What Are the Benefits of Sweet Potatoes and Are They Healthier Than a Regular Potato?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/10/2022

What is a sweet potato?

Sweet potatoes are underground tuber crops. Benefits of sweet potatoes include better digestion, immunity, and brain health and they are healthier than regular potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are underground tuber crops. Benefits of sweet potatoes include better digestion, immunity, and brain health and they are healthier than regular potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are a staple food in many countries, but compared to regular potatoes, which are the third-most-eaten food crop in the world, they aren't as popular. Between both foods, many consider sweet potatoes to be healthier due to their rich vitamin and mineral content. However, potatoes are also nutritious foods that can offer several health benefits when eaten in the right way. 

Sweet potatoes are underground tuber crops, meaning they are the swollen roots growing beneath the soil. These vegetables are native to South and Central America and belong to the Convolvulaceae or the morning glory family. You can come across over 1000 varieties of sweet potatoes, growing all around the world.

A typical sweet potato is known for its vivid orange flesh and copper-colored skin. However, many of their varieties also come in colors like cream, white, violet, pink, yellow, and reddish-purple. While they can safely be eaten raw, you can also steam, bake, boil, and fry them. 

In some parts of the world — like in North America — many people consider sweet potatoes and yams to be the same. However, they are completely different vegetables. True yams are edible tubers that belong to the lily family. Also, unlike sweet potatoes, they have white or purple-colored flesh and blackish-brown skin. 

What are the nutrients in a sweet potato? 

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals

Just one cup (133 grams) of raw, unprepared sweet potato can provide you:

  • Calories: 114
  • Carbohydrates: 26.7g
  • Total sugar: 5.56g
  • Starch: 16.8 g
  • Dietary fiber: 3.99g
  • Fat:  0.067g
  • Protein:  2.09g 
  • Vitamin A: 943 µg
  • Vitamin B5: 1.06 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.278 mg
  • Vitamin C: 3.19 mg
  • Vitamin E: 0.346 mg
  • Potassium: 448 mg
  • Copper: 0.20 mg

A great portion of the carbohydrates in sweet potatoes is made up of dietary fiber, which is present in two forms — soluble and insoluble fiber. Since none of them can be digested by your body, they stay within your digestive tract and help prevent many gut-related health problems.

Sweet potatoes are also some of the best sources of phytochemicals like anthocyanins and beta-carotene. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant-based compounds that give vegetables their bright color. It has been seen that more colorful vegetables have greater phytochemical activity. This is why orange sweet potatoes offer the most beta-carotene while purple sweet potatoes offer the most anthocyanins. 

Due to their high antioxidant activity, these phytochemicals contribute to many of the health benefits of sweet potatoes. Antioxidants are important molecules that protect your cells from free radical damage and reduce the risk of various chronic disorders. 

What are the health benefits of sweet potatoes?

Eating these delicious root vegetables can have many positive effects on your body. These are some of the most well-known health benefits of sweet potatoes:

Improve digestive health. As a rich source of fiber and antioxidants, sweet potatoes can provide you with many gut benefits. Their soluble fibers are known to draw water into the digestive tract. This helps to soften stools and improve bowel movements. Moreover, their dietary fiber can be used by your gut bacteria to produce special short-chain fatty acids, which can help to keep your intestinal lining strong and healthy.

The antioxidants in these vegetables can also help to support your gut health. As per some test tube studies, the antioxidant activity in purple sweet potatoes can help gut bacteria — like those of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species — to grow. These good gut bacteria are known for their ability to improve digestion and prevent gut problems like infectious diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Boost eye health. Sweet potatoes are some of the best sources of beta-carotene, which is the precursor of vitamin A. Studies show that vitamin A is needed by your eyes to form important light-detecting receptors. Even the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes benefit eye health by protecting the eye cells from oxidative damage.

