Sweet potatoes are versatile tubers, serving well in everything from decadent spiced pies to hearty vegan winter stews. They are packed with nutrients and have a pleasant, creamy texture and sweet flavor that makes them appealing to even the pickiest eaters. There are quite a few health benefits of sweet potatoes as well, so finding ways to incorporate them into recipes you enjoy is a great way to improve your diet, boost your nutrition, and reduce the risk of various diseases and adverse health conditions.
Keep reading for an explanation of the top benefits of sweet potatoes, which may be just the inspiration you need to start incorporating them into different dishes.
What Are Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes (scientific name: Ipomoea batatas) are often categorized with other root vegetables such as beets and carrots, but they’re actually tubers. While root vegetables are the actual roots of the plant, tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes form at the base of a root and store nutrients for the plant. Because tubers are like nutrient silos, sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and are therefore associated with numerous health benefits.
Sweet potatoes with orange flesh tend to be most common in the United States, but there are also white, yellow, pink, red, and purple sweet potatoes, each of which provides a slightly different nutritional profile. In general, darker sweet potatoes—orange, red, and purple—provide more antioxidants and powerful polyphenols.
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes have an impressive nutritional profile. The benefits of sweet potatoes include the following:
1. Sweet Potatoes Contain Many Vitamins
Sweet potatoes are lauded for their high vitamin A content, but they also provide many other key vitamins. One cup (200 grams) of baked sweet potato including the skin provides a whopping 760% of the daily value of vitamin A, 65% of the daily value of vitamin C, over 20% of the daily value of several B vitamins, and a small amount of vitamin E.
2. Sweet Potatoes Provide Essential Minerals
In addition to their vitamin content, sweet potatoes provide essential minerals. One cup (200 grams) of baked sweet potato including the skin contains 50% of the daily value of manganese, 27% of the daily value of potassium, and 16% of the daily value of copper. They are also rich in magnesium, which can promote relaxation and optimal sleep.
3. Sweet Potatoes Aid Digestion
Sweet potatoes improve gut health because they are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, with roughly 6.5 grams of fiber per cup of cooked flesh and skin. Soluble fiber, like the pectin in sweet potatoes, helps increase feelings of satiety, which may help you eat fewer calories. It also bulks up stool and promotes bowel regularity, so if you suffer from constipation, adding sweet potatoes to your diet may alleviate your symptoms.
The insoluble fiber in sweet potatoes is a good source of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, which are prebiotics, the preferred fuel source for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Consuming prebiotics helps nourish your gut bacteria to keep this vital ecosystem robust. The gut microbiome aids digestion, produces certain vitamins, supports the immune system, and reduces inflammation among many beneficial functions, so it’s important to feed your internal microbes with the nutrients they need.
4. Sweet Potatoes May Protect Your Vision
Orange sweet potatoes are one of the best dietary sources of vitamin A and beta-carotene, a carotenoid that supports healthy vision by protecting eye cells from free radical damage and producing new light-detecting cells. Vitamin A deficiencies have been associated with various forms of blindness and vision impairments.
5. Sweet Potatoes May Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Studies have demonstrated an association between diets high in antioxidants with reduced cancer risk. Orange, red, and purple sweet potatoes are particularly rich in antioxidants. For example, purple sweet potatoes contain anthocyanins, which have been found to inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells, such as those involved in colon, bladder, stomach, and breast cancers.
6. Sweet Potatoes May Improve Brain Function
The antioxidants in sweet potatoes can prevent free radical damage and the inflammation associated with cognitive decline and dementia. The anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes have also been associated with improvements in learning and memory in animal studies.
7. Sweet Potatoes Are Good for Your Hair and Skin
8. Sweet Potatoes Support Your Immune System
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, which helps fight infections in the body. Vitamin C also reduces oxidative damage, accelerates wound healing, and is involved in protein metabolism and the absorption of iron, which you need to oxygenate your tissues.
The vitamins and antioxidants in sweet potatoes also reduce inflammation in the body. Vitamin A acts as an anti-inflammatory in the gut, fortifying the gut lining and inhibiting the growth of inflammatory pathogenic bacteria. Vitamin C destroys free radicals and helps produce anti-inflammatory cytokines. Because chronic low-level inflammation is associated with the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, and even certain mental health conditions, consuming sweet potatoes may provide a degree of protection against the development of chronic diseases.
9. Sweet Potatoes May Help You Lose Weight
Though proponents of low-carb diets often shun starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, depending on your dietary needs, sweet potatoes can absolutely be part of a healthy weight loss diet. They are quite filling and contain complex carbohydrates and fiber for sustained energy and a lasting sense of fullness. There is also a small amount of protein. A medium-sized sweet potato contains approximately 110 calories, so the caloric density is relatively low compared to many processed foods, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and meats.
10. Sweet Potatoes Are Versatile
Whether you choose to microwave them, bake them, fry them, boil them, mash them, sauté them, steam them, purée them, grill them, or roast them, sweet potatoes can be incorporated into a wide range of dishes with different flavor profiles. They are also relatively inexpensive and keep fairly well in cool, dry environments.
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