When you're trying to lose weight, a food with "sweet" and "potato" in its name may sound like a no-no. But think again — you can eat a sweet potato for weight loss.
Sweet potatoes are technically a vegetable. They're an extremely nutritious carbohydrate that offers lots of weight-loss-friendly nutrients, such as fiber, potassium and antioxidants. Incorporate them in your diet plan in moderation to support your healthy physique goals.
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Sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to a weight-loss plan. They’re full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support a healthy diet and fiber to help keep you full.
Sweet Potato Nutrition
The sweet potato offers a lot of health benefits and makes a positive contribution to everyone's diet — including those trying to lose weight. One cup of mashed sweet potato (with nothing else added) has 249 calories, 8 grams of fiber, 2.3 milligrams of iron and 754 milligrams of potassium. They offer 4.9 grams of protein, almost no fat and 58 grams of carbohydrate. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamins A, B6 and C.
Sweet potatoes are rich in other nutrients that support a healthy body, and a healthy body is better able to process foods efficiently without storing excess fat. Food Research International published a paper in November 2016 that reported sweet potatoes have ample amounts of carotenoids, anthocyanins and phenolic acids, all of which are valuable antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent your cells from damage and reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is associated with higher weight gain and cases of overweight and obesity, explains a study published in Obesity in June 2017. A paper in the Journal of Medicinal Food published in July 2014 declared that sweet potatoes do indeed have anti-inflammatory properties.
Sweet potatoes come in a variety of colors, including the familiar orange, as well as purple, white and yellow. The orange-fleshed versions are richest in beta carotene, an antioxidant that's a precursor to vitamin A, explains a paper published in Food Science and Nutrition in May 2019, while purple-fleshed sweet potatoes tend to have more anthocyanin.
A review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in October 2016 explained that anthocyanins are valuable antioxidants that promote overall good health.
Sweet Potatoes for Weight Loss
The nutrition analysis for sweet potatoes shows that they're almost 80 percent water, so they can help suppress your appetite by making you feel full.
The fiber is sweet potatoes also makes them a weight-loss asset. With 8 grams per cup mashed, sweet potatoes make a significant contribution to your daily fiber goals: 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Dietary fiber reduces hunger hormone levels, slows digestion and improves blood sugar control. In June 2019, the Journal of Nutrition published a study of 345 people assessing the role of dietary fiber as a predictor of weight loss when dieting. The study concluded that dietary fiber promotes weight loss and dietary adherence when overweight adults follow a diet to lose weight. These results are independent of calorie, fat, protein and carbohydrate intake.
Sweet potatoes can even be used as the basis for a meal replacement that promotes weight loss. A study published in Nutrients in January 2019 tested a meal-replacement formula based on white sweet potatoes on 58 overweight subjects. They ate two packs of a 132-gram meal replacement while on an eight-week calorie-restricted diet. There was significant loss in body weight, body fat and fat distribution. The meal replacement included pea protein and plant oil.
Sweet Potato Serving Size
Many vegetables, such as leafy greens, contain few calories, making them a weight-loss ally. You can fill up on these watery foods and do very little damage to your waistline. Sweet potatoes are more calorie dense and should be treated like a starchy carbohydrate when meal planning for weight. One cup of mashed sweet potato has 58 grams of carbohydrates, which offers fantastic energy and fiber, but does raise the calorie count of 1 cup to 249.
When you treat sweet potatoes like a carbohydrate, you portion them like you do whole grains or whole-wheat bread. While carbohydrates are an essential nutrient, especially when they come with all the other vitamins, minerals and compounds that sweet potatoes do, too many can increase the odds of obesity.
BMJ Open published a study in February 2018 concluding that a high-carbohydrate diet increases the chance of significant weight gain. The study did not distinguish between refined carbohydrates and unrefined carbohydrates, however.
Refined carbohydrates are those that have undergone a lot of processing, like cornflakes, white bread and white rice. Unrefined carbohydrates are whole grains and sweet potatoes. Still, if you're trying to drop weight, it makes sense to stick to moderate portions of sweet potato at meals — 1 cup mashed equals a serving according to the USDA ChooseMyPlate recommendations.
While this contributes to the recommended 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables you should strive to consume at a minimum every day, leafy greens such as broccoli and lettuce may be a better choice for meeting the goal.
Keep Sweet Potatoes Pure
Skip the sugar additions such as marshmallows, maple syrup and honey. These might be Thanksgiving staples, but they seriously interfere with sweet potato's diet-food status.
A standard sweet potato casserole with candied walnuts, brown sugar, butter and half-and-half contains 340 calories per cup and 20 grams of sugar. Fiber reduces to just 2 grams, too. Fiber is one of the greatest weight-loss assets of the potatoes. Instead of casserole, try healthy preparations of sweet potato:
- Mash boiled sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, low-fat milk and a dash of orange rind.
- Roast wedges tossed with a small amount of olive oil.
- Dice sweet potatoes and saute in a small amount of olive oil with chopped onions and fresh herbs.
- Bake sweet potatoes and top with shredded spinach, chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Sweet Potatoes"
- Food Research International: "Chemical Constituents and Health Effects of Sweet Potato"
- Food Science and Nutrition: "Review on Nutritional Composition of Orange‐Fleshed Sweet Potato and Its Role in Management of Vitamin A Deficiency"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Sweet Potato Casserole"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Sweet Potato, Cooked, Boiled, Without Skin"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet"
- BMJ Open: "Does High-Carbohydrate Intake Lead to Increased Risk of Obesity?"
- ChooseMyPlate: "All About the Vegetable Group"
- Obesity: "Inflammatory Potential of Diet, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Overweight/Obesity: The SUN Cohort"
- Journal of Medicinal Food: "Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam) — A Valuable Medicinal Food: A Review"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Health Benefits of Anthocyanins and Their Encapsulation for Potential Use in Food Systems: A Review"
- Nutrients: "White Sweet Potato as Meal Replacement for Overweight White-Collar Workers: A Randomized Controlled Trial"