What’s to know about sweet potatoes: Benefits and Nutrition

Sweet potatoes are nutritious and delicious root vegetables. The sweet potato is creamy and soft enough to be an ingredient in several pie recipes, and most people think of the vegetable as merely a dessert ingredient. However, scientists have found that sweet potatoes are among the best sources of Vitamin A (1). Sweet potatoes are also naturally packed with vitamin B5, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and carotenoids due to their naturally orange color.

The sweet potato, also known as the Ipomoea batatas, not only contains many nutrients, but it is also packed with medicinal benefits. Scientists have determined that sweet potatoes contain anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anticancer properties (2). Most sweet potatoes are orange in color, but there are others that come in purple, yellow, white, pink, and red. The following are some of the health benefits that you can accrue from including sweet potatoes in our regular diet.

Sweet potatoes are sweet, starchy root vegetables that are grown worldwide

They come in a variety of sizes and colors — including orange, white, and purple — and are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Highly Nutritious

Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

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

In addition, sweet potatoes — especially the orange and purple varieties — are rich in antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and trigger inflammation.

Free radical damage has been linked to chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and aging. Therefore, eating antioxidant-rich foods is good for your health.

Sweet potatoes are starchy root vegetables that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and
minerals. They’re also high in antioxidants that protect your body from free
radical damage and chronic disease.

Health Benefits

Sweet potato may offer a variety of health benefits. Here are some of the ways in which they may benefit a person’s health:

Improving insulin sensitivity in diabetes

In one 2008 study researchers found that an extract of white skinned sweet potato improved insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

Earlier, in 2000, laboratory rats consumed either white skinned sweet potato or an insulin sensitizer, called troglitazone, for 8 weeks. The levels of insulin resistance improved in those that consumed the sweet potato.

However, more studies in humans are necessary to confirm these benefits.

The fiber in sweet potatoes is also important. Studies have found that people who consume more fiber appear to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A 124 gram (g) serving of mashed sweet potato, or around half a cup, will provide about 2.5 g of fiber.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aged 19 years and above consume 22.4 g to 33.6 g of fiber each day, depending on their age and sex.

Sweet potatoes help prevent Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is a serious issue especially in developing nations around the world. The health repercussions of a vitamin A deficiency are grave and can include decreased resistance to infectious disease, increase in infectious morbidity, dry eyes as well increased mortality for both pregnant and lactating women and their children.

Sweet potatoes are an extremely important source of Vitamin A because they contain high levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is transformed into vitamin A in our livers, with every molecule of beta-carotene producing two molecules of Vitamin A.

Sweet potatoes are a natural and abundant source of beta-carotene and Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential in helping the body fight off infections, and remain resistant to any further infections.

Sweet potatoes can help manage stress levels

Sweet potatoes contain a significant amount of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for normal body functioning. One of the most important benefits of magnesium is that it helps reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that an increase in magnesium deficiency in modern diets has resulted in a significant increase in the cases of depression reported across the world. For instance, some controlled studies have indicated that magnesium deficiency increases depression in women experiencing premenstrual symptoms.

Magnesium deficiency and depression are linked because they both feature cell-mediated immune responses and bodywide inflammation. Studies done on animal models have shown that an increase in magnesium intake protects the brain from anxiety and/or depression after a traumatic injury. Furthermore, studies on animal models have shown that a decrease in magnesium will result in an increase in anxiety-related behaviors as well as depression in mice.

In addition, magnesium has been found to reduce insomnia in older individuals. Insomnia is a trigger for stress, depression, and anxiety, which is unfortunate as more than 50% of elderly people suffer from some form of lack of sleep.

Sweet potatoes are an important source of magnesium, whose deficiency has been reported to be linked with a higher risk of depression, stress and anxiety. Thus, sweet potatoes can replenish the body’s magnesium levels and help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety-related behaviors in individuals.

They’re anti-inflammatory

We’ve long known that unchecked, low-grade inflammation raises the risk of nearly every chronic disease, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Natural anti-inflammatory compounds in sweet potatoes have been shown to quell inflammation at the cellular level: Research done on animals has shown reduced inflammation in brain tissue and nerve tissue after purple sweet potato extract consumption.

They may help support weight loss

About 12% of the starch in sweet potatoes is resistant starch, a filling, fiber-like substance your body doesn’t digest and absorb. One study found that replacing just 5.4% of total carbohydrate intake with resistant starch resulted in a 20 to 30% increase in fat burning after a meal. Resistant starch also prompts the body to pump out more satiety-inducing hormones.

Sweet potatoes can help protect/prevent/manage cancer

Studies have also shown that the purple-fleshed sweet potato is especially effective in the fight against cancer. This variation of the sweet potato has elements that are able to inhibit growth of specific cancers that include breast cancer, gastric cancer, and colon cancer by inducing the cell death of these cancer cells. The vegetable’s high anthocyanin content is believed to be the reason behind the sweet potato’s anti-cancer activity when it comes to gastric and breast cancers.

Other studies have conclusively shown that extracts from different parts of the sweet potato can also induce cell death in prostate cancer cells, ensuring that the cancer does not grow and spread to other parts of the prostate. Scientists have concluded that the anti-cancer activity of sweet potatoes when it comes to controlling prostate cancer is due to their high polyphenol content.

The presence of carotenoids such as beta-carotene in sweet potatoes has also been reported as having a significant effect on reducing the risk of men becoming afflicted with prostate cancer.