May reduce cancer risk. Research shows that antioxidants can help to fight cancer cells. As per some test-tube studies, anthocyanins in sweet potatoes show promise as a solution for treating breast, stomach, colon, and bladder cancer. Even studies on mice indicate that these antioxidants have the ability to reduce the risk of early-stage colon cancer. Though these results are promising, further research is needed to understand these effects on human cancer cells. 

May boost immunity. The high vitamin A content in sweet potatoes can help to keep your immune system healthy. Studies have shown that having low levels of vitamin A in the blood can weaken your immune system and make your digestive system more prone to infections and diseases. While sweet potatoes have been proven to prevent vitamin A deficiency, though, there still isn't enough evidence to prove their effect on the immune system. 

May improve brain health. Several animal studies have found positive effects of anthocyanins on the functioning of the brain. Research shows that the phytochemicals in purple sweet potatoes can prevent free radical damage and inflammation in the brain. Studies done on mice have also found a link between purple sweet potatoes and improved memory as well as learning ability.


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How is a potato different from a sweet potato?  

Regular potatoes are root vegetables just like sweet potatoes. Moreover, they too have originated in the tropical regions of the Americas, but despite such similar names and origins, there isn't much in common between them. Potatoes belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family, whose other members include tomatoes, chilies, and eggplant. 

Unlike sweet potatoes, regular potatoes have brown, red, or yellow-colored skins as well as yellow or white flesh. Also, potatoes have over 4000 varieties, which is much more than what is found for sweet potatoes.

When it comes to the nutrient profile, the vegetables share some similarities as well as differences. 

For example, the fat content and calories in sweet potatoes are similar to that found in regular potatoes, but while potatoes have more carbohydrates, fibers, and proteins, sweet potatoes have more sugar, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Moreover, just as sweet potatoes have different phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, potatoes have various antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. 

Are sweet potatoes healthier than potatoes? 

The advantages of potatoes are comparable to the health benefits of sweet potatoes.  

Due to their high carbohydrate and fiber content, potatoes can keep you feeling full for longer compared to other complex carbohydrates. This, in turn, can help you to reduce your calorie intake. As good sources of resistant starch, potatoes can also help to support your gut bacteria and improve your digestion. Moreover, the antioxidants in potatoes can prevent free radical damage and other chronic disorders.

However, studies show that sweet potatoes are slightly healthier than white potatoes, mainly because of their high beta-carotene and vitamin A content. 

Nevertheless, sweet potatoes do pose some risks, especially for those who are prone to having kidney stones. That is because these vegetables are rich in compounds called oxalates, which often lead to kidney stones.

Another thing to consider is the glycemic index (GI) of sweet potatoes, which indicates how quickly these foods affect the blood sugar levels. Since sweet potatoes have medium-to-high GI levels — ranging between 44 to 96 — those with type 2 diabetes should avoid having them in large amounts.

However, between regular potatoes and sweet potatoes, the latter is still a better option for those with diabetes. This is because the GI of potatoes is much higher, falling in the range of 53 to 111.

Medical experts also consider potatoes unhealthy due to their common cooking style. For example, while sweet potatoes are mostly eaten raw or baked, regular potatoes are mostly eaten fried in the form of potato chips and french fries. Studies show that eating fried potatoes is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and even death.

Potatoes may also not be good for you due to their rich content of glycoalkaloids — nitrogen-containing compounds that are produced naturally in the plants of the Solanaceae family. Glycoalkaloids have been found to be toxic at high levels, causing itchiness, drowsiness, and digestive disorders.

Which are better: sweet potatoes or regular potatoes?

Sweet potatoes and potatoes contain good amounts of energizing carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This is why health experts consider both of them to be nutritious foods. You can choose to add both or either to your diet based on your taste and health goals. What matters most is you eat them in moderation and prepare them in healthy ways. Moreover, if you have a health condition like diabetes, talk to your doctor to understand if these vegetables will be good for you.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 8/10/2022

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