A lot of people ask me if sweet potatoes are actually that good for you, which isn't surprising considering their very name suggests they’re sugar-and-starch bombs! But as a nutritionist, I give the root veggie two thumbs way up. I enjoy eating sweet potatoes all year long, and in the fall, they become particularly appealing—as a hearty side dish, and an ingredient in everything from soups and stews to pies and other desserts.
The colorful gems offer some pretty impressive health perks. Here are six benefits of sweet potatoes, along with some simple ways to healthfully incorporate sweet potatoes into your everyday meals, snacks, and treats.
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They're a good source of vitamins C and A
One cup of baked sweet potato provides nearly half of your daily vitamin C needs. The same portion also supplies 400%(!) of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Both nutrients are vital for supporting immune function, which is especially important during cold and flu season. Vitamin A is also key for maintaining healthy skin, vision, and organ function.
And lots of other nutrients too
A serving of sweet potato delivers a third of your need for manganese, a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. You'll also get between 15 and 30% of several energy-supporting B vitamins and minerals, including potassium (more on this below).
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Sweet Potatoes are antioxidant powerhouses
Vitamins A and C also function as antioxidants that protect cells against aging and disease. For even more antioxidants, choose purple sweet potatoes. The pigment that gives them their gorgeous hue has particularly potent antioxidant properties.
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 don't cause blood sugar spikes
Some may regard sweet potatoes as too starchy, but their high fiber content makes them a slow burning starch—meaning they won’t spike blood sugar and insulin levels. One cup of baked sweet potato provides about 6 grams of fiber, which is more than a quarter of the daily recommended minimum.
Sweet potatoes help regulate blood pressure
One cup of sweet potato baked in its skin provides 950 mg of potassium. That’s more than twice the amount in a medium banana. Potassium essentially sweeps excess sodium and fluid out of the body, which lowers blood pressure and reduces strain on the heart. Potassium also helps regulate heart rhythm and muscle contractions. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, less than 2% of Americans meet the daily recommended potassium target of 4,700 mg.
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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.
How to eat more sweet potatoes
I love to bake sweet potatoes and drizzle with a combo of ground cinnamon and maple syrup thinned with a bit of warm water. You can also bake, mash, and fold sweet potatoes into overnight oats; whip them into a smoothie; or puree them with low-sodium organic veggie broth as the base for a soup. Chunked baked sweet potatoes make a fantastic addition to a garden salad, and crisp oven-baked wedges can satisfy a French fry craving. Mashed sweet potato also makes a fantastic addition to desserts and goodies, from no-bake cookies to brownies, pudding, and of course, the classic fall favorite, sweet potato pie.
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Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.