Sweet potatoes pack the unique health benefits of regular potatoes with a little something extra. “In general, the more color you can add into your diet coming from fruits and vegetables, the better,” says Yasi Ansari, a sports dietitian in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Still, the many nutritional benefits are no excuse to spring for sweet potato fries at every chance.
Here’s what you need to know about how healthy sweet potatoes are, plus the best ways to incorporate them into any diet.
What are the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes?
“All potatoes are nutrient-dense and healthy for you,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York. But sweet potatoes—the orange, yellow and purple varieties of the root vegetable—are lower in calories and carbohydrates than the average spud. They’re also higher in vitamin A, an antioxidant that boosts immunity and helps you maintain healthy skin and vision. One sweet potato provides far more than 100% of your recommended daily allotment of vitamin A, according to the USDA.
Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin C and vitamin B6, which is important for brain and nervous system health. They’re also a good source of potassium and magnesium, which help improve heart health by helping to regulate blood pressure.
Are sweet potatoes high in carbohydrates?
As starchy root vegetables, sweet potatoes do have more carbs than non-starchy vegetables like broccoli. (Half a cup of sweet potatoes contains about 13 grams of carbs, while the same amount of broccoli has about 3 grams.)
But that may be just another reason to embrace them—not to fear them. “Sweet potatoes provide more energy than non-starchy veggie alternatives, making them an exceptional fuel source for daily activity and especially athletic performance,” says Ansari.
The bottom line is that all vegetables, so long as they’re not fried, are healthy options to work into your diet and offer a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Zeitlin says.
What’s the healthiest way to eat sweet potatoes?
When buying sweet potatoes, choose the ones with a vivid hue. Some research finds that the deeper the coloring of a sweet potato (whether it’s orange, yellow or purple), the higher the nutritional content. And don’t feel like you have to peel it. “The healthiest way to eat all potatoes is with the skin on, because that is where a lot of the fiber is,” says Zeitlin. It’s also where a majority of the antioxidants are.
As for the best way to cook them? Steaming, roasting, baking and boiling all preserve different nutrients in sweet potatoes, some research has found, so all kinds of preparations are nutritious. You can also let them cool and whip them into smoothies with soymilk, protein powder and cinnamon; blend them into a soup; or bake them into chips and dip them in hummus. Mashed sweet potatoes are even great as an antioxidant-rich dessert: add maple syrup or honey and a sprinkle of walnuts, Ansari suggests. Just be careful not to overcook your sweet potato, since cooking it for too