Allow me clear up some of the confusion about sweet potatoes. The white potatoes we commonly bake and boil are a different type of tuber, unrelated to the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes trump their paler namesakes by providing more fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. Yams, often mislabelled as sweet potatoes in supermarkets, are cousins of sweet potatoes, but also inferior in terms of health benefits.
Sweet potatoes come in a rainbow of colors including white, yellow, orange and purple. Choose the orange-fleshed variety over the white. The orange colour is a clue to its high beta-carotene content, which your body converts to vitamin A and uses to keep your bones healthy, your vision acute and your immune system strong.
If you're looking for an extra dose of antioxidants, the purple colored potatoes are your best bet, but you may have to go on a treasure hunt to find them. And a tip: Don't peel sweet potatoes. When you do, you sacrifice some of the fiber, which keeps you feeling satiated longer.
Sweet potato nutrition facts
1. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin B6.
A one-cup serving of sweet potato provides a whopping 765 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and close to 30 per cent of our daily vitamin B6 needs. Sweet potatoes also a good source of B-vitamins thiamin (also known as vitamin B1), riboflavin and niacin.
2. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of dietary fiber.
A one-cup serving of sweet potato satisfies 1/4 of your daily fiber needs.
3. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of potassium.
A one-cup serving of sweet potato contains more than 950 milligrams of potassium, about 25 per cent of the recommended daily intake for adults. The American Heart Association has written extensively about the health benefits of potassium, noting that foods like sweet potatoes and avocados that are rich in potassium are important for managing high blood pressure and hypertension because potassium lessens the effects of sodium commonly found in processed foods. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine, the Association says.
Sweet potato health benefits
1. Sweet potatoes help prevent breast cancer.
The high beta-carotene content of sweet potatoes provides a potent antioxidant that reduces the cell damage that occurs as we age. In fact, purple sweet potatoes are three times higher in antioxidants than some varieties of blueberries. Research studies on beta-carotene demonstrate that it's "significantly associated with a reduced breast cancer risk."
2. Sweet potatoes ward off colds and other infections.
As we age, our immune systems are not as robust at attacking colds and other viruses. Sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamin C, which may reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. A one-cup serving of sweet potato provides 65 per cent of the recommended daily intake of this essential micronutrient.
3. Sweet potatoes are a weapon against obesity.
Many of us gain weight as we age and join the ranks of the two out of three Americans who are overweight or obese. Eating purple sweet potatoes may help. A scientific analysis of extracts from purple sweet potatoes substantiates their effectiveness for weight control.
4. Sweet potatoes can decrease your chance of colon cancer.
More than 90 per cent of colorectal cancers occur in people older than 50. A cross-sectional study completed on 890 Japanese men and women found that the carotenoids in vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash helped prevent polyps and colorectal cancers.
Are sweet potatoes good for diabetics?
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age. While nine per cent of U.S. adults suffer from the disease, among adults over 65 that number soars to 25 per cent, according to the American Diabetes Association. Unlike white potatoes, which have a high glycemic index, sweet potatoes have a significantly lower glycemic index, as well as more fiber, making them a healthy food for diabetics. A 2015 systematic review of the research on sweet potatoes concluded that they're a healthy addition to a diabetic diet and may even decrease blood sugar levels for diabetics.
Lorie Eber is a Certified Nutritionist and Gerontology Instructor who provides one-on-one weight loss coaching. She's also certified by the Mayo Clinic as a Wellness Coach and a NASM Personal Trainer. She's the author of 40 Ways to Leave Your Lover: That Would be Junk Food and How to Stay Healthy in A World Designed to Make Us Fat and Lazy.