Q: Are sweet potatoes so much better for you than regular potatoes?
Sweet potatoes and all other potatoes might play siblings on TV, but in real life they’re from two different families.
They are similar, however, in terms of calories, fiber, and macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content.
The Basic Details of Potatoes
One cup of raw sweet potato contains about 114 calories, 27 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams sugar, 2 grams protein and 0 grams fat.
One cup of regular potato has 116 calories, 26 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams protein and 0 grams fat.
Aside from the sugar content (responsible for the sweet taste), the macronutrients are pretty similar, right? Yup.
This is why many people wonder why sweet potatoes are known for being uber healthy when they’re almost identical to an old school tater.
Well, when it comes to sweet potatoes’ goodness, it’s not all in the basic, dirty deets. Instead, it’s all about the micro and phytonutrients. Sweet potatoes are jam packed with compounds that make them worthy of being on your plate.
Why Do Sweet Potatoes Get Such a Healthy Rap?
All potatoes (yes, even those guys that get the bad rap) are full of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, calcium and other nutrients that act as antioxidants that give them anti-cancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
But the reason sweet potatoes seem to have a leg up is their color, which isn’t just for show. Beta carotene is the nutrient responsible for giving sweet potatoes that characteristic pretty orange hue.
Like other orange whole foods, sweet potatoes contain a whole lotta beta carotene (1 cup provides 375% your daily value, to be exact!).
Carotenoids (beta-carotene being the most abundant in sweet potatoes) are precursors to vitamin A which acts as a powerful antioxidant helping to protect cells from sun damage and to prevent the appearance of aging. It’s also helpful in naturally exfoliating your skin.
If you’ve been reading up on and trying to eat in an antinflammatory way, then you’ll want to add sweet spuds to your grocery list and listen up.
Cyanidin is another antioxidant bonus of sweet potatoes. Found in the flesh of purple sweet potatoes specifically, this phytonutrient compound has been linked to protecting us from toxins in the digestive system. It helps the body reduce inflammation that contributes to long term chronic illness including diabetes, arthritis and asthma.
But What About The Sugar in Sweet Potatoes?
Okay so you might be thinking—so what about all of the sugar in sweet potatoes that you mentioned?
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 you break down the sugars of sweet potatoes in your blood more slowly than white potatoes, which prevents a sharp spike in your blood sugar.
Take note, the GI value will change based on your cooking method. A normal baked potato, for example, has a GI of 111, and a normal boiled potato rings in at a solid 82. Compare this to a baked sweet potato with a GI value of 86.5, or a boiled sweet potato with a GI value of 46.
So why are regular potatoes still frowned upon? French fries, tater tots, potato chips, mashed potatoes…these fat laden, high sodium forms of potatoes are most America’s most common choices when it comes to chowing down on spuds and it’s no “aha!” that they’re not great for you.
When you think of white potatoes, you’re most likely thinking of those types, which is a big reason why these tubers end up with a bad rap.
However, a baked potato of any kind is a good choice and will help you meet your nutrients needs. If you need another reason to consider regular potatoes again, they’re known to have more resistant starch (a type of fiber) than sweet potatoes which has been linked to the prevention of disease and overall gut health.
So What’s the Take Home?
Poe-tay-toe or poe-tah-toe, they are a real, whole, nutrient dense food that play a role in your diet. 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 varying pros.