Sweet potato health benefits
Sweet potatoes can benefit your health in powerful ways, and their versatility makes them easy to incorporate into the weekly menu of even the pickiest eater.
Dense in many nutrients beneficial for overall health, sweet potatoes are particularly high in antioxidants that support healthy vision, normal digestion and overall gut health.
Here’s an overview of their top benefits and how those benefits vary depending on which color of sweet potato you eat, as well as a guide to cooking with sweet potatoes.
Sweet potato nutrition facts
Green vegetables get all the attention when it comes to nutrition. No doubt leafy green veggies are important, but USDA dietary guidelines recommend getting a variety of different colored vegetables — eating the entire rainbow over the course of a week. This includes red and orange vegetables like the mighty sweet potato.
The most common sweet potato in North America sports mahogany skin and intensely orange flesh, but the starchy root vegetable comes in many shades worldwide, from the purple Okinawan sweet potato to white-fleshed varieties like the Hannah.
Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense
Identified by the CDC as one of 47 nutrient-dense “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes often appear on lists of “superfoods.”
But not all sweet potato varieties are created equal from a nutritional standpoint.
The phytochemicals that give vegetables their bright colors also confer their health benefits. For example, sweet potatoes with orange flesh are richest in beta-carotene, while purple-fleshed are richer in anthocyanins. While delicious, white-fleshed varieties are not quite as nutritious.
- Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
Sweet potatoes can support healthy vision
Named a top five food for eye health, sweet potatoes are probably best known for their beta-carotene (also found in carrots and pumpkins), which your body converts to vitamin A.
Carotenoids are key to developing and retaining healthy vision over a lifetime, in part because they help filter out rays of UV light that cause eye damage. Vitamin A deficiency is a risk factor for developing blindness and other vision problems.
Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene
The cooking method may matter for nutrient absorption. Boiling sweet potatoes tends to retain more beta-carotene, as well as cooking sweet potatoes with the skins left intact.
How sweet potatoes help with digestion
Sweet potatoes contain fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and antioxidants that are beneficial to overall gut health and digestion. Many laxatives are actually formulated with sweet potato, so it’s not surprising they’re associated with better digestion.
Sweet potato antioxidants
Anthocyanins are antioxidants that scavenge the harmful free radicals that can cause cell damage. One study found anthocyanins (also found in red cabbage, grape skin, elderberry and purple corn) are especially high in the purple sweet potato as compared to other fruits and vegetables containing the nutrient.
Some studies have even shown that the antioxidants in purple sweet potatoes promote growth of gut-healthy bacteria like lactobacillus.
Are sweet potatoes healthier than regular potatoes?
Though sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense and often touted as superior to the plain white potato, you should still be mindful of how much sweet potato you consume.
While slightly lower on the glycemic index than white potato, baked sweet potatoes can still raise your blood sugar. Both white and sweet potatoes are healthy sources of carbohydrates, but sweet potatoes have more fiber and nutrients.
How to cook with sweet potatoes
Roasting is probably the most popular and easiest method for cooking sweet potatoes. You can eat them in their skin (skin = nutrition) or use the cooked flesh as a puree in other recipes.
They can take a long time to bake — often an hour in the oven for an average-size sweet potato. (Prick your potato six to eight times with a fork for faster, more even cooking.) Because of their high sugar content, they soften more quickly than regular potatoes.
You might be tempted to take them out when a knife can easily slip into the potato. This is usually a safe bet with a regular potato, but sweet potatoes are usually not ready at that point.
Wait until at least a few syrupy droplets start escaping from the holes you pricked with your fork. When in doubt, cook it five minutes longer.
Alternatively, peel your sweet potatoes and cube them, tossing them with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper before placing them on a sheet pan and roasting. Cubed sweet potato cooks quickly while retaining a roasty flavor.
Convection oven or electric pressure cooker
A great way to cut down on cooking time is to use a convection oven. You can shave off 50% of the cooking time with an Instant Pot.
If you like a drier or crisp outer skin on your sweet potato, stick with either a conventional or convection oven. The Instant Pot is the fastest method but will leave the skins a bit soggy.
Oven-baked sweet potato steak fries
Sweet potato fries are a fun alternative to roasting whole sweet potatoes, and they cook much faster. They make a great kid-friendly side dish. Try using an air fryer for a crispier texture that gets closer to your favorite deep-fried sweet potatoes with a fraction of the fat.
You can peel sweet potatoes for these, but you’ll get an extra nutrient boost and fiber if you leave the skin on.
- Cut the sweet potato into thick lengthwise strips or chunks that resemble chunky steak fries (about a half-inch across and up to four inches long, depending on the size of your sweet potato).
- Toss the sweet potato chunks in one to two tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and if you like, your favorite spice blend. Sweet and slightly smoky Moroccan spice blend Ras el Hanout is a flavorful choice.
- Roast in your oven at 400 degrees until the edges start to brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Other ideas for sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are versatile and a blank canvas for both sweet and savory flavors.
You can use sweet potatoes:
- Anywhere you find pumpkin or butternut squash: Feel free to substitute cooked sweet potato one-to-one in everything from savory soup to pumpkin pie. It’s amazing for breakfast in oatmeal or muffins and makes the silkiest pancakes.
- Cubed and used in place of white potatoes.
- Chunked into Thai-style curries with a coconut milk base.
- In West African Peanut Stew: Sweet potatoes and peanuts form the base of this nutritious vegan stew with black-eyed peas. Top it with fresh cilantro, and you can also dial up the heat with Scotch bonnet chili if you dare.
Rachel Boller is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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