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Are Yams Good for You?

author image J. Lucy Boyd
J. Lucy Boyd, RN, BSN has written several nonfiction books including "The Complete Guide to Healthy Cooking and Nutrition for College Students." She is frequently called upon to provide career guidance to medical professionals and advice to parents of children with challenges. She also loves teaching others to cook for their families.
Are Yams Good for You?
Sliced yam on cutting board

Yams can be found in any grocery store and at many farmer's markets. They grow in the ground and can be found for sale year round. Fresh and canned varieties are available. Yams are often eaten whole but can be an ingredient in many cooked dishes and dessert foods as well.

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Sweet potatoes with a flesh that is soft when cooked are called yams in the United States. They look similar but are not closely related to the yams of Africa. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that foods labeled "yams," which are actually sweet potatoes, also be labeled "sweet potatoes." American yams are similar in size and weight to potatoes and have a orange, yellow or orange-red flesh.


A medium sweet potato contains 101 calories, while a large sweet potato packs 160 calories. A medium sweet potato constitutes a half-cup serving of vegetables, while a large one provides 1 cup of vegetables toward your daily quota. A medium sweet potato has almost 4 grams of fiber, 265 milligrams of potassium and more than 26,000 IU of vitamin A, making it a good source of these nutrients. Yams are naturally low in fat, with less than half grams of fat per serving.

Cooking Methods

For a healthier yam, try baking, boiling, grilling or microwaving it without added fat. Yams can also be fried, but the added calories and fat make this a poor nutritional choice. You can eat baked sweet potatoes whole, including the peel. Boiled potatoes can be mashed and eaten or used as an ingredient in a cake, pie or casserole. Grilled yams are excellent in stir fry dishes, and microwaved sweet potatoes make a nutritious snack for both children and adults.


Traditionally yams are accompanied by butter, margarine, salt, sugar or brown sugar, but they can be more nutritious if you limit these additives and add cinnamon, ginger, allspice or nutmeg. Top sweet potatoes with cooked apples, boiled raisins or chopped pecans for additional flavor. Serve them in place of white potatoes with a steak or chicken dinner. Yams also work well alongside ham or other pork dishes.

Expert Insight

Yams are nutritious but higher in calories than most other vegetables. Avoid eating these starchy vegetables at the same time as other starches, such as regular potatoes or rolls. Yams induce mild intestinal gas in some individuals due to their fiber content. They are a healthy dietary staple for all ages.

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