This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
This article provides a nutritional breakdown and an in-depth look at the possible health benefits of consuming sweet potato. We also explain how to incorporate more sweet potatoes into meals, any potential health risks of consuming them, and how they differ from yams.
Contents of this article:
- Sweet potatoes may help maintain a healthy blood pressure and protect against cancer.
- The high fiber content of sweet potatoes helps prevent constipation.
- One medium, baked sweet potato with skin contains just 103 calories.
- The fastest way to prepare a sweet potato is in the microwave.
- Although there is much confusion, sweet potatoes are not related to yams.
Possible health benefits of sweet potatoes
The new potato is nutrient rich and low in calories.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.
Research suggests that increasing consumption of plant foods, like sweet potatoes, decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality.
A diet including fresh fruit and vegetables may also promote a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Below are some specific benefits of consuming sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are considered low on the glycemic index scale, and recent research suggests they may reduce episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with diabetes.
The fiber in sweet potatoes is important, too. Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels; and, people with type 2 diabetes have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels. One medium sweet potato (skin on) provides about 6 grams of fiber.
Maintaining a low sodium intake helps keep a healthy blood pressure; however, increasing potassium intake may be just as important. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2 percent of American adults are meeting the daily 4,700-milligram recommendation for potassium. One medium sweet potato provides about 542 milligrams.
Also of note, high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.
According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition, among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may help protect against prostate cancer. Beta-carotene may also protect against colon cancer, according to a Japanese study.
Digestion and regularity
Because of its high fiber content, sweet potatoes help to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
For women of childbearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources appears to promote fertility, according to Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications. The vitamin A in sweet potatoes (consumed as beta-carotene then converted to vitamin A in the body) is also essential for hormone synthesis during pregnancy and lactation.
Plant foods like sweet potatoes that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene offer an immunity boost from their powerful combination of nutrients.
Choline, present in sweet potatoes, is a very important and versatile nutrient; it helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat, and reduces chronic inflammation.
In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, purple sweet potato extract was found to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as mopping up free radicals.
Vitamin A deficiency can damage vision; the cornea can become dry, leading to clouding of the front of the eye. It also prevents essential pigments from being produced. Correcting vitamin A deficiencies with foods high in beta-carotene can restore vision.
Also of note, the antioxidant vitamins C and E in sweet potatoes have been shown to support eye health and prevent degenerative damage.
Nutritional breakdown of sweet potatoes
According to the USDA's national nutrient database, one medium, baked sweet potato with skin (2 inches in diameter, 5 inches long, approximately 114 grams) provides:
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A.
- 103 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 24 grams of carbohydrate (including 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of sugar)
- 2.3 grams of protein
One medium sweet potato will provide well over 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamin A, as well as:
- 25 percent of vitamin C
- 25 percent of vitamin B-6
- 12 percent of potassium
You'll also find small amounts of:
Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that gives orange fruits and vegetables their vibrant color; beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offer protection against asthma and heart disease, and delay aging and body degeneration.
Keep the skin on! The color of sweet potato skin can vary from white to yellow and purple to brown but, no matter what color it is, make sure you do not peel it off. A sweet potatoes skin contributes significant amounts of fiber, potassium, and quercetin.
How to prepare sweet potatoes
Avoid buying sweet potatoes with soft skin or wrinkles, cracks, or soft spots. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 3-5 weeks.
Roast sweet potatoes to bring out their natural flavor. There is no need to add in marshmallow topping or loads of butter; sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet and creamy taste that can be enjoyed all on its own. To add a little spice without extra calories, try sprinkling on cinnamon, cumin, or curry powder.
The fastest way to prepare a sweet potato is in the microwave. Prick the potato with a fork, wrap in a paper towel, and then microwave on high until soft. Make sure to let it cool for several minutes, and then drizzle with olive oil or top with fat-free plain Greek yogurt.
Try adding roasted sweet potatoes and pecans to a salad and top with balsamic vinegar. You can also try adding sweet potato to pancakes or hash browns.
Sweet potato recipes
Try these simple and healthful recipes that include sweet potatoes:
Sweet potatoes vs. yams
Yams (pictured) are unrelated to sweet potatoes.
Despite the terms sweet potato and yam often being used interchangeably, they are actually not botanically related.
Yams are almost exclusively grown in Africa and are more dry and starchy compared with sweet potato.
So how did these two vegetables become so intertwined?
There are two different varieties of sweet potatoes, firm and soft. When soft sweet potatoes were being cultivated in the Americas, African slaves began calling them yams because of their resemblance to their familiar native vegetable.
The name caught on as a way to distinguish between the two types of sweet potatoes.
Potential health risks of consuming sweet potatoes
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If the kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it can be fatal.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by Megan Ware