Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. The many health benefits of sweet potatoes come from the fact that they are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Far from being a fattening food, sweet potatoes can even help you lose weight. In fact, eating sweet potatoes is great for your heart health, eyesight, digestion, and brain.
Several studies found that sweet potatoes contain nutrients that have anti-cancer properties. Some studies suggested that they have significant anticancer effect on colon and lung cancer.
The American Diabetes Association says that sweet potatoes are good to eat in a diabetes diet. In addition, it also included the sweet potato in its list of diabetes superfoods.
If you want to know about the amazing benefits of sweet potatoes, then you will find those later in the article. You will also learn about scientific discoveries that back up the health claims about sweet potatoes.
First of all, let’s look at what exactly sweet potatoes are and how you can pick the healthiest type.
What is Sweet Potato?
Sweet potatoes are a type of starchy root vegetable that contain vitamins A, C, E, K, and B-group vitamins. In fact, sweet potatoes have 1,900 times more vitamin A than white potatoes. All varieties of sweet potato contain good levels of minerals and fiber along with some protein.
The reason why sweet potatoes are sweet is due to enzymes that break down starch into a type of sugar called maltose. This type of malt sugar isn’t as sweet as traditional sugar, but it can still help to satisfy your cravings for sweet things.
Are Sweet Potatoes Good for You?
In a nutshell: yes, sweet potatoes are extremely nutritious and healthy for you.
Sweet potatoes are healthy because they contain important minerals and vitamins needed for good health. Also, sweet potatoes are a rich source of antioxidants such as beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients.
The American Diabetes Association says that sweet potatoes are one of the best types of potatoes for diabetics and it’s on their list of diabetes superfoods. (36) Sweet potatoes have low Glycemic index (GI) and as such they are less likely to cause blood glucose spikes after eating. They are packed full of fiber and vitamin A (as carotenoids).
Types of Sweet Potatoes
There are hundreds of different types of sweet potatoes. Some of the most popular varieties of sweet potatoes are Beauregard and Jewel. However, there are many more types of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes varieties have white flesh or orange flesh, and, there are even some varieties with purple flesh.
Sweet Potato Found to Inhibit Colon & Lung Cancer
A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reported that sweet potatoes have anticancer effect on collateral cancer cells. Sweet potatoes contain types of proteins called sweet potatoes proteins (SSP). The journal reported that SPP exerts significant anti cancer effect on human colorectal cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo: “The current study showed that SPP significantly inhibited proliferation, migration and invasion of human colorectal cancer.” (11)
Scientists have found similar benefits from sweet potatoes in treating lung cancer and preventing its spread. (11)
Another study reported that anthocyanins from purple sweet potatoes were able to “significantly reduced colorectal carcinogenesis” by 48%. (38)
While many foods are touted as helping to reduce your risk of cancer, it seems that sweet potatoes with its high levels of vitamin A are especially healthy. For instance, one study found that high intake of vitamin A can help to reduce the risk of gastric cancer. It’s good to remember that eating a medium-sized baked sweet potato gives you 4 times the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. (9)
Can You Eat Sweet Potatoes Raw?
It is safe to eat sweet potatoes without cooking them. Of course, they have a firm, hard flesh that can be difficult to get your teeth into. However, you can add chopped up sweet potatoes to your favorite smoothie to boost its nutritional value.
Sweet Potato vs. Potato
Despite their name, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) aren’t a “true” type of potato. White potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are from the nightshade family of vegetables.
Comparing sweet potatoes with white potatoes, you will find that sweet potatoes have more vitamins, more fiber, more antioxidants, and fewer calories. In fact, the orange flesh of most sweet potato varieties is a good indicator of its high beta-carotene content.
How Many Sweet Potato Varieties Exist?
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potato with about 25 available in the US. However, most stores only stock 2 or 3 of the most popular varieties.
The Most Popular Type of Sweet Potato
The most common type of sweet potato is the orange-fleshed varieties. Common varieties of sweet potatoes are Red Garnet and Beauregard. Both of these varieties have red skins and deep orange flesh.
You can also buy white sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes. In fact, if you want to create an eye-catching potato mash, boil and mash purple sweet potatoes.
Further reading: Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Purple Sweet Potato + Recipes.
Sweet Potato Nutrition (Calories, Fiber, Carbs, Vitamins)
A quick look at the nutritional facts of sweet potatoes shows why they are so good for eating.
Sweet Potato Calories
A medium-sized baked potato (114 g) contains just over 100 calories. This means that sweet potatoes are a great low-calorie, low-fat food to eat if you are trying to lose weight. (1)
Sweet Potato Fiber
Baked sweet potatoes with their skins on are a great source of dietary fiber. A whole baked sweet potato has 3.3 grams of fiber, which is 15% of your recommended daily intake (RDI). Sweet potatoes have 50% more fiber than white potatoes. (37, 38)
Fiber is an essential nutrient that is linked to good digestive health, weight loss, and lowering blood glucose spikes. (2, 3)
Sweet Potato Carbs
The amount of carbs in a medium-sized sweet potato baked in its skin is 20.71 g. From these, 3.3 grams are fiber which means the net carbs are around 17.4 g.
