Food Facts Friday: The Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
benefits of sweet potatoes

Before you scare yourself with preconceived notions about potatoes, know that the sweet potato isn’t even related to regular potatoes or yams—as often thought—and actually belongs to the bindweed, or morning glory, plant family. While they do share a name, the many benefits of sweet potatoes far exceed those of regular potatoes due to their  high concentration of many essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

The sweet potato is a root vegetable which comes in many vibrant colors both inside and out, ranging from orange, purple and white flesh to red, brown and yellow skins. Once chopped and cooked, the inside of a sweet potato tastes tender and sweet rather than savory, and it’s known to be rich in fiber, potassium and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Low in calories, sugar and fat, this starchy veggie is highly regarded as a healthy part of the diet and can offer numerous health benefits and protective mechanisms to your body during Phase 2 and 3 of the South Beach Diet.

Read on to discover nine amazing health benefits of sweet potatoes:

1. The dense fiber content in sweet potato reduces risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease.

sweet potato cutting

One of the main benefits of sweet potatoes is its high content value of fiber. Overall, vegetables are a great source of nutrition and are always considered a part of a healthy, well-balanced meal. Vegetables with high fiber content, such as the sweet potato, are especially helpful at promoting weight loss. A medium-sized sweet potato contains about two grams of fiber, which works to keep your body full and fueled for longer. Research published in Advanced in Nutrition explains that “fiber intake is linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and obesity.”

The high amounts of potassium in sweet potatoes can regulate high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease, while the B6 contained in these root vegetables can help blood flow more easily to your heart and arteries. A cup of sweet potato has about 12% of your daily value for potassium, which is good for your heart and overall health. According to Archives of Internal Medicine,  potassium has been linked to reduced risks for cardiovascular disease and death by all causes.

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2. Sweet potatoes aid in digestion, promote energy and stabilize blood sugar.

oven roasted sweet potatoes

Fiber is best known to benefit the digestive tract to aid regularity within the body. Because fiber feeds the good bacteria in our stomachs, we need it to help us break down certain enzymes so we can avoid discomfort during digestion. The fiber, along with magnesium and starch, contained within sweet potatoes also makes this superfood easier to eat and digest without any issues.

And don’t be fooled by the name—sweet potato has a low glycemic index, meaning it’s a food that regulates blood sugar levels and slowly releases energy to your body, keeping you from crashing throughout the day. According to the MNT Knowledge Center, the fiber content in sweet potatoes has also been known to help patients with diabetes avoid insulin resistance and spikes in blood sugar.

3. Sweet potatoes contain powerful vitamins and antioxidants to boost your immunity and prevent inflammation.

Sweet potato

Another of of the many benefits of sweet potatoes is the amount of vitamins each contains. High amounts of vitamin C—25% of your DVA—and beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in sweet potatoes responsible for that rich orange hue, will aid your immune system and help your body fight off disease. The sweet potato’s rich combination of vitamins A, C and E is best suited to help prevent and reverse damage from free radicals and reduce oxidative stress caused in the body. The Journal of Medicinal Food describes the sweet potato as a “valuable medicinal plant having anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory activities.” Studies published in Food and Chemical Toxicology conclude that “the purple sweet potato induces antioxidant effects and reduces inflammation and may even help heal liver injury.” So, adding some more sweet potato to your diet can help you feel healthier and avoid sick days!

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4. Antioxidant properties of sweet potatoes prevents cancer risks.

Raw sweet potatoes

Research published in Carcinogenesis has found that the micronutrients polyphenols, which are found in sweet potatoes, actually inhibit the production of prostate cancer cells. Information published in Nutrition in Clinical Care discusses that many trials have shown beta-carotene, which is rich in sweet potatoes, can even deter lung cancer cells from forming. This study also suggests that the carotenoid properties of orange-flesh sweet potatoes can enable disease-fighting effects against other cancers and eye disease.

5. Rich in vitamin A, sweet potatoes offer skin and beauty benefits.

Raw sweet potatoes

Ready for yet another one of the major benefits of sweet potatoes? One sweet potato contains over 400% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health. While it does sound excessive, when you stick to your ½ cup serving, you will just about top off your vitamin A intake for the day and experience a ton of benefits for your skin, immune system, bone health and more. Mainly, the high amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes offer superior skin benefits to deter aging, wrinkles and sun damage. If you want to improve your skin texture, reduce roughness and increase firmness, enjoy some cooked sweet potatoes to get a potent mix of skin-saving and anti-aging vitamins. The stockpile of vitamins C and E contained in this superfood will also work to improve the appearance of your skin and hair to give you a glowing, youthful complexion and long shiny locks!

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6. Sweet potatoes offer benefits to brain function and memory.

Healthy Homemade Baked Sweet Potato

Research published in Archives of Pharmacal Research discusses the antioxidant properties of sweet potatoes by stating “anthocyanin prepared from purple sweet potato exhibits memory enhancing effects.” Enhanced cognitive performance was also a tested result of the study—suggesting the powerful antioxidant properties of purple sweet potatoes can improve many functions and processes of the brain to promote clear thinking and focus!

7. Sweet potatoes promote good moods, sleep and relaxation!

sweet potato

A leading cause of stress is a magnesium deficiency in the body. Stress causes us to endure mood swings and lose sleep over careless troubles. Luckily, sweet potatoes have high amounts of magnesium, which is associated with reducing anxiety and improving moods, leading to better sleep. A study published in Internal Medicine Journal found a link between magnesium deficiency and depression. Add more magnesium-rich sweet potatoes to your meals to enjoy the relaxation and stress-free effects this mineral can offer your body and mind.

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8. They support vision health and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

sweet potato crisps

Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in children in the developing world and can also cause night blindness in adults. Foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes, can greatly improve a deficiency, allowing your eyes to work properly to see a full spectrum of light, day or night, while avoiding symptoms of dry eye syndrome. This is one of the main health benefits of sweet potatoes. In fact, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmologu, the sweet potato can help slow the process of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in adults. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also states that “beta-carotene and vitamin A also help reduce the risk of eye infections.”

9. Sweet potatoes are low in calories and easy to incorporate into many meals!

benefits of sweet potatoes

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one medium-sized, five-inch sweet potato has about 112 calories and two grams of protein—with zero grams of fat. Sweet potatoes are one of the easiest foods to pop in the microwave for a quick and healthy helping of vegetables, and due to their delicious flavor profile, they go well in a variety of healthy, sweet or savory meals. The versatility that accompanies this superfood is just another one of the amazing benefits of sweet potatoes.

A sweet potato can easily be turned into baked sweet potato chips or roasted sweet potato fries as a delicious and healthy snack. You can also get fancy and mash up your sweet potatoes to create hummus and other vegetable dips. A classic baked sweet potato is also a good meal and can be seasoned to taste or served as a side with any salad!