When you think of sweet potatoes, you might imagine one of many types of sweet potatoes. This tuber includes hundreds of varieties that differ in color and flavor. Don’t confuse them with yams, which have brown, shaggy skin, pale flesh, and a less sweet taste.
With a long history, over 5,000 years, sweet potatoes have made a culinary impression all over the world. It is a staple of African, Caribbean and Pacific Island cuisine. You can find sweet potatoes at the center of all kinds of delicious dishes today, including curries, salads and fries.
However you prepare them, you will get a tasty and colorful result and a good dose of nutrition. Beneath their earthy shell hide many nutrients, including high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and manganese. Not surprisingly, this translates to many potential health benefits. Here are seven to consider.
1. Sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar
Sweet potatoes tend to get good press compared to their white counterparts, and for some health issues, that hype may be warranted. An example: their effects on blood sugar.
Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber than white potatoes, which may provide better blood sugar stability. For reference, a one-cup serving contains 6.6 grams of fiber, compared to 2 grams per cup for russet potatoes. Even though sweet potatoes are a high-starch food, the fiber they contain may help slow down the digestion of sugars in the potato, which results in blood sugar levels rising and falling more evenly.
2. Sweet potatoes promote eye health
You’ve probably heard that carrots can promote healthy vision, but they’re not the only orange vegetable with this potential power. Sweet potatoes also have a link to eye health – and it’s all down to their abundance of vitamin A. Vitamin A may be good for overall vision health, at the same time as it may possibly help macular degeneration. According to a 2019 study published in Antioxidants, beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) is one of many nutrients that help reduce the risk of macular degeneration. In addition to potentially helping to prevent macula degeneration, vitamin A has been linked in some studies to a reduced risk of age-related cataracts. Vitamin A is so important for your eyes because of the role it plays for epithelial cells.
These are the types of cells that line all the surfaces of the body. This includes the surface of the eyes. Another reason why these potatoes are easy on the eyes is their high beta-carotene content, as research confirms. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, i.e. a phytochemical that can be converted into vitamin A. Along with other carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, it contributes to macular health, which is the central part of the eye that gives the clearest vision.
3. Sweet potatoes may reduce systemic inflammation
Beta-carotene which can improve vision has other tricks up its sleeve, including reducing inflammation. Indeed, beta-carotene is an antioxidant, a dietary compound that “cleanses” the body’s cells of pro-inflammatory free radicals. Consuming a high amount of beta-carotene from sweet potatoes could have a knock-on effect on overall health.
In addition, other anti-inflammatories are added to the beta-carotene contained in sweet potatoes, in particular vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties. A cup of sweet potatoes is an excellent source of vitamin C. And a 2019 study published in Molecules found that the antioxidant anthocyanins responsible for the purple color in sweet potatoes may be protective against cancer, liver disease, hypoglycemia and other health issues.
4. Sweet potatoes can improve digestion
If you suffer from digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea, it is in your best interest to consume sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes contain soluble fiber, which makes it easier to pass stools effortlessly. This form of soluble fiber absorbs water in the colon, which creates bulk and provides roughage for good gut bacteria, as research suggests. Purple sweet potatoes might be especially useful for taming diarrhea. A 2021 animal study published in Food and Function found that when mice with antibiotic-resistant diarrhea were fed purple sweet potatoes, it changed the diversity of their gut flora, alleviating their symptoms.
5. Sweet potatoes help protect cardiovascular health
Sweet potatoes’ unique blend of nutrients (and their culinary flexibility) make them a delicious option in a heart-healthy diet. A medium-sized sweet potato contains 4 grams of fiber, including soluble fiber, which may help lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. You’ll also get 9% of your daily value of potassium from a serving of sweet potatoes. Eating potassium-rich foods helps lower blood pressure by helping your body get rid of excess sodium and dilate the walls of blood vessels, which lowers the pressure inside them.
6. Sweet potatoes may extend longevity
The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes could be a key to racking up more candles on your birthday cake. A 2016 meta-analysis published in Scientific Reports found that higher beta-carotene intake was significantly correlated with a lower risk of death from any health cause. It has to do (again!) with the antioxidant effects of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene may prevent damage caused by free radicals. This damage can potentially lead to other processes that could lead to the development of chronic diseases. Want to keep even more beta-carotene in your potatoes? Try boiling them.
7. Sweet Potatoes Can Help Maintain a Healthy Weight
Due to their high carb content, you may not associate potatoes of any kind with weight loss, but don’t overlook sweet potatoes to lower the number on the scale. In addition to filling you up between meals, their high fiber content allows you to reach your daily goal (38 grams for men and 25 grams for women). According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating more dietary fiber promotes weight loss and may even help people stick to their diet.
If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, be careful how you prepare vegetables. Rather than pairing them with heavy or sugary ingredients like cream, butter, and sugar, try them in lighter recipes like salads, cereal bowls, or simply roasted with olive oil. Sweet potatoes are such a versatile vegetable that it’s easy to include them in any meal of the day.