Sweet Potato is a starchy, sweet-tasting root vegetable. They have a thin, brown skin on the outside with colored flesh inside. They are most commonly orange in color, but other varieties are white, purple or yellow. You can eat sweet potatoes whole or peeled, and the leaves of the plant are edible too.
They may both be called ‘potatoes’, but sweet and white potatoes are not related. Botanically, the sweet potato belongs to the bindweed or morning glory family, whereas the white potato sits in the nightshade family. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t have a lot in common. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. (The skin of yams look like tree bark. They look more like yucca in texture and flavor.)
One cup (200 grams) of baked sweet potato with skin provides:
- Calories: 180
- Carbs: 41.4 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Fiber: 6.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 769% of the Daily Value (DV) !!
- Vitamin C: 65% of the DV
- Manganese: 50% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 29% of the DV
- Potassium: 27% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 18% of the DV
- Copper: 16% of the DV
- Niacin: 15% of the DV
The orange and purple varieties are especially rich in antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and trigger inflammation.
Sweet potatoes contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Your body cannot digest either type. Therefore, the fiber stays within your digestive tract and provides a variety of gut-related health benefits. Certain types of soluble fiber known as viscous fibers absorb water and soften your stool. Non-viscous, insoluble fibers don’t absorb water and add bulk.
Some soluble and insoluble fibers can also be fermented by the bacteria in your colon, creating compounds called short-chain fatty acids that fuel the cells of your intestinal lining and keep them healthy and strong.
Fiber-rich diets containing 20–33 grams per day have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer.
Anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants found in purple sweet potatoes, have been found to slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells in test-tube studies, including those of the bladder, colon, stomach, and breast. Mice fed diets rich in purple sweet potatoes showed lower rates of early-stage colon cancer, suggesting that the anthocyanins in the potatoes may have a protective effect.
Extracts of orange sweet potatoes and sweet potato peels have also been found to have anti-cancer properties in test-tube studies.
Sweet potatoes are very rich in beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for the vegetable’s bright orange color. One cup of baked orange sweet potato with skin provides more than seven times the amount of beta-carotene that the average adult needs per day.
Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in your body and used to form light-detecting receptors inside your eyes. Test-tube studies have found that the anthocyanins they provide can protect eye cells from damage.
Although cooking sweet potatoes slightly reduces their beta-carotene content, they still retain at least 70% of this nutrient and are considered an excellent source.
How to Buy
Select sweet potatoes that are clean, blemish-free, decay-free, dry, smooth, and firm. One decayed area can spoil the whole sweet potato; cutting it away won’t help.
How to Store
Refrigeration changes the structure of the cell walls of sweet potatoes, making them harder to break down. As a result, refrigerated sweet potatoes can remain hard in the middle and take longer to cook.
Instead, store your sweet potatoes at cool room temperature, preferably in a dark place away from light. Sweet potatoes stored this way will cook up evenly and be soft all the way through.
Store in a cool, dry area for up to about 7 days (they have a shorter home shelf life than white potatoes).
Store at 55-65 degrees F.
How to Cook
Sweet potatoes can be enjoyed with or without the skin and can be baked, boiled, roasted, fried, steamed, or pan-cooked. Their natural sweetness pairs well with many different seasonings, and they can be enjoyed in both savory and sweet dishes.
Some popular ways to enjoy sweet potatoes include:
- Sweet potato chips: Peeled, thinly sliced, and baked or fried.
- Sweet potato fries: Peeled, cut into wedges or matchsticks, and baked or fried.
- Sweet potato toast: Cut into thin slices, toasted, and topped with ingredients like nut butter or avocado.
- Mashed sweet potatoes: Peeled, boiled, and mashed with milk and seasoning.
- Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole in the oven until fork-tender.
- Sweet potato hash: Peeled, diced, and cooked with onion in a pan.
- Spiralized sweet potatoes: Cut into spirals, sautéed, and sauced.
- In baked goods: Sweet potato puree adds moisture without fat.
Preparing sweet potatoes with a little fat such as coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado can help boost the absorption of beta-carotene since it’s a fat-soluble nutrient.