Sweet Potatoes and Weight Loss

With their melt-in-your-mouth, sugary flesh, sweet potatoes are a healthy way to satisfy a carb craving. Sweet potatoes are a moderate source of calories but contain healthy carbs, like fiber, that help you lose weight. On top of that, some preliminary evidence indicates sweet potatoes have other compounds that might help your weight-loss goals, but more research is needed to know for sure.

Sweet potatoes contain resistant starch, which might help you lose weight. (Image: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images)

Calories in Sweet Potatoes

While sweet potatoes are higher in calories than some veggies -- like leafy greens -- they can still fit into a weight-loss diet. A medium-size baked sweet potato has 103 calories, just 7 percent of your daily "budget" if you're eating 1,500 calories per day. That's slightly less than a medium-size regular baked potato, which has 145 calories. While a 42-calorie difference doesn't seem like much, it can add up over time. If you switched out a baked potato for a baked sweet potato every other day for a year, you'd save enough to calories to lose 2 pounds of fat -- not counting any weight lost as a result of other lifestyle changes.

Fiber for Weight Loss

Sweet potatoes -- especially ones served with the skin on -- come loaded with dietary fiber, which can help you lose weight. Fiber isn't a source of calories, but it has the ability to absorb water and make you feel "full" after your meal, which can help you stick to a calorie-restricted diet. Sweet potatoes also contain a specific kind of fiber called resistant starch. A diet rich in resistant starch helps reduce the risk of obesity, according to a review published in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences in 2015. A medium baked sweet potato or 1/2 cup of mashed sweet potato each have 4 grams of fiber, which is 15 percent of the daily value. Regular potatoes are lower in fiber -- a medium-size baked potato has just 2 grams, or 9 percent of the daily value.

Evidence for Sweet Potatoes and Weight Loss

While the research into whether sweet potatoes directly cause weight loss is still in the early stages, there's some evidence they might help. One study, published in Annals of Medical and Health Science Research in 2014, found that rats fed an extract made from chopped sweet potatoes ate less throughout the day than rats that didn't consume the extract. This suggests that compounds in sweet potatoes might help reduce your appetite. Another study, published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that purple sweet potato extracts were able to shrink fat cells in test tube experiments. Because these studies were done using extracts, however, it's not known whether eating sweet potato has the same benefits -- or if sweet potatoes offer anti-obesity benefits for people.

Other Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes also serve as great sources of other nutrients, which can help keep you healthy as you lose weight. Their bright hue comes from beta-carotene, an orange pigment that your body converts to vitamin A. In addition to supporting healthy vision, vitamin A plays a role in immunity and promotes healthy cell growth. A single serving of sweet potato -- whether that's a baked sweet potato or 1/2 cup of mashed sweet potato -- provides the entire daily value for vitamin A.

Sweet potatoes also offer vitamin C, which keeps your connective tissues, skin and hair strong by supporting collagen production, and protects your tissues from damage through its role as an antioxidant. A baked sweet potato has 37 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, and 1/2 cup of mashed sweet potato offers 35 percent.

Weight-Loss-Friendly Serving Tips

Skip the calorie-laden toppings, like full-fat sour cream, for your sweet potatoes when you're trying to lose weight. Use plain nonfat Greek yogurt and fresh-chopped chives as a serving for baked sweet potatoes, or top your sweet potato with steamed veggies and salsa for a spicier meal. Use a spiral cutter to make baked spiral sweet potato "fries" in the oven, and add flavor with fresh herbs, like rosemary. When you're making mashed sweet potatoes, skip the butter and cream. Instead, infuse your mashed sweet potato with flavor by mashing in freshly roasted garlic, and top your side with just a drizzle of olive oil.

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