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Home » Blog » Sweet Potatoes: Are They Good for You?

Sweet Potatoes: Are They Good for You?

Sweet potatoes, with their vibrant orange hue, are famous for being starchy tubers. When fall arrives, these sweet potatoes become even more inviting, making a hearty addition to meals. They find their way into soups, stews, pies, and delightful desserts.

Beyond their appealing taste, sweet potatoes bring a bunch of health benefits to the table. Eating them might shield you from chronic diseases and reduce inflammation. Plus, sweet potatoes are champs at keeping your blood sugar in check and aiding in weight loss.

Let’s explore some fantastic perks of sweet potatoes and easy ways to bring these nutritious gems into your daily meals, snacks, and treats.

Where Do They Come From?

The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a food plant belonging to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). Originally from tropical America, it is extensively cultivated in tropical and warm temperate regions. The sweet potato holds significant importance as a staple food crop in various areas, including the southern United States, tropical America, the Caribbean, warmer Pacific islands, Japan, and parts of Russia.

The edible part of the sweet potato is its fleshy roots. These roots are commonly prepared as a cooked vegetable, either served whole or mashed. Additionally, sweet potatoes are frequently used as a filling for pies, adding a delicious and nutritious element to various dishes.

In Japan, the cultivation of sweet potatoes has a long history, serving dual purposes: the roots are grown for consumption in various forms, and the crop is also utilized for drying, starch production, and the manufacture of alcohol.

Overall, the sweet potato has become a versatile and valuable food source in many cultures, contributing to both culinary traditions and agricultural practices around the world.

Physical Description

Sweet potato plants typically have long and trailing stems with lobed or unlobed leaves of varying shapes. The flowers, arranged in clusters in the leaf axils, are funnel-shaped and exhibit shades of pink or rose-violet. The key edible part of the sweet potato plant is the enlarged tuberous root, which comes in different shapes—ranging from fusiform to oblong or pointed oval.

These tuberous roots display a spectrum of colors, including white, orange, and occasionally purple on the inside. On the outside, they can range from light buff to brown or exhibit hues of rose and purplish red. The flesh of sweet potatoes is rich in starch, with orange-fleshed varieties particularly high in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.

The sweet potato plant is typically propagated vegetatively through sprouts known as slips, which emerge from the roots, or through cuttings of the vines. It thrives best in light and friable soils, such as sandy loams. Successful cultivation requires a warm climate, with at least four to five months of warm weather being necessary for optimal yields.

Nutritional Facts

Sweet potatoes are healthy and have important vitamins like beta carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. They also have fiber, which is good for you and can help you eat a balanced diet.

Sweet potatoes grow underground and are full of an antioxidant called beta carotene. This antioxidant is great for increasing the vitamin A levels in your blood.

These potatoes are not only good for you, but they are also tasty and can be cooked in different ways like boiling, baking, steaming, or frying.

Sweet potatoes can be orange, white, red, pink, violet, yellow, or purple. In some places, people call them yams, but that’s not really correct because yams are a different kind of plant.

Even though sweet potatoes are sometimes compared to regular potatoes, they are actually only distantly related.


If you boil a medium-sized sweet potato without the skin, it has 27 grams of carbs. Most of these carbs (53%) come from starches. Another 32% comes from simple sugars like glucose, fructose, sucrose, and maltose.

Sweet potatoes have a medium to high glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of how quickly your blood sugar levels go up after eating. The GI for sweet potatoes can range from 44 to 96.

Because sweet potatoes have a relatively high GI, eating a lot of them in one meal might not be good for people with type 2 diabetes. Boiling sweet potatoes seems to be better for controlling blood sugar levels compared to baking, frying, or roasting them.


Sweet potatoes contain different types of starch, and they can be categorized based on how our bodies digest them. These categories include rapidly digested starch, slowly digested starch, and resistant starch.

The first category, rapidly digested starch, makes up a significant portion (80%) of the starch content in sweet potatoes. This starch is quickly broken down and absorbed by the body, leading to a faster increase in blood sugar levels. This characteristic contributes to the overall high glycemic index (GI) of sweet potatoes.

In contrast, the second category, slowly digested starch, constitutes a smaller proportion (9%) of sweet potato starch. This type of starch breaks down more gradually, resulting in a more moderate increase in blood sugar levels compared to the rapidly digested starch.

The third category, resistant starch, makes up 11% of the starch in sweet potatoes. Unlike the other types, resistant starch escapes full digestion and acts similarly to fiber. It serves as a source of nutrition for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Additionally, cooling sweet potatoes after cooking may slightly increase the amount of resistant starch present.


Cooked sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, providing 3.8 grams in a medium-sized sweet potato.

The fiber content consists of both soluble (15–23%) fibers in the form of pectin, and insoluble (77–85%) fibers in the form of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.

Soluble fibers, like pectin, can contribute to a feeling of fullness, potentially reducing overall food intake. Moreover, they may help control blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion of sugars and starches.

On the other hand, insoluble fibers, comprising a significant portion of sweet potato fiber, have been linked to health benefits. These include a decreased risk of diabetes and improvements in gut health.

Incorporating sweet potatoes into your diet not only provides a tasty and nutritious option but also delivers essential fibers that can positively impact feelings of fullness and contribute to overall health.


A medium-sized sweet potato has 2 grams of protein, making it a less substantial source of protein.

The unique proteins in sweet potatoes, called sporamins, make up over 80% of their total protein content. These proteins play a crucial role in promoting healing when the plant undergoes physical damage. Recent studies propose that sporamins may also possess antioxidant properties.

