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By Sarah Garone- Sweet potatoes are good for promoting heart health, better blood sugar, and more. Discover the top reasons registered dietitian nutritionists think you should eat them.
When you think of sweet potatoes, you might picture any one of several types. From the sunset-hued garnet to the pleasantly purple Okinawa, this tuber in the morning glory family encompasses hundreds of varieties that differ in color and flavor. (Just don’t confuse them with yams, which have brown, shaggy skin, pale flesh, and a less sweet taste.)
With a long history — more than 5,000 years, according to the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse — sweet potatoes have made a culinary impression worldwide. They’re a staple of African, Caribbean, and Pacific Island cuisine. And while they may once have been relegated to overly sweet Thanksgiving casseroles in the United States, these days you can find sweet potatoes at the center of all sorts of delicious dishes, including curries, tacos, salads, and french fries.
However you prepare them, you’ll get a tasty, colorful result — and plenty of nutrition as well. Beneath their earthy jackets lie numerous nutrients, including high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and manganese. Not surprisingly, these translate to multiple potential health benefits. Here are seven to consider.
- Sweet Potatoes Help Stabilise Blood Sugar
Sweet potatoes tend to get good press compared to their white potato counterparts — and, for some health issues, the hype may be justified. One such instance: their effects on blood sugar.
Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber than white potatoes, which may provide more stability for blood glucose. For reference, a 1-cup serving contains 6.6 grams of fiber, compared with russet potatoes’ 2 grams per cup, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes.
“Even though sweet potatoes are a starchy food, the fiber in them can help slow down the digestion of sugars from the potato, resulting in a steadier rise and fall in blood sugar,” says Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, a nutrition advisor for Fin vs Fin who is based in Saginaw, Michigan.
If you live with diabetes or another health condition that affects blood sugar, sweet potatoes can be a smart choice. “Being mindful of the portion size of either white or sweet potatoes is the most important part of blood sugar management. Stick to a small sweet potato or a cup of cubed, roasted sweet potatoes (or less) at one time,” Lorencz recommends.
- Sweet Potatoes Support Eye Health
You’ve probably heard that carrots can promote healthy vision, but they’re not the only orange veggie with this potential power. Sweet potatoes also have a connection to eye health — and it all comes down to their abundance of vitamin A. They’re an excellent source of this nutrient, as USDA data suggests.
“Vitamin A can be good for overall visual health, along with possibly helping macular degeneration,” says Amanda Sauceda, RDN, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California. According to a study published in 2019 in Antioxidants, beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) is one of several nutrients that contribute to a reduced risk of macular degeneration.
Besides potentially helping prevent the degeneration of the macula, vitamin A has been associated in some studies with reduced risk of age-related cataracts. “Vitamin A is so important for your eyes because of the role it plays for epithelial cells,” Sauceda explains. “These are the types of cells that line all the surfaces of the body. That includes the surface of the eyes.”
Another reason these taters are sweet for vision: their high beta-carotene content, as research confirms. “Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, which is a phytochemical that can be converted into vitamin A,” says Sauceda. “Along with other carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, it helps with macular health, which is the center part of the eye that gives the sharpest sight.”
- Sweet Potatoes Might Reduce Systemic Inflammation
The beta-carotene that may boost vision has some other potential tricks up its sleeve, including reducing inflammation. This is because beta-carotene is an antioxidant — a dietary compound that “cleans” the body’s cells of pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Consuming plenty of beta-carotene from sweet potatoes could have a ripple effect for overall health. “Several studies have found that low levels of beta carotene in the body are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, congestive heart failure, and death from heart disease,” says Lorencz. A previous study published in Mediators of Inflammation, for example, concluded that carotenoids had an overall protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
Meanwhile, other inflammation busters join the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, including vitamin C, which has antioxidative properties, according to a previous study. (One cup of sweet potatoes provides an excellent source of vitamin C, per the USDA.) And a study published in 2019 in Molecules found that the antioxidant anthocyanins responsible for purple sweet potatoes’ color might be protective against cancer, liver disease, hypoglycemia, and other health problems.
- Sweet Potatoes Can Improve Digestion
When you’re struggling with digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea, you’d do well to reach for sweet potatoes. “Sweet potatoes have soluble fiber, which helps for easy and effortless bowel movements,” says Sauceda. This soluble form of fiber absorbs water in the colon, creating bulk and providing fodder for good gut bacteria, as research suggests.
Purple sweet potatoes might be especially helpful for taming diarrhea. An animal study published in 2021 in Food and Function found that when mice with antibiotic-resistant diarrhea were fed purple sweet potato, it changed the diversity of their intestinal flora, relieving their symptoms.
- 5. Sweet Potatoes Help Protect Cardiovascular Health
Sweet potatoes’ unique mix of nutrients (and culinary flexibility) make them a delicious option in a heart-healthy diet. “A 5-inch sweet potato has 4 grams of fiber, including soluble fiber, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Lorencz, a point that is backed up by research.
“You’ll also get 9 percent of your daily value of potassium from a serving of sweet potatoes,” Lorencz adds. “Eating potassium-rich foods helps to lower blood pressure by helping your body get rid of excess sodium and helping to dilate blood vessel walls, lowering the pressure within them.”
- Sweet Potatoes Could Extend Longevity
The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes could be one key to racking up more candles on your birthday cake. A meta-analysis published in 2016 in Scientific Reports found that a higher intake of beta-carotene was significantly correlated with a lower risk of death from any health cause.
Sauceda says this has to do (again!) with beta-carotene’s antioxidant effects. “It is thought that beta-carotene could prevent damage from free radicals. This damage can potentially lead to other processes that could result in the development of chronic diseases,” she says.
Want to hang on to even more beta-carotene in your taters? Try boiling them. This cooking method retains more of this antioxidant than other methods, such as baking or frying, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- Sweet Potatoes Can Help Maintain a Healthy Weight
Because of their high carbohydrate content, you might not associate any kind of potatoes with weight loss — but don’t discount sweet tubers for reducing the number on the scale. Besides keeping you feeling full between meals, their ample fiber adds to your daily target (38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating more dietary fiber promotes weight loss and could even help people stick to their chosen diet.
If you’re looking to take off some pounds, stay mindful of how you prepare the veggies. Rather than pairing them with heavy or sweet ingredients like cream, butter, and sugar, try them in lighter recipes like salads, grain bowls, or simply roasted with olive oil. “Sweet potatoes are such a versatile vegetable, it’s easy to include them in any meal of the day,” says Lorencz.
Article was medically reviewed by Kayli Anderson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist RDN