Sweet Potato Health Facts
The sweet potato is an extremely nutritious, sweet tasting root vegetable with a higher nutrient density than cereals1. It has the highest nutrient content per weight of vitamin A and beta-carotene when compared to major staple foods2. It also has the highest nutritional value when compared to several other foods, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest3.
The sweet potato, also know as kumara, batata, and comote in various parts of the world, is a root vegetable that belongs to the Convolvulaceae family. It originated in the tropical forests of South America over 8000 years ago and has been domesticated for 5000 years. Christopher Columbus brought the sweet potato to Europe and now China is the worlds largest cultivator. While its leaves and stems are edible, most people prefer its tuberous root. The most common color of its flesh is orange, but different color varieties exist including white, yellow, pink, and purple. It is not directly related to either the potato or the yam, regardless of the yam and sweet potato often being confused in the US.
The sweet potato can be boiled, steamed, fried, roasted or baked and is sometimes combined with other vegetables, fish or meat.
The sweet potato is rich in potassium, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body.
The sweet potato is a healthy starch option because it is relatively low in calories, has lots of fiber, is rich in vitamins and minerals, and has a small amount of protein. Some of the ways that the sweet potato can help the body are:
- It is a tremendous source of vitamin A, and has more beta-carotene than green leafy vegetables. According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role against prostate cancer in younger men. Beta-carotene has also been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.
- It gives you an immunity boost because of the combination of the high amounts of both vitamin C and beta-carotene.
- It can help restore vision that was damaged because of a vitamin A deficiency. Also, the antioxidant vitamins C and E have been shown to support eye health and prevent degenerative damage. You can help decrease the risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration by eating 3 or more servings per day of all fruits and vegetables.
- It can help to prevent constipation and promote regularity because of its high fiber content.
- It may be able to lower the potential health risk posed by heavy metals and oxygen radicals due to its cyanidins, peonidins, and other color-related phytonutrients.
- It can potentially improve blood sugar regulation, reducing episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance — even in persons with type 2 diabetes — in spite of its glycemic index (GI) rating of medium.
- Its high potassium content will help your cardiovascular and nervous system to stay healthy as it lowers your blood pressure. Since it also contains proteins, it will help you with muscle building and proper functioning of your muscles, and prevent muscle cramps after working out. Also, high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.
- Its choline is a very important and versatile nutrient that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory.
- It is valuable for its anti-inflammatory health benefits from anthocyanin.
- In the purple-fleshed sweet potato, antioxidant anthocyanin pigments are abundant.
The sweet potato can help decrease the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality, while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Enjoy a sweet potato and stay healthy!
1. Scott, Best, Rosegrant, and Bokanga (2000). “Roots and tubers in the global food system: A vision statement to the year 2020” (PDF). International Potato Center, and others. ISBN 92-9060-203-1.
2. “Nutrient data laboratory“. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved June 2014.
3. “Nutrition Action Health Letter: 10 Worst and Best Foods“. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2013. Archived from the original on 4 January 2014.