Sweet Potato Vitamins
One of the reasons to eat sweet potatoes every week is to get a healthy dose of vitamins. One medium baked sweet potato contains 22 mg of vitamin C (37% of your RDI), 0.3 mg of vitamin B6 (16% of your RDI), and a massive 21,907 IU of vitamin A (438% of your RDI).
Sweet Potato Protein
Although they are not one of the best sources of vegetable protein, a medium sweet potato still contains 2.3 g of protein, which is 5% of your RDI.
Sweet Potatoes Have 1900 Times More Vitamin A Than White Potatoes
When it comes to its vitamin A content, sweet potatoes are one of the best vegetables you can eat.
Research has shown that gram for gram, sweet potatoes contain more than 1,900 times vitamin A than regular potatoes. 100 grams of white baked potato contains 10 IU of vitamin A. However, 100 grams of baked sweet potato contains 19,218 IU of vitamin A. (37, 38)
To illustrate, just half a medium baked sweet potato contains over 200% of your daily vitamin A needs. The same amount of white baked potato only contains 13 IU of vitamin A which doesn’t even register as a notable amount.
You may even be surprised to find out that sweet potatoes have more vitamin A than carrots!
Why Sweet Potato Is One of the Healthiest Vegetables You Can Eat
Due to its rich nutritional value, sweet potatoes are extremely healthy vegetables to include in your diet. Let’s look at some of the amazing health benefits of these different colored tubers.
How Sweet Potatoes Can Help Fight Cancer
Sweet potatoes are a storehouse of powerful antioxidants that have cancer-fighting properties.
In particular, sweet potatoes are a good source of a protein called sporamin. Various studies have shown that this compound can help to prevent certain cancers from developing or spreading. Some tests have found that compounds in sweet potato extract could reduce the risk of breast, gallbladder, tongue, and pancreatic cancers. (4, 5, 6, 7)
Sweet potatoes with orange flesh also contain a number of other powerful anti-cancer compounds. For example, sweet potatoes contain carotenoids that help control cell growth and reduce the risk of some cancers. (8)
Why Diabetes Patients Should Start Consuming Sweet Potatoes
Even though it may seem that sweet potatoes are very high in carbs, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid them if you have diabetes. In fact, there is emerging evidence that sweet potatoes is a food that can benefit diabetics.
First of all, sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber and complex carbs. These nutrients help to stabilize blood glucose levels and prevent sugar spikes. In fact, some researchers recommend that diabetics eat moderate portions of sweet potatoes to help reduce insulin resistance. (12)
The American Diabetes Association says that sweet potatoes are one of the diabetes superfoods. (36)
It also seems that there are specific compounds in sweet potatoes that help manage type 2 diabetes symptoms. One of these is an extract from white sweet potatoes called Caiapo. One study found that taking Caiapo extract over a 12-week period helped to control blood glucose levels on patients with type-2 diabetes. (13)
One way to reduce the effect of carbs on blood glucose levels is to boil your sweet potatoes before eating. Boiling helps reduce the glycemic index values in sweet potatoes. Of course, you should also watch portion size if you want to enjoy this delicious orange root vegetable. (14)
How Eating Sweet Potatoes Can Help You Lose Weight
Did you know that if you want to lose weight, you should eat sweet potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-rich vegetable that contain complex carbs. The fact that sweet potatoes contain a lot of fiber helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Sweet potatoes are also low in calories and don’t contain any fat.
One study found that compounds in purple varieties of sweet potato are especially useful in weight management. In lab trials, supplementing the diet with purple sweet potatoes helped reduce fat and body weight. The antioxidants in this purple tuber also improved liver and kidney health. (15)
Sweet Potatoes have Amazing Benefits for Your Heart
If you want to help keep your heart healthy, then eating sweet potatoes has many benefits.
Fiber is an important nutrient to help lower your risk of heart disease. One cup of sweet potato (200 g) contains over one-quarter of your daily fiber needs. So, the fiber content can help to not only assist in weight loss, but also help improve your cardio health. (16)
Sweet potatoes are also high in potassium which you need to help keep blood pressure under control. (17)
Due to the fact that sweet potatoes also contain high levels of copper and manganese, eating them regularly can boost your cardiovascular health. A large sweet potato contains nearly half of your daily manganese needs and 14% of your copper requirements. (18)
Eating Sweet Potatoes Could Help Boost Your Immunity
Because sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins C and A, it should come as no surprise that they are great for your general health.