While sweet potatoes may not be high in protein compared to other sources, they remain an important protein source in many developing countries. Their contribution to dietary protein, along with other beneficial nutrients, underscores their significance in supporting nutrition, especially in regions where diverse food sources may be limited.

Vitamins and minerals

Sweet potatoes stand out as an excellent source of essential nutrients, including beta carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. Here’s a breakdown of the most abundant vitamins and minerals found in these vegetables:

  1. Pro-vitamin A (Beta Carotene): Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, a type of vitamin A precursor. Even a small amount, 3.5 ounces (100 grams), provides the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.
  2. Vitamin C: This antioxidant, present in sweet potatoes, can potentially reduce the duration of common colds and promote healthy skin.
  3. Potassium: Crucial for controlling blood pressure, potassium in sweet potatoes may contribute to a decreased risk of heart disease.
  4. Manganese: A trace mineral found in sweet potatoes, manganese plays a key role in growth, development, and metabolism.
  5. Vitamin B6: Essential for converting food into energy, vitamin B6 is another valuable component of sweet potatoes.
  6. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Also known as pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is found in varying amounts in almost all foods, contributing to the nutritional value of sweet potatoes.
  7. Vitamin E: This potent fat-soluble antioxidant in sweet potatoes helps protect the body against oxidative damage, supporting overall health.

Including sweet potatoes in your diet not only adds delicious flavor but also provides a range of essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to your overall well-being.

Sweet potatoes vs. regular potatoes

Many people opt for sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, thinking they are a healthier choice. Here’s a comparison:

Both regular and sweet potatoes contain similar amounts of water, carbs, fat, and protein. However, sweet potatoes often have a lower glycemic index (GI) and higher levels of both sugar and fiber.

Both types are good sources of vitamin C and potassium. Yet, sweet potatoes go the extra mile by providing substantial amounts of beta carotene, which the body can turn into vitamin A.

Regular potatoes might be more filling, but they can also contain glycoalkaloids, compounds that may be harmful in large amounts.

Considering their fiber and vitamin content, sweet potatoes are generally seen as the healthier option between the two. They offer a tasty and nutritious alternative, especially for those looking to boost their vitamin intake and maintain a balanced diet.

Health benefits of sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes offer various health benefits, contributing to overall well-being:

  1. Prevention of Vitamin A Deficiency:
    • Vitamin A deficiency is a significant concern in many developing countries, leading to eye damage, blindness, and compromised immune function.
    • Sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. The vibrant color of the sweet potato is linked to its beta carotene content.
    • Orange sweet potatoes, in particular, are highly effective in increasing blood levels of vitamin A, making them a valuable strategy against deficiency in developing nations.
  2. Improved Blood Sugar Regulation:
    • Type 2 diabetes is characterized by imbalances in blood sugar levels and insulin secretion.
    • Caiapo, a specific type of sweet potato with white skin and flesh, shows promise in improving symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes.
    • This sweet potato may reduce fasting blood glucose and LDL cholesterol levels while increasing insulin sensitivity, although more research is needed to confirm its efficacy.
  3. Reduced Oxidative Damage and Cancer Risk:
    • Oxidative damage to cells is linked to an increased risk of cancer.
    • Sweet potatoes, rich in antioxidants like carotenoids, may contribute to a lower risk of stomach, kidney, and breast cancers.
    • Purple potatoes, in particular, stand out for their high antioxidant activity, offering potential protection against oxidative damage.


Sweet potatoes are generally well-tolerated by most people and offer numerous health benefits. However, it’s essential to be aware that they are relatively high in oxalates, which could potentially increase the risk of kidney stones.

For individuals who are prone to developing kidney stones, it may be advisable to moderate their intake of sweet potatoes. This cautious approach can help manage oxalate levels and potentially reduce the risk of kidney stone formation.

As with any dietary considerations, consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalized advice based on individual health conditions and needs.

How to Prepare It

When selecting sweet potatoes at the store, opt for ones that are firm rather than mushy, and have evenly colored skin. When preparing them, use a stainless-steel knife to avoid darkening the flesh, as a carbon knife may have this effect.

While the tradition of topping sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows is common during Thanksgiving, there are healthier ways to prepare them. Consider steaming, roasting, boiling, or microwaving sweet potatoes. Sweet potato fries are a tasty alternative, but it’s advisable not to consume them frequently. Despite offering more nutrients compared to fries made from white potatoes, sweet potato fries can still be high in fat. Choosing healthier cooking methods and mindful consumption can enhance the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes.

Here are some easy ways to make delicious dishes with sweet potatoes:

  1. Cinnamon Maple Baked Sweet Potatoes:
    • Bake sweet potatoes and drizzle them with a mix of ground cinnamon and maple syrup thinned with warm water.
  2. Sweet Potato Oats:
    • Bake, mash, and fold sweet potatoes into overnight oats for a tasty breakfast.
  3. Sweet Potato Smoothie:
    • Blend cooked sweet potatoes into a smoothie for a healthy and colorful twist.
  4. Salmon and Sweet Potato Lunch Bowl:
    • Bake sweet potatoes with salmon to create a delicious lunch bowl.
  5. Sweet Potato Soup:
    • Purée cooked sweet potatoes with low-sodium organic veggie broth for a hearty soup.
  6. Sweet Potato Salad:
    • Add chunked, baked sweet potatoes to a garden salad for extra flavor.
  7. Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Wedges:
    • Craving French fries? Make crisp oven-baked sweet potato wedges.
  8. Sweet Potato Desserts:
    • Use mashed sweet potatoes in desserts like no-bake cookies, brownies, pudding, or sweet potato pie.

Get creative and enjoy the goodness of sweet potatoes in various tasty dishes!

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Erika Herbert
Erika Herbert