The next time you find yourself circling the potato stand at your local grocer, opt for sweet potatoes instead of russets. Named one of the best foods you can eat by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sweet potatoes are just as satisfying as the traditional variety – but a lot more nutritious.
Back to Basics
An average-sized baked sweet potato with skin -- or one that weighs about 4 ounces, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- provides close to 100 calories, less than half a gram of fat, just over 2 grams of protein and nearly 24 grams of carbohydrates. As their name implies, sweet potatoes are relatively sweet -- around 30 percent of their carbohydrates come from simple sugars. They’re also rich in complex carbohydrates, or starch. Unlike the starch in regular potatoes, however, sweet potato starch doesn’t wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels.
You’ll get almost 4 grams of dietary fiber -- or about 15 percent of the recommended daily value -- from an average-sized sweet potato, provided you eat the skin, too. While the flesh alone is still a good source, it’s approximately 25 percent lower in fiber than the whole vegetable. Sweet potatoes are slightly higher in insoluble fiber, the type that encourages digestive efficiency and bowel regularity. They’re also rich in soluble fiber, the kind that helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Few foods are in the same league as sweet potatoes when it comes to vitamin A, a nutrient that’s essential to immunity and vision. Like carrots and pumpkins, sweet potatoes are a top source of beta carotene, an antioxidant carotenoid that your body converts into vitamin A when supplies run low. According to the USDA, an average-sized baked sweet potato delivers close to 440 percent of the daily value for vitamin A. It also provides 37 percent and 16 percent of the daily values for vitamins C and B-6, respectively, and just under 10 percent each of the daily values for niacin, thiamine and riboflavin.
Sweet potatoes are packed with minerals. They’re an excellent source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps your body process cholesterol, absorb calcium and regulate blood sugar -- an average-sized sweet potato delivers almost 30 percent of the recommended daily value, according to the USDA. It also supplies 15 percent of the daily value for potassium, a major mineral that helps offset the effects of sodium and reduce high blood pressure. Sweet potatoes contain appreciable amounts of copper, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and iron, as well.
Sweet potatoes can be savory or sweet; they’re a versatile food. Bake or boil them whole, steam or saute them sliced, or throw them on the grill. Make them your go-to side whenever you serve meat, poultry or fish -- the fat in these foods will help your body absorb more of the vegetable’s beta carotene. Because sweet potatoes are higher in sugar than regular potatoes, they tend to spoil faster. While those kept at room temperature don’t usually last more than a week, you shouldn’t refrigerate them -- cold storage destroys their sweet flavor.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Per Capita Utilization of Selected Commercially Produced Fruits and Vegetables: 1980 to 2009
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Ten Worst and Best Foods
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Sweet Potato, Cooked, Baked in Skin, Without Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Sweet Potato, Cooked, Boiled, Without Skin
- Wellness Foods A to Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers; Sheldon Margen, M.D.