin A deficiency is common. (13)
Getting enough vitamin A from foods like sweet potatoes is crucial to maintaining healthy immune function. Other top vitamin A foods include carrots, kale, spinach and apricots.
5. Promotes Vision Health
In addition to boosting immunity, vitamin A is also integral to maintaining healthy vision. A deficiency of vitamin A can result in symptoms like dry eyes, night blindness, a buildup of keratin on the conjunctiva and even total vision loss in severe cases.
One medium sweet potato can meet and exceed your daily vitamin A needs. In fact, if you can squeeze even just one-fourth of a sweet potato into your diet, you’re set for the entire day.
Not only that, but sweet potatoes also contain important antioxidants that can contribute to vision health as well. Beta-carotene, for example, has been shown to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a condition that can result in vision loss.
Other eye vitamins that you should incorporate into your diet include vitamin C, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Aids in Weight Loss
If you have a few stubborn pounds that you’re trying to lose, incorporating this nutritious root vegetable into your diet may be able to help. The sweet potato benefits weight loss because it’s super nutrient-dense and loaded with fiber to help keep you full.
Fiber moves slowly through the digestive tract, helping promote satiety and cut cravings to aid in weight loss. Just one cup of sweet potatoes boasts a whopping 6.6 grams of fiber, or up to 26 percent of what you need for the entire day.
A recent 2017 animal study also found that purple sweet potatoes, in particular, may have extra weight-busting benefits. Mice were fed a high-fat diet and were supplemented with purple sweet potatoes, which were shown to reduce body weight and fat accumulation over a 12-week period. (14)
Of course, sweet potatoes should be paired with a healthy diet and regular exercise to achieve maximum weight loss. Fortunately, not only do sweet potatoes aid in weight loss, but they can also help you achieve your fitness goals as well. Sweet potato benefits bodybuilding because it is slowly digested, providing you with long-lasting energy to fuel you through your gym session.
Sweet Potato vs. Yams
Sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, and for many, the terms are considered pretty much interchangeable. However, not only are they two entirely different plants, but there are some other major differences between yams vs sweet potatoes.
First of all, the sweet potato belongs to the morning glory family of plants while yams — not to be confused with Mexican yams or wild yam — are actually related to lilies and grasses. Additionally, sweet potatoes are thought to have originated in Central and South America while yams are native to Africa and Asia.
There are also some significant differences in the appearance of the yam vs. sweet potato as well. Sweet potatoes have tapered ends with smoother skin and can range in color from white to vibrant orange and purple. Yams, on the other hand, have rough skin and are typically white-fleshed and cylindrical. Yams are also more starchy and dry without the hint of sweetness found in sweet potatoes.
Gram for gram, yam nutrition is higher in calories, carbohydrates and fiber but slightly lower in protein than sweet potatoes. Yams also contain a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese but are not as nutrient-dense as sweet potatoes.
Related: Are Potato Chips Good for You? Pros & Cons of This Common Snack (+ Healthy Alternatives)
Sweet Potato Nutrition vs. White Potato Nutrition
Although both have become common kitchen staples, there are some distinct differences between white potatoes and sweet potatoes. They both belong to different plant families, are notably different in terms of appearance and each has a unique taste that sets it apart. While white potatoes are often incorporated into savory dishes, sweet potatoes have a flavor that works for both desserts and main courses alike.
But are sweet potatoes healthier than regular potatoes?
Looking at the sweet potato vs. potato in terms of nutrition, each brings a different set of nutrients to the table. White potato nutrition, for example, is especially high in certain micronutrients like vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese, while sweet potatoes are significantly higher in vitamin A.
Per 100 grams, there are 20.7 grams of carbs in sweet potato compared with 21.5 grams of carbs in regular potatoes. Meanwhile, the amount of sweet potato calories is slightly lower as well, with 94 calories in a potato compared to just 90 calories in sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are also slightly higher in fiber and have a lower glycemic index, meaning they don’t cause the same sharp increase in blood sugar as regular potatoes.
However, both can be healthy additions to the diet when used in moderation and with proper portion control. Preparation method is also key; potatoes are often deep-fried and doused in oil and salt, which depletes their nutritional value. Try them baked instead of fried and enjoy a few servings of both sweet potatoes and regular potatoes as part of a nutritious diet.
Where to Find and How to Use Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are widely available at most grocery stores and typically found in the produce section, usually right alongside white potatoes. Special varieties, such as white or purple sweet potatoes, may be more difficult to find, however. Look for them at farmers markets or Asian specialty stores from September through April to take advantage of the purple and white sweet potato nutrition benefits.
Once you get your hands on some sweet potatoes, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these delicious root vegetables. From simply enjoying a microwave sweet potato with minimal effort required to baking, roasting, sautéing or boiling your sweet potatoes, the possibilities are limitless. Sweet potato fries, soups and casseroles are some of the most popular ways to prepare sweet potatoes, but there are many other options available as well.
