You have probably noticed over recent years that sweet potatoes have become a popular food.
They are even turning up more often at restaurants (i.e. sweet potato fries, which used to be hard to come by, but which now seem to be common).
As a health-conscious consumer, you may be wondering whether this trend is one which is delicious and nutritious. Is it a good idea to make sweet potatoes a regular part of your diet?
In this article, we will answer questions about the nutritional properties of sweet potatoes and some of their advantages for your health. But first, let’s talk about what sweet potatoes are.
What Are Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are the roots of a plant with the name Ipomoea batatas. They derive their name from their slightly sweet flavor.
What Are the Types of Sweet Potatoes?
Many people are unaware that there is more than one type of sweet potato you can buy.
The most common variety is the orange type. But white sweet potatoes are also becoming popular.
The flavor of white sweet potatoes is usually described as being more mild than that of orange sweet potatoes.
The texture of white sweet potatoes is also sometimes described as being more fluffy than that of their orange counterparts.
It is worth trying both types to see which you prefer.
What is the Nutritional Content of Sweet Potatoes?
To help you figure out whether sweet potatoes would be suitable to add to your diet, let’s take a look at their nutritional content.
Here’s the nutritional data for one medium sweet potato (1):
- 103 calories
- 23.6 g of carbohydrates
- 3.8 g of fiber
- 0.2 g of total fat
- 4.6 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
- 68.4 mg of omega-6 fatty acids
- 2.3 g of protein
- 21907IU of vitamin A (438% DV)
- 22.3 mg of vitamin C (37% DV)
- 0.3 mg of vitamin B6 (16% DV)
- 1.0 mg of pantothenic acid (10% DV)
- 541 mg of potassium (15% DV)
- 0.6 mg of manganese (28% DV)
Along with these nutrients, sweet potatoes also contain vitamin E, vitamin K, an assortment of other B vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc and copper.
If you’re wondering about the nutritional differences between orange sweet potatoes and white sweet potatoes, see this (2) study.
According to the researchers, “Phytochemical screening revealed high percentage of carbohydrate, reducing sugar and phenolics in WFSP (white-fleshed sweet potatoes), whereas OFSP (orange-fleshed sweet potatoes) showed increased levels of total protein, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids.”
So, white sweet potatoes contain more sugars than orange sweet potatoes.
Orange sweet potatoes, meanwhile, can help you load up more on vitamin A, proteins and flavonoids.
Therefore, both are nutritious choices, but between the two, orange sweet potatoes appear to be a healthier staple.
What are the Benefits of Sweet Potatoes?
We have already discussed the nutritional properties of sweet potatoes. The vitamins and minerals listed above play many essential roles in your body.
But what are some other health advantages of sweet potatoes? Let’s go over a few.
1. Feed the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract.
There is insoluble fiber in sweet potatoes which is referred to as “resistant starch.”
The healthy bacteria which make a home in your gut eat this type of starch.
By keeping these bacteria well-fed, you can maintain the healthy balance of flora needed to support digestive function.
2. Avoid spiking your blood sugar.
Are you on a low-carb diet?
If so, you are aware that you should not eat foods with a high glycemic index in order to keep your blood glucose from spiking.
Regular potatoes are therefore something which you probably steer clear of on a day-to-day basis.
But sweet potatoes are different.
Their complex carbs have a healthier amylose to amylopectin ratio which prevents blood sugar spikes.
That means that you can eat sweet potatoes as a safer alternative to regular potatoes as part of your regular diet.
Keep in mind that the glycemic index of sweet potatoes changes depending on how you prepare them.
If you want to minimize the glycemic index, consider boiling your sweet potatoes.
Do Sweet Potatoes Have Any Drawbacks?
While the tremendous amount of vitamin A present in sweet potatoes is exciting if you’re looking to increase your intake, you might be wondering whether you can have too much of a good thing.
Is vitamin A toxicity a concern when consuming sweet potatoes?
Actually, vitamin A toxicity is associated specifically with high levels of “preformed vitamin A.”
You will find preformed vitamin A in meat, fish, poultry and dairy.
The type of vitamin A in sweet potatoes is different. It is referred to as “pro-vitamin A.”
According to the NIH (3), “Consuming high amounts of beta-carotene or other forms of provitamin A can turn the skin yellow-orange, but this condition is harmless. High intakes of beta-carotene do not cause birth defects or the other more serious effects caused by getting too much preformed vitamin A.”
So, going by what the NIH says, vitamin A toxicity is not a concern with sweet potatoes. Just don’t go overboard if you want to avoid an unwanted cosmetic effect regarding your skin tone.
How to Enjoy Sweet Potatoes
If you are new to eating sweet potatoes, you might be wondering how you can prepare them.
Just as there are numerous ways you can enjoy regular potatoes, the same is true for orange and white varieties of sweet potatoes.
You can bake them, mash them, roast them to make French fries, or incorporate them into stews or other recipes.
Feel free to get creative and experiment with different ideas; that is half the fun of cooking. You will also find plenty of inspiration online.
Sweet Potatoes Are a Nutritious Addition to a Healthy Diet
We have discussed the advantages of sweet potatoes in detail now, and allayed concerns about vitamin A toxicity.
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. They nourish your healthy gut bacteria. Prepared properly, they also should spike your blood sugar less than regular potatoes.
These benefits, together with their delicious flavor and pleasing texture can make them a fantastic addition to your regular diet.