Sweet potatoes are starchy root vegetables that provide plenty of nutritional benefits. They are a rich source of beta-carotene, which helps in raising vitamin A levels in the body. A sweet potato benefits our health in many ways such as an antioxidant, improves blood sugar regulation, boosts immunity, improves vision, reduces stress, etc.
These tuberous roots are packed with calcium, potassium, vitamin A and C.
People often confuse sweet potatoes with yams, which are different starchy roots that are grown in western Africa.
The outer skin of sweet potatoes ranges from red, purple, brown and white, depending on the cultivar type. Its inside is sweet and fleshy, which, depending on the pigment concentration, ranges from white, yellow, orange and purple.
Let us learn more about sweet potato benefits and nutrition.
What is a sweet potato?
Sweet potatoes are bright orange root vegetables that are a rich source of vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and manganese. Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) belongs to the Convolvulaceae botanical family, along with plants like morning glory and bindweed.
Its generic name ‘Ipomoea’ comes from the Greek words ‘ips,’ which means bindweed and ‘homoios’ which means similar (1).
According to scientists, sweet potatoes originated in Central America. Sweet potatoes have been cultivated for thousands of years. Their fossilized remains have been found in the Andes and have been dated back to 8000 years.
Sweet potato nutrition facts
Sweet potato is one of the most nutritionally rich vegetables available. They are, in fact, one of the top sources of beta-carotene. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a hundred gram serving of sweet potato contains (2) –
- Calories: 85
- Water: 77%
- Protein:1.6 grams
- Carbs: 20.1 grams
- Sugar: 4.2 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Calcium: 31 mg
- Magnesium: 28 mg
- Phosphorus: 56 mg
- Potassium: 338 mg
- Sodium: 54 mg
- Vitamin C: 2.8 mg
- Vitamin A: 14231 IU
Sweet potato benefits
Sweet potatoes have been linked with many health benefits.
1. Rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants fight free radicals to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic disease. Antioxidants help prevent diseases like diabetes, heart ailments, and cancer.
The orange colored sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta-carotene, which is known to improve vision, respiratory health and even skin (2). Several studies have also shown that carotenoids reduce the risk of breast and gastric cancer (3, 4)
Purple sweet potatoes are also very rich in antioxidants due to their high phenolic and anthocyanin content. In fact, the antioxidant activity in its skin is almost three times as high as the rest of the tissue (5). So, sweet potato benefits include cancer prevention as well.
2. Improves blood sugar regulation
Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index rating, which makes it the perfect choice for people with diabetes. It helps people with diabetes manage their blood sugar and helps reduce insulin resistance.
Research shows that sweet potatoes with white skin and flesh are especially beneficial for people with type-2 diabetes. It has beneficial effects on plasma glucose and cholesterol levels in the body (6).
Another study on 18 male patients of diabetes showed that short-term treatment with caiapo improves metabolic control in type 2 diabetic patients by decreasing insulin resistance without affecting body weight, glucose effectiveness or insulin dynamics (7).
Sweet potatoes are also rich in dietary fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar. Sweet potato benefits include prevention of spikes and crashes in sugar levels.
3. Boosts immunity
Sweet potato benefits include improved immunity. This nutritious vegetable contains beta-carotene, a carotenoid which converts to vitamin A.
This vitamin plays many vital roles in the body. It stimulates the production of immune cells that help fight disease and infection (8).
As many as a dozen clinical trials have shown that vitamin A supplementation helps reduce mortality from infectious diseases among children who have acute measles or who are from areas in which vitamin A deficiency is endemic (9).
4. Improves vision
Sweet potato benefits include improved vision. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin A, which is essential for good vision. In fact, one medium sweet potato contains more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.
Vitamin A helps in the formation of pigments which are responsible for light absorption. It is also essential for the proper structure of the retina (10).
A deficiency in vitamin A can cause dry eyes, night blindness and even total loss of vision in some severe cases.
Sweet potatoes also contain beta-carotene that helps to slow down age-related macular degeneration.
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin C and vitamin E. According to research; vitamin C deficiency can lead to the development of cataracts (11).
Other studies have discovered that high amounts of vitamin C and E can fight oxidative stress which leads to cataracts (12).
