Sweet potatoes tend to make an appearance on American dinner tables on special occasions and holidays and are forgotten the rest of the year. These root vegetables are easy to grow, available throughout the year, and relatively cheap. In addition, they have health benefits that would want you to make them a staple in your diet.
Nutrients In Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are healthy vegetables that are chock full of nutrients. This table lists some of the nutrients sweet potatoes are rich in. All the values are computed for 1 cup of raw, sweet potato, which is approximately 133 g.1
|Nutrients||Unit||Value per cup|
Before we get to the health benefits of sweet potatoes, here’s what you need to know about the different kinds and what they actually look like.
Common Types Of Sweet Potatoes
Normally, sweet potatoes have a bold orange color due to the presence of beta-carotene. However, if you ever spot a purple-colored sweet potato, don’t be surprised. That’s right, sweet potatoes are also available in purple, yellow, red, orange, brown, and beige, all of which are equally nutritious. In fact, cooking with colored sweet potatoes could be a healthy, fun treat to the eyes of children and adults.
Health Benefits Of Sweet Potatoes
1. Keep The Heart Healthy
Along with other nutrients, sweet potatoes contain vitamin B6 – a nutrient that is good for the heart. Vitamin B6 plays a role in lowering the homocysteine levels in the blood.2 Homocysteine is an amino acid and high levels of it are associated with an increased risk of developing heart diseases. A cup of sweet potatoes (approximately 133 g) contain 0.278 mg of vitamin B6.
2. Attack Cancer Cells
Sweet potatoes are a storehouse of antioxidants that help fight unstable free radicals that can damage cells and increase the risk of developing cancer. Therefore, sweet potatoes may be able to prevent the growth of cancer cells in the body. Studies have reported that proteins in sweet potato may also help in the treatment of colorectal cancer.3
3. Maintain Body Weight
Rich in fiber and water content, sweet potatoes can make you feel full for long hours, curbing junk food cravings. Some studies even report that purple sweet potatoes may be effective in weight-loss programs.4 However, more research is required to substantiate the claim. But, as long as it is nutritious, making sweet potatoes a part of your diet plan is always worth a try.
4. Stabilize Blood Sugar
You are probably wondering how “sweet” potatoes can stabilize blood sugar levels. Sweet potatoes may have a sweet flavor but they have a low to medium glycemic index.5 Glycemic index is the value assigned to foods to assess how slowly or quickly they increase the blood sugar. A low glycemic index means that blood sugars are not spiked drastically. The results of a study involving diabetic patients showed that white sweet potatoes were effective in controlling their blood sugar levels.6
5. Boost Brain Functions
This antioxidant- and nutrient-rich vegetable may improve functions of the brain. Although there is not much evidence supporting this, experts believe that sweet potatoes could improve memory and cognitive functions. Anthocyanins present in the purple variety may help improve memory.78
6. Improve Immune System
Sweet potatoes contain a good amount of vitamin A, which enhances the body’s immunity levels by killing the harmful cells that can cause infections and other diseases.9 The recommended intakes for vitamin A for people aged 14 years and older range between 700 and 900 micrograms.10 A cup of sweet potatoes (about 133 g) contains 943 micrograms of vitamin A, which more than satisfies the requirement!
7. Promote Vision Health
The presence of vitamin A not only boosts your immunity but also protects the eyes from age-related macular degeneration, a condition that causes vision loss as you age.11 With other nutrients like zinc and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are an excellent choice to promote your eye health.12
Tips For Cooking And Preparing Sweet Potatoes
Curious to add sweet potatoes to your daily diet but not sure how? Sweet potatoes can be boiled, baked, or fried. However, different cooking methods may affect the levels of nutrients. Here are a few things to keep in mind while cooking and preparing sweet potatoes.
- Stick to organic produce: If you purchase sweet potatoes from an organic farm, it is safe to cook with the peel, which is rich in antioxidants. However, store-bought sweet potatoes should be peeled before cooking as they may be treated with dye or wax.
- Cook them immediately after peeling: As the flesh of these tubers darken when in contact with air and moisture, it is always better to cook them immediately after peeling or chopping.
- Boil rather than bake: Boiling sweet potatoes retains nutrients like vitamin A and beta-carotene, which benefit your health. The glycemic index of boiled sweet potatoes is lower than those that are baked or boiled, which thus prevent a drastic increase in the blood sugar levels.
- Enjoy them with healthy fats: To reap the maximum benefits of sweet potatoes, eat them with healthy fats so that nutrients like beta-carotene can be absorbed better by the body.13
Apart from these tips, if you ever feel like munching on chips, try frying sweet potatoes and season them at home. Although frying is not the healthiest way to have sweet potatoes, you still have a better option than packed chips filled with additives.
|↑1||Basic Report: 11507, Sweet potato, raw, unprepared. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑2||Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine). University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑3||Li, Peng-Gao, Tai-Hua Mu, and Le Deng. “Anticancer effects of sweet potato protein on human colorectal cancer cells.” World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG 19, no. 21 (2013): 3300.|
|↑4||Ju, Ronghui, Shujuan Zheng, Hongxia Luo, Changgang Wang, Lili Duan, Yao Sheng, Changhui Zhao, Wentao Xu, and Kunlun Huang. “Purple Sweet Potato Attenuate Weight Gain in High Fat Diet Induced Obese Mice.” Journal of Food Science 82, no. 3 (2017): 787-793.|
|↑5||Allen, Jonathan C., Alexis D. Corbitt, Katherine P. Maloney, Masood S. Butt, and Van-Den Truong. “Glycemic index of sweet potato as affected by cooking methods.” The Open Nutrition Journal 6, no. 1 (2012): 1-11.|
|↑6||Ludvik, Bernhard, Beatrice Neuffer, and Giovanni Pacini. “Efficacy of Ipomoea batatas (Caiapo) on diabetes control in type 2 diabetic subjects treated with diet.” Diabetes Care 27, no. 2 (2004): 436-440.|
|↑7||Cho, Jungsook, Jong Seong Kang, Pham Hoai Long, Jhang Jing, Yiho Back, and Kyeong-Soo Chung. “Antioxidant and memory enhancing effects of purple sweet potato anthocyanin and cordyceps mushroom extract.” Archives of pharmacal research 26, no. 10 (2003): 821-825.|
|↑8||Lu, Jun, Dong‐mei Wu, Yuan‐lin Zheng, Bin Hu, and Zi‐feng Zhang. “Purple sweet potato color alleviates d‐galactose‐induced brain aging in old mice by promoting survival of neurons via PI3K pathway and inhibiting cytochrome c‐mediated apoptosis.” Brain Pathology 20, no. 3 (2010): 598-612.|
|↑9||Ertesvag, Aase, Nikolai Engedal, Soheil Naderi, and Heidi Kiil Blomhoff. “Retinoic acid stimulates the cell cycle machinery in normal T cells: involvement of retinoic acid receptor-mediated IL-2 secretion.” The Journal of Immunology 169, no. 10 (2002): 5555-5563.|
|↑10, ↑11||Vitamin A. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Beta Carotene. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑13||Ribaya-Mercado, Judy D. “Influence of dietary fat on β-carotene absorption and bioconversion into vitamin A.” Nutrition reviews 60, no. 4 (2002): 104-110.|