Sweet Potato Recipes
Looking for some unique new ways to incorporate this tasty tuber into your diet? Give these delicious sweet potato recipes a try:
- Sweet Potato Hash
- Sweet Potato Brownies
- Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Soup
- Sweet Potato Tacos
Sweet Potato Nutrition History
Sweet potatoes have been domesticated for thousands of years, and sweet potato remnants have been discovered in Peru dating all the way back to 8,000 B.C. It’s believed that sweet potatoes were brought to Polynesia from South America around the year 700 A.D. From there, they spread across the globe from Hawaii to New Zealand to the Philippines and beyond.
Today, sweet potatoes are prized around the world for their delicious taste and powerful health benefits. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, China is the biggest producer of sweet potatoes, followed by Uganda, Nigeria and Indonesia. (15)
Sweet potatoes are especially popular in the United States, with North Carolina taking the lead in sweet potato production. Interestingly enough, however, sweet potato consumption in the U.S. has actually significantly declined in the last century. While the average American was eating about 29.5 pounds of sweet potato per year in 1920, average consumption today has plummeted down to just 4.1 pounds per year. (16)
Precautions with Sweet Potato Nutrition
Despite the multitude of health benefits offered by this nutritious root vegetable, there are some people who may want to limit consumption or avoid eating sweet potatoes altogether.
Although uncommon, sweet potatoes can cause an allergic reaction in some people. If you experience any food allergy symptoms after eating sweet potatoes, such as itchiness, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps or swelling, report to your doctor right away.
If you have a history of calcium-oxalate kidney stones, you may want to limit your sweet potato intake. Sweet potatoes are high in oxalate, which can combine with calcium and lead to the development of kidney stones. (17)
Finally, if you have diabetes, be sure to keep your sweet potato intake in moderation. While sweet potatoes are jam-packed with health benefits, they also contain carbohydrates that can raise blood sugar levels when eaten in excess. Pair with some non-starchy vegetables and a good source of protein to make a well-rounded, blood sugar-stabilizing meal and enjoy.
Final Thoughts on Sweet Potato Nutrition
- Sweet potato nutrition is high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese and many other important micronutrients.
- Thanks to their impressive health profile, sweet potatoes have been associated with a long list of health benefits. Sweet potato benefits for men and women include improving eye health, enhancing immunity, boosting brain function, aiding in weight loss and regulating blood sugar.
- Although the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are used interchangeably, there are many differences between the sweet potato vs yam in terms of taste, appearance and nutrition.
- There are also differences in sweet potato nutrition compared to white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are slightly lower in calories and carbs, are digested more slowly and contain a higher concentration of certain nutrients.
- Include sweet potatoes in moderation as part of a healthy diet to take advantage of their unique health benefits, versatility and delicious flavor.
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Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
By Keri Glassman, MS, RD
Ask Keri: Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
Keri Says: Sweet potatoes are a great source of powerful antioxidants like beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients. They’re also lower on the Glycemic Index than white potatoes, which means they’re less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are similar, however, in terms of calories, fiber, and macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content.
So, are sweet potatoes good for you in way that means you should ditch white potatoes for good? Here’s what you need to know.
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Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Basics
One cup of raw sweet potato contains about 114 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat. One cup of white potato has 116 calories, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat.
Aside from the sugar content (responsible for the sweet taste), the macronutrients are pretty similar, right? This is why many people wonder why sweet potatoes are known for being uber healthy while old school taters get a bad rap. Well, it’s all about the micronutrients.
Why Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
All potatoes contain vitamins and minerals, many of which act as antioxidants or have anti-inflammatory properties, like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and other nutrients. But a sweet potato’s characteristic orange hue is a hint at its leg up.
That color is the result of a super high concentration of a phytonutrient called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant, and we know antioxidants help protect the body from many diseases (like reducing the risk of heart disease). It’s also a precursor to to vitamin A, meaning your body uses it to make the vitamin. Vitamin A is important for immune system function, vision, cellular communication, and more.
RECIPE: How to Make Sweet Potato Nachos
And speaking of colors, have you ever tried purple sweet potatoes? Those pretty tubers also contain cyanidin, a phytochemical that acts as a strong antioxidant and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Okay, so you might be thinking, “What about all of the sugar in sweet potatoes?” Though sweet potatoes do have more sugar, they’re actually considered “low” on the Glycemic Index (GI) compared to regular white potatoes, which are considered “high.” This means your blood sugar will rise more slowly, preventing a sharp spike (and subsequent crash).
Take note: The GI value changes based on the cooking method. When you bake a sweet potato, you end up with much more sugar, which raises the GI score. Boiling the same sweet potato results in less of an increase.
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Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Bottom Line
By now the fact that sweet potatoes are good for you is pretty clear, but why are regular potatoes still so frowned upon? French fries, tater tots, potato chips…these fatty, high-sodium, often processed forms are the most most common choices, which is a big reason why the tubers end up with a bad rap.
However, while a sweet potato provides additional nutrients, a real, whole potato of any kind is a good choice and will help you meet your nutrient needs. Eat them as the starchy portion of your meal (I usually recommend one or two starchy servings a day), make sure to prep them right (yep, that means no fried or au gratin), and mix up the variety to reap all of the varied benefits. One important tip: Try not to peel them! Many of the powerful phytonutrients in both sweet potatoes and white potatoes are in the skin.
I’ll leave you with my personal favorite: A baked sweet potato with a teaspoon of coconut oil, a dash of cinnamon, and sprinkle of sea salt. Delicious!