These sweet potato health benefits prove there's more to the tater than just a vibrant orange color.
Advertisement
Roasted Sweet Potatoes on a white baking pan with herbs
Credit: AdobeStock

If Steve Harvey were to ask Family Feud contestants what the most universally loved food was, sweet potatoes would most definitely be listed as one of the top answers. After all, they're incredibly versatile, become crispy on the outside yet creamy on the inside when roasted to perfection, and have a slightly sweet flavor that keeps you coming back bite after bite.

But there's more to these orange taters than just a satisfying taste and texture. Here, registered dietitians share the key sweet potato nutrition facts and health benefits that will convince you to make the tater a pantry staple — if it isn't already.

What Are Sweet Potatoes?

Formally known as Ipomoea batatas, sweet potatoes are large, edible roots within the morning glory family that are native to South America. The taters most commonly sport a bright-orange hue, but they may also come in white, cream, yellow, reddish-purple, and deep purple varieties, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Though they share the same name, sweet potatoes aren't related to regular potatoes, which are edible tubers within the nightshade family, according to the HSPH. Similarly, yams are tubers of the Dioscorea species, and they're more closely related to lilies and grasses than they are to their twin-looking taters, according to Tufts University's New Entry Sustainable Farming Project website.  

Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts

While the orange tater is most commonly known for its ability to transform into delicious fries and Thanksgiving side dishes, its health benefits are just as noteworthy. In fact, noshing on a sweet potato is an easy way to score key nutrients, including fiber that improves digestive health, vitamins that support the immune system, carbohydrates that provide sustained energy, and more.

Here, the nutritional profile of one medium sweet potato (150 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 164 calories
  • 2 grams protein
  • 6 grams fat
  • 25 grams carbohydrate
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 8 grams sugar

Sweet Potato Health Benefits

Supports Digestion and Keeps You Feeling Full

One of the most significant sweet potato health benefits is the veggie's fiber content, which stands at nearly four grams (9 percent of the recommended dietary allowance) per medium potato, according to the USDA. Reminder: Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can't break down and absorb, and it plays a key role in helping you feel full and satisfied, says Ashley Munro, M.P.H., R.D., a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor in Tucson, Arizona. More specifically, sweet potatoes provide insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that doesn't absorb water and helps move material through the digestive system, promoting regularity and preventing constipation, says Mia Syn, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Charleston, South Carolina. Translation: This sweet potato nutrition perk might just help you spend less time and energy trying to drop a deuce. 

Improves Heart Health

Fiber is also one driving force for this sweet potato health benefit. Along with insoluble fiber, sweet potatoes boast soluble fiber, the kind that absorbs water to form a gel-like material, says Munro. This type of fiber helps lower low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels and, in turn, can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The root veggie's potassium content, amounting to 328 milligrams (nearly 13 percent of the RDA) per medium potato, also lends a helping hand to your ticker. The electrolyte helps your nerves function, muscles contract, heartbeat stay regular, and nutrients move into cells, says Syn. More importantly, the mineral may help decrease blood pressure, as the mineral offsets the effects of sodium (a nutrient that raises your blood pressure when consumed in excess). Specifically, potassium helps reduce tension in your blood vessel walls and causes you to excrete more sodium through your urine, which helps lower blood pressure and, in turn, the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association

Maintains Vision Health

Turns out, the compound behind the tater's tantalizing orange hue is also responsible for one of the main sweet potato health benefits. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, a type of plant pigment that the body converts into vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This nutrient is a component of rhodopsin (a protein that absorbs light in your retina's receptors) and keeps your corneas and the membrane covering the front surface of your eyes functioning well, per the NIH. Luckily for your peepers, you'll fulfill 161 percent of the RDA for vitamin A by noshing on one medium sweet potato, according to the USDA.

Supports the Immune System

Along with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin C, packing more than 18 milligrams (24 percent of the RDA) for vitamin C. And both of these nutrients can help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Vitamin C may help strengthen the immune system by stimulating the production and improving the function of white blood cells, including the specific cells that attack foreign bacteria and viruses, and increasing levels of existing antibodies that help fight off foreign antigens, according to research. Beta-carotene, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the number of immune cells and their activity, according to information published by Kaiser Permanente. TL;DR: You might want to add sweet potatoes to your cold prevention toolkit

Provides Long-Lasting Energy

Sweet potatoes may be rich in carbohydrates, packing 25 grams per medium potato, but this nutrition fact shouldn't scare you off. "You'll have a really hard time functioning at full capacity without carbohydrates," says Munro. "It's like trying to drive a car without any gas in it — carbohydrates are an important fuel source…And it's our brain's primary source of fuel, so people tend to just feel a lot better and more focused when they have carbohydrates on board."

The fiber in sweet potatoes will also slow the uptake of these carbohydrates, preventing your blood sugar — and, in turn, your energy levels — from spiking and rapidly falling soon after, says Munro. "Your sugar levels in your body are going to be really nice and even, which is great for getting that sustained energy," she explains. 

How to Buy and Eat Sweet Potatoes

Ready to take a break from the traditional white tater and start scoring all those sweet potato health benefits? When shopping for the Cheeto-colored root veggie, choose one that has smooth skin and is free of cracks, soft spots, or blemishes, says Syn. Then, store your taters in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness, adds Munro. 

Once you're ready to transform your sweet potatoes into a drool-worthy dish, give the veggies a rinse and a good scrub to remove any dirt or contaminants, says Munro. "The nice thing is if you want to cut them up and roast them without peeling them, you absolutely can," she explains. "That adds more fiber and also a fun texture when you roast them. So if you just scrub them, wash them, cut them up, and throw them on a sheet pan, they're a really nice accessible vegetable."

Sweet Potato Recipe Ideas

While sweet potatoes are delicious enough to eat straight-up once roasted, that's not the only way to get your fill. To nab those key sweet potato nutrition benefits — and satisfy your growling stomach — steal these innovative meal ideas from Munro and Syn.

In salads. After roasting your diced sweet potato with salt, pepper, and olive oil in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes, toss them into a savory salad for a hit of sweetness in every bite, suggests Munro. 

As a stuffing holder. Instead of filling bell peppers with your favorite fixings, use sweet potatoes as your tasty vessel. Munro enjoys stuffing sweet potatoes with buffalo chicken, while Syn recommends loading them with ground turkey or black beans with taco seasoning, salsa, avocado, and cilantro. 

In a breakfast bowl. When you're sick of oatmeal, concoct a savory brekkie by combining roasted sweet potatoes, avocado, salsa, a fried egg, and your other go-to toppings into a hunger-stifling bowl, suggests Munro. 

In baked goods. Use pureed sweet potato in place of pumpkin puree in your pancake, waffle, or muffin batter for a sweet treat that never goes out of season, suggests Syn.

As a yogurt fixing. "I've taken leftover sweet potatoes and put them in a vanilla yogurt with some granola and almond butter," says Munro. "It's just different, and you maybe wouldn't think to do that combination, but there's something about the creamy, coldness of the yogurt, mixed with the starchiness of the sweet potatoes, that works really well together."

As fries or chips. There's nothing wrong with going back to basics. DIY some sweet potato fries or chips by tossing them in your air fryer or hot oven with avocado oil and a pinch of salt, recommends Syn. 

As a "toast." Fresh out of bread? Thinly slice a sweet potato and par-bake the slabs (a meal-prep trick that helps reduce cooking time later). When you're ready for a savory breakfast throughout the week, pop one in the toaster to cook the tater to perfection. Finish the slice off with peanut butter and jelly, yogurt and granola, or any other toast toppings that tickle your fancy, suggests Munro.