Sweet potatoes are a healthy staple all year long, but the fall season is really their time to shine.
The bright orange spud is tasty and versatile — you can stuff, bake, roast, mash or even microwave them. From autumnal desserts to comfort-food mains, the super starch lends a creamy texture and slight sweetness to our favorite dishes right now.
Sweet potatoes are also a well-rounded nutritional powerhouse with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
Plus, they are some of the least expensive items in the produce aisle. Here are some of the top reasons to add more sweet potatoes to your diet and simple ways to enjoy this delicious tuber.
Sweet potato nutrition facts
One medium sweet potato has a ton of nutrients, including:
- 112 calories
- 2 grams protein
- 24 grams carbohydrates
- 0 grams fat
- 3.7 grams fiber (15% daily value (DV))
- 7 grams sugar
- 542 milligrams potassium (12% DV)
- 31 grams magnesium (8% DV)
- 0.3 milligrams vitamin B6 (15% DV)
- 961 mcg vitamin A (106% DV)
- 22 milligrams vitamin C (30% DV)
Sweet potato benefits
Sweet potatoes are known for their vitamin A content. They actually contain a precursor to the vitamin, called beta carotene, which the body coverts to vitamin A after eating. This nutrient is most known for its contribution to eye health.
As a matter of fact, having enough vitamin A in the diet reduces the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the United States. Luckily, one medium sweet potato provides all the vitamin A you need in a day. Keep in mind that vitamin A is fat soluble, so pair sweet potatoes with a healthy fat, like olive oil or avocado, to reap all the eye-boosting benefits.
Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium, a mineral that is tied to blood pressure. Research suggests that a potassium deficiency may elevate blood pressure, and conversely, eating enough potassium may reduce blood pressure. Potassium works twofold for the heart; it dilates blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood, and it also helps excrete sodium from the body. These mechanisms work together to lower blood pressure.
In addition, the fiber in sweet potatoes contributes to overall heart health. Not only does fiber promote digestive health and regularity, it also binds to cholesterol and removes it from body.
Disadvantages of sweet potatoes
Have you ever heard that eating too many orange foods can turn your skin orange? It’s a condition called carotenemia, but it’s rare and most prevalent in children. But don’t worry, the amount of sweet potatoes you would have to eat in a day to develop carotenemia is probably more than your stomach can handle.
Since sweet potatoes are rich in carbs and low in protein, eating a sweet potato alone may only satisfy your hunger for a short period of time. Pair your sweet potato with protein and fat to make it a filling meal.
Some fun facts about sweet potatoes
Beyond the nutrition facts and health benefits, these little known facts about sweet potatoes are just a few more reasons to add them to your plate.
Sweet potatoes are a great pre-workout snack
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for exercise, and sweet potatoes contain a long string of sugar molecules, known as complex carbs. Foods that have complex carbs break down slowly to provide long-lasting energy for exercise.
“They also have potassium and magnesium, two electrolytes lost in sweat,” says Elizabeth Shaw, dietitian and owner of ShawSimpleSwaps.com. “The body needs to keep these electrolytes in balance during a sweat session to maintain proper hydration." Eating a sweet potato before a workout tops off your electrolyte reserves and aids in proper hydration.
Sweet potatoes and yams are different
Although the term sweet potato and yam are used interchangeably, they are actually quite different. Sweet potatoes are the recognizable orange root vegetable, but they also come in other varieties, like red skin with white flesh or purple skin with purple flesh.
Many people think the red variety of sweet potatoes are yams, but traditional yams actually have a dark colored bumpy skin with white flesh. They resemble yuca, the root of a cassava plant, and are starchier and more mild tasting than sweet potatoes. The flavor of a yam resembles that of a white russet potato. Most sweet potatoes are grown in the U.S., while yams hail from Africa.
There are purple sweet potatoes
Have you ever seen a potato that has the same size and shape as a sweet potato, but it’s purple? This vibrant variety of sweet potato is completely natural; it gets its hue from anthocyanin, an antioxidant that also colors berries. Anthocyanins are known for their inflammation-fighting properties and have been linked to reducing cardiovascular disease. Not to mention that purple potatoes taste very similar to the orange variety.
They aren’t that much healthier than white potatoes
When putting the nutrition facts of sweet potatoes side-by-side with a white potato, there isn’t one clear winner. Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A, but white potatoes have about double the potassium of sweet potatoes. And both types of potatoes have a similar fiber and calorie count.
The difference is usually in the preparation of the potato. White potatoes are used for fries and chips, which are loaded with oil and salt. Sweet potatoes are usually roasted and prepared in healthier ways.
Healthy ways to enjoy sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a versatile ingredient that can serve as a starter, main or side. They are used in everything from sweet to savory dishes, and they almost always steal the show! Not to mention that “sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and can decrease the amount of added sugar you would need to use in the recipe,” says Shaw. Here are some of our favorite ways to use sweet potatoes: