Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Sweet potato, annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

If you're worried about whether or not sweet potatoes are a little too sweet for your low-sugar eating plan, don't despair. Sweet potatoes are a nutritious and low glycemic food that can be enjoyed in a variety of tasty dishes. The cooking methods and ingredients you use to prepare sweet potatoes can make or break their healthiness factor. Here's the lowdown on this popular veggie.

Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 medium (5" long) raw sweet potato (130 grams).

  • Calories: 112
  • Fat: 0.1g
  • Sodium: 71mg
  • Carbohydrates: 26g
  • Fiber: 3.9g
  • Sugars: 5.4g
  • Protein: 2g

Carbs

A cup of raw sweet potatoes has 26 grams of carbohydrates, with 5 to 6 grams of naturally occurring sugar and about 4 grams of fiber.

The glycemic index (GI) of sweet potato varies based on the preparation method and variety. Boiled sweet potatoes may have a GI as low as 41, while the value of roasted sweet potatoes can be as high as 93.

Fats

Sweet potatoes are almost completely fat-free unless fat is added while cooking.

Protein

A cup of raw sweet potato provides about 2 grams of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Sweet potatoes are especially high in vitamin A and potassium. They also provide some calcium, iron, magnesium, and folate.

Health Benefits

Sweet potatoes are a filling vegetable with colorful, health-boosting nutrients. Here are a few of the benefits of adding sweet potatoes to your diet.

May Aid Cancer Prevention

Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants that have been studied for cancer prevention and treatment. Purple sweet potatoes, in particular, are high in anthocyanins which appear to promote apoptosis (or programmed cell death) of cancer cells.

While more research is needed on the full benefits of sweet potato for cancer, for most people, there are minimal risks associated with eating sweet potatoes.

Protects Vision

Beta carotene, which is essential for eye health, is abundant in sweet potatoes. A cup of sweet potatoes provides 11.3 milligrams of beta carotene. Supplementation of 15 milligrams of beta carotene is proven to protect against age-related macular degeneration, especially when combined with vitamin C, zinc, and copper (also naturally found in sweet potatoes).

Supports Cardiovascular Health

The anthocyanins in sweet potatoes are also associated with anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the risk of heart disease. Certain pro-inflammatory cytokines appear to be suppressed in response to purple sweet potato extract. Additionally, the fiber in any vegetable is known to reduce cholesterol, while the high potassium levels of sweet potatoes keep blood pressure down.

Aids Diabetes Management

The American Diabetes Association considers sweet potato to be a low GI food that fits well into a healthy eating plan for diabetes management. Sweet potatoes are a good way to balance the intake of higher GI foods, like pineapples or pasta. Replacing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes will boost nutrient intake of your meal with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.

Allergies

Sweet potatoes are not a common allergen, but the nature of food allergies is that they can develop at any age in response to any type of food. Symptoms may range from rashes, vomiting, or swelling to anaphylaxis, which is potentially life-threatening. If you suspect an allergy to sweet potatoes, see your doctor for an individual evaluation.

Adverse Effects

There are very few adverse effects associated with the consumption of sweet potato. One minimal side effect of eating a high volume of beta-carotene-rich veggies, like sweet potatoes, carrots, or pumpkin, is that your skin can begin to take on an orange undertone.

This coloring is the result of an uncommon condition called carotenemia. Although it may seem alarming, carotenemia is not actually dangerous and should subside on its own with a more balanced intake of a variety of foods.

Varieties

There are two main varieties of sweet potatoes: dry-flesh and moist-flesh. Dry flesh sweet potatoes have tan-colored skin and lighter flesh that's higher in starch. Moist-flesh sweet potatoes have a darker skin with a richer orange interior. Moist-flesh sweet potatoes taste sweeter and are more commonly available in the supermarket.

Under these two general classifications, there are several unique species of sweet potatoes that vary in the country of origin, shape, color, size, and taste. Examples include Kumara sweet potatoes, Jersey sweet potatoes, and Cuban sweet potatoes.

The term "yams" is commonly used interchangeably with sweet potatoes, however, true yams come from an entirely different plant. Nonetheless, it's not uncommon to see sweet potatoes labeled as yams in the United States.

When It's Best

Choose fresh sweet potatoes that are heavy for their size, hard, smooth, and free of bruises. Watch out for shriveled skin, dark spots, or indentations, as these are common signs of decay. If you see a sweet potato that has sprouted, it's still okay to eat (just cut out the sprouts). You can find sweet potatoes in most grocery stores at any time of the year.

Storage and Food Safety

Instead of storing sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. The ideal storage temperature for fresh sweet potatoes is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, where they will keep for about a month or longer. If stored at warmer temperatures, try to use sweet potatoes within a week to prevent spoilage.

When you're ready to use your sweet potatoes, scrub the skin with a vegetable brush under running water. Dry with a paper towel. After sweet potatoes have been cut or cooked, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for use within 5 days.

How to Prepare

Sweet potatoes can be boiled, baked, roasted, grilled, whipped, pureed, and, less ideally, fried. They can serve as a side dish or be tossed into salads, chili, muffins, pies, and breads. Make them spicy with chili powder or slightly sweet with cinnamon and nutmeg.

To save time, you can easily bake your sweet potatoes in the microwave. The skin won't be as crispy, but the sweet potato will be delicious nonetheless. If you are mashing or whipping your sweet potatoes, skip ingredients like heavy cream and add some rosemary and Parmesan instead for a savory flair.

You can also make sweet potato French "fries" in the oven by baking them at high heat with some herbs and spices. Have sweet potatoes with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They're a nutritious, inexpensive, and versatile ingredient.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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