5. Helps in weight management
Sweet potato benefits weight loss as it contains soluble and fermentable fiber that increases satiety (13). When we increase the intake of soluble fermentable fiber pectin in our diet, it leads to decreased food intake, body weight gain, and body fat content.
Just 100 grams of sweet potatoes contain 3 grams of fiber.
According to a recent animal study, when mice were fed a high-fat diet along with purple sweet potatoes, it helped reduce their fat accumulation and body weight (14).
Many studies have shown that dietary fiber helps reduce hunger and lower body weight (15).
6. Improves brain function
Research shows that sweet potato benefits memory and helps to improve brain function. The purple sweet potato contains anthocyanins, which possess memory enhancing properties (16).
According to a 2010 study, when rats were fed purple sweet potato extract, it improved their spatial and memory ability and protected their brain from aging (17).
7. Increases fertility
Sweet potatoes contain many nutrients which help improve fertility. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, which helps enhance cervical fluid and follicle development. Research has shown that deficiency in vitamin A can lead to fertility problems in women (18).
Sweet potato also contains iron which promotes fertility in women of childbearing age. Iron deficiency can cause infertility in women (19). Iron also supports healthy ovulation and improves eggs health.
Beta-carotene rich, sweet potatoes help women regulate their period, which is essential for any woman who is trying to conceive.
Sweet potatoes contain many antioxidants which help prevent inflammation and reduce the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis.
8. Helps in regulating blood pressure
Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium and magnesium – the two minerals that help control blood pressure and kidney function. This naturally sweet vegetable is rich dietary fiber, which helps lower the risk of heart ailments.
These tubers are also rich in vitamin B6, which helps blood to flow freely through the arteries and blood vessels.
9. Improves digestive health
Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, which is beneficial for the digestive system. The high fiber content helps prevent constipation. To get the most fiber from your sweet potatoes, eat them with their skin.
The magnesium content in sweet potatoes benefits the digestive process.
10. Can reduce stress
Sweet potatoes are rich in magnesium, which is known to reduce stress and anxiety. Research has also shown that a deficiency in magnesium can lead to depression and anxiety (22).
So, you must include these nutritious tubers in your diet to help you reduce stress. A diet rich in magnesium can also reduce insomnia in older adults.
Sweet potatoes vs. yams
Many people think sweet potatoes and yams are the same, but this is not correct. Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family of plants, while yams are related to lilies and grasses.
While yams originated in Africa and Asia, sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America.
Sweet potatoes have smooth skin and tapered ends, the skin of yams is rough, and they are cylindrical. Sweet potatoes usually vary in color from white to orange and purple, but yams are always white-fleshed.
These two veggies also differ in taste. While sweet potatoes are sweet, yams are starchy and dry.
Yams are also higher in calories, carbs and fiber, while sweet potatoes are more abundant in protein. Sweet potatoes are, in fact, more nutritious than yams. They contain a higher amount of potassium, manganese, and vitamin C and B6 than yams.
Sweet potatoes vs. regular potatoes
Many people have started substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes in their food. But are they healthier than regular potatoes?
Both these varieties of potatoes have similar amounts of water, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Sweet potatoes are higher in sugar and fibers as compared to regular potatoes.
Both are rich in vitamin C, and magnesium, but sweet potatoes are richer in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are also lower in their glycemic index as compared to regular potatoes.
Though there are many sweet potato benefits, they can also have an adverse reaction in some people.
Sweet potatoes are considered safe for most people, though some people may develop an allergic reaction. Itchiness, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and swelling are some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction to sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes can also lead to a rise in blood sugar levels when eaten in excess. So, if you have diabetes, make sure you take sweet potatoes in moderation.
Sweet potatoes are high in oxalates, which can lead to problems for people who are prone to kidney stone formation (23).
Final thoughts on sweet potato benefits
Sweet potatoes are incredibly nutritious as they are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. They provide many health benefits like improved immunity and vision and weight loss.
This nutritious vegetable should not be confused with yams as they are entirely different in their taste and appearance. Sweet potatoes are also richer in fiber and vitamin A as compared to regular potatoes.
So, enjoy sweet potatoes benefits by making it a part of your diet.