If you want to pick the healthiest type of sweet potato, then choose a purple variety. For instance, studies have shown that consuming sweet purple potatoes may have an immune-enhancing effect. Certain types of carbohydrates in the purple root help to stimulate the immune system for it to function better. (19)
What about the effect vitamins A and C have on your immunity? Both of these vitamins are essential if you want to avoid getting infections and reduce your risk of chronic disease. (20, 21)
A medium-sized cooked sweet potato gives you more than enough vitamin A and nearly 40% of your vitamin C daily needs.
Add Sweet Potatoes to Your Diet if You Want to Enjoy Better Digestion
Including sweet potatoes in your diet is a great way to keep your digestive system in good health.
Sweet potatoes help improve digestion because they are rich in soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Doctors agree that these types of fiber help normalize bowel movements, improve bowel health, and maintain good body weight. Because of that, eating any variety of sweet potato is a tasty way to boost your digestion. (22, 23)
How You Can Improve Your Eyesight by Eating Sweet Potatoes
The best type of sweet potato to eat to help protect vision and eye health is the orange varieties.
Eating sweet potatoes is one way to help protect your eyesight from age-related macular degeneration. For example, carotenoids, which are in abundance in sweet potatoes, are important nutrients for eye health. (24)
One study reported that on a list of the best foods for good vision, sweet potatoes came out top. One-half cup of sweet potato contained 3 times the amount of beta-carotene than carrots. (25)
Even white-fleshed sweet potato varieties have good amounts of vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin that are good for your vision. (26)
However, when it comes to really giving your eyesight a boost, purple sweet potatoes are also good. One study found that anthocyanins in purple varieties help to strengthen the health of cells in your eyes. (27)
Fuel Your Brain by Eating Sweet Potatoes
Eat plenty of sweet potatoes if you want to improve your memory, boost concentration levels, or increase your attention span.
There are actually a number of healthy compounds in sweet potatoes that are beneficial for your mental health.
One example is manganese. Getting enough of this mineral in your diet is essential for many neurological processes. Also, the compounds choline and betaine have been linked to better cognitive performance. (28, 29)
Of course, the anti-inflammatory effects of the antioxidant anthocyanin in purple sweet potatoes also have a positive effect on the brain. Some studies seem to suggest that these compounds can delay the progression of cognitive decline in older persons. (30)
The Anti-Stress and Anti-Anxiety Effect of Sweet Potatoes
Consuming sweet potatoes could even help you relax and calm your nerves.
Although there is no direct link on the effect of sweet potatoes in lowering stress, they contain compounds that positively affect brain function. The connection between sweet potatoes and stress is due to magnesium.
Some studies have shown that magnesium deficiency can be linked to depression in men and women. Also, magnesium is an important mineral to help the body deal with stress and anxiety. (31, 32)
So, enjoying sweet potatoes regularly as part of a healthy diet can help keep your magnesium at healthy levels.
Sweet Potatoes Help Lower Inflammation
Another of the many health benefits of eating sweet potatoes is that it can help lower inflammation.
Sweet potatoes are important sources of most vitamins with vitamins A and C being the most concentrated. However, B-group vitamins, as well as vitamins E and K all have anti-inflammatory properties. (33, 34)
One of the reasons to include purple sweet potatoes in your diet is because they contain powerful antioxidants. Anthocyanins have been shown to lower inflammation caused by obesity. At the same time, purple sweet potatoes show potential in lowering body weight and body fat. (35)
The anti-inflammatory properties of sweet potato also makes it a great anti-arthritis food.
How to Choose and Store Sweet Potatoes
After finding out about the many reasons why sweet potatoes are good for you, you may be keen to add them to your diet.
The best way to check if a sweet potato is good for eating is to give it a gentle squeeze. The potato should be firm and the skin should be an even color. Small to medium-sized sweet potatoes are sweeter and tastier than the larger varieties.
Pick the varieties of sweet potato that have deep orange-colored flesh as these will have the most antioxidants.
Store sweet potatoes in a dark, cool, dry place at room temperature. Don’t keep them in the refrigerator as this will cause their delicious sweet taste to spoil.
The Best Way to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are an extremely versatile vegetable. You can bake them, boil them, mash them, fry them, or grill them.
Although sweet potatoes make healthier fries than regular types of potatoes, the amount of fat negates any of the health benefits of them.
If you want, you can even eat sweet potatoes raw by grating them on a salad or putting them in a smoothie.
When preparing sweet potatoes to eat with the skin, always remember to thoroughly scrub the skin to remove any dirt or impurities.
You can enjoy delicious sweet potato wedges by cutting the potatoes into thick wedges. Sprinkle with olive oil and rosemary or oregano herbs and season to taste. Bake in the oven at 400°F (200°C) for 30 minutes.
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