By Keri Glassman, MS, RD
Ask Keri: Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
Keri Says: Sweet potatoes are a great source of powerful antioxidants like beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients. They’re also lower on the Glycemic Index than white potatoes, which means they’re less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are similar, however, in terms of calories, fiber, and macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content.
So, are sweet potatoes good for you in way that means you should ditch white potatoes for good? Here’s what you need to know.
Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Basics
One cup of raw sweet potato contains about 114 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat. One cup of white potato has 116 calories, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat.
Aside from the sugar content (responsible for the sweet taste), the macronutrients are pretty similar, right? This is why many people wonder why sweet potatoes are known for being uber healthy while old school taters get a bad rap. Well, it’s all about the micronutrients.
Why Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?
All potatoes contain vitamins and minerals, many of which act as antioxidants or have anti-inflammatory properties, like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and other nutrients. But a sweet potato’s characteristic orange hue is a hint at its leg up.
That color is the result of a super high concentration of a phytonutrient called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant, and we know antioxidants help protect the body from many diseases (like reducing the risk of heart disease). It’s also a precursor to to vitamin A, meaning your body uses it to make the vitamin. Vitamin A is important for immune system function, vision, cellular communication, and more.
RECIPE: How to Make Sweet Potato Nachos
And speaking of colors, have you ever tried purple sweet potatoes? Those pretty tubers also contain cyanidin, a phytochemical that acts as a strong antioxidant and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Okay, so you might be thinking, “What about all of the sugar in sweet potatoes?” Though sweet potatoes do have more sugar, they’re actually considered “low” on the Glycemic Index (GI) compared to regular white potatoes, which are considered “high.” This means your blood sugar will rise more slowly, preventing a sharp spike (and subsequent crash).
Take note: The GI value changes based on the cooking method. When you bake a sweet potato, you end up with much more sugar, which raises the GI score. Boiling the same sweet potato results in less of an increase.
Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Bottom Line
By now the fact that sweet potatoes are good for you is pretty clear, but why are regular potatoes still so frowned upon? French fries, tater tots, potato chips…these fatty, high-sodium, often processed forms are the most most common choices, which is a big reason why the tubers end up with a bad rap.
However, while a sweet potato provides additional nutrients, a real, whole potato of any kind is a good choice and will help you meet your nutrient needs. Eat them as the starchy portion of your meal (I usually recommend one or two starchy servings a day), make sure to prep them right (yep, that means no fried or au gratin), and mix up the variety to reap all of the varied benefits. One important tip: Try not to peel them! Many of the powerful phytonutrients in both sweet potatoes and white potatoes are in the skin.