Beta-carotene has also been found to be effective in preventing and reducing the risks of individuals developing colorectal cancer.

Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, a carotenoid, which is essential in protecting men from developing prostate cancer. In addition, extracts from different parts of sweet potatoes have been shown to accelerate the death of breast, gastric, colorectal, and prostate cancers, limiting the growth and spread of these cancers.

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Sweet potatoes can help guard against ulcers

An ulcer occurs when an inflamed tissue is shed from the mucous membrane or from the skin, and it can be quite painful. Studies on animal models have shown that the methanol extract from the root of a sweet potato can protect the gastrointestinal tissues from aspirin-induced ulcers. The results of these studies have proved that the sweet potatoes can be used in the treatment and management of peptic ulcers.

Another study showed that the flour in the roots of the sweet potatoes helped in the prevention of ethanol-related ulceration in the stomach in animal models. The flour from the vegetable is reported to suppress gastric ulceration b reducing swelling in the surrounding tissues, and protecting the gastric wrinkles.

In addition, extracts from the vegetable have been shown to have free radical scavengers, which are important in the healing of wounds inside the body.

Studies on the extracts from sweet potatoes have shown that the vegetable has chemicals that can help heal wounds and ulcers in the stomach. Thus, dietary consumption of sweet potatoes can be an effective treatment plan against major types of ulcers including ethanol and aspirin-induced ulcers.

Sweet potatoes contain antimicrobial properties

Despite the fact that studies on the antimicrobial properties of sweet potatoes are limited, a number of scientific reports have concluded that the sweet potato does have some level of antimicrobial activity. Some studies have found that the ethanol and acetone extracts from sweet potato leaves possess antimicrobial properties against bacteria that cause pneumonia, and typhoid.

The fiber in sweet potatoes has also been documented to inhibit the growth of foodborne bacteria.

Other studies have found that sweet potato leaf powder, and its water, ethanol, and peptone extracts possess antimicrobial activity against Salmonella typhi, E.coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Sweet potatoes and their extracts possess antimicrobial activities, which can be used in the prevention and treatment of a variety of bacterial pathogens and infections.

Sweet potatoes can help improve hair and skin

As mentioned above, sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A (1, 4). The vegetables are also rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Studies have shown that dietary consumption or supplementation of Vitamin E has the potential of significantly increasing hair numbers in individuals who are suffering from hair loss. This is because Vitamin E contains antioxidant properties that help reduce oxidative stress, a major cause of alopecia.

Vitamin C has been known to be an effective dermatological treatment that can be used in the treatment of photoaging and hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C is also effective at neutralizing the oxidative stress caused by exposure to UV light. In addition, the combination of Vitamin C and E can significantly reduce the risk of skin cancer in individuals. Vitamin C is also essential in the synthesis of collagen, which is the main structural protein of the skin. A number of studies have also shown that Vitamin C contains anti-inflammatory properties. This means that the vitamin can help manage skin diseases such as acne, as well as promoting healing of wounds on the skin.

Vitamin A has been proven to be effective in the treatment and management of sun-damaged skin. In addition, the studies have shown that the vitamin is also effective in the treatment of skin cancer along with chemotherapy, and other treatment solutions.

Other studies have shown that Vitamin A is an effective stimulant of collagen, making it useful in decreasing the rate of natural cell aging as well as inhibiting photoaging of our skin.

Sweet potatoes contain high levels of Vitamin A, C, and E, all of which are useful in the promotion of proper skin and hair health. These vitamins are useful in repairing skin that is damaged due to exposure to UV light. The vitamins also slow down the cell aging process in the skin helping you retain a youthful look for longer. In addition, vitamin E is especially useful in the prevention and treatment of alopecia, and maintaining good hair health.

Sweet potatoes are good for digestion

Sweet potatoes contain large amounts of fibers, which have long been known for improving the health of the gut as well as digestion. Many laxatives in use today are made from fibers, meaning that consumption of sweet potatoes can increase your intake of fibers needed to promote proper digestion. The high fiber content of the sweet potatoes can also aid in preventing constipation in both children and adults. Sweet potatoes contain significantly high amounts of fibers, which are essential in promoting a well-functioning digestive tract, as well as preventing constipation.

Tips

When buying and cooking sweet potatoes, it is important to check that the potato is firm with smooth, taut skin.

Also, always store them in a cool, dry place for no longer than 3–5 weeks.

Cooking tips

Roast sweet potatoes to bring out their natural flavor, and eat them without toppings. Sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet and creamy taste.

To roast them around a campfire or on a barbecue, wrap them in aluminum foil and place in the dying coals. Leave for around 50–60 minutes, until a fork slides into them easily.

People who do not plan to eat the skins can put the potato into the coals without wrapping it in foil.

To prepare a sweet potato quickly, prick it with a fork, wrap it in a paper towel, and put it in a microwave on high heat until soft.

If a person wants to add a topping, try:

  • a sprinkling of cinnamon, cumin, or curry powder
  • a spoonful of low fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
  • a drizzling of olive oil

Other ways to incorporate sweet potato into the diet include adding roasted sweet potatoes and pecans to a salad and topping it with balsamic vinegar, and adding sweet potato to pancakes or hash browns.

The Bottom Line

Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense root vegetables that come in a variety of colors.

They’re high in fiber and antioxidants, which protect your body from free radical damage and promote a healthy gut and brain.

They’re also incredibly rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A to support good vision and your immune system.

Sweet potatoes are versatile and can be prepared in both sweet and savory dishes, making them an exceptional carb option for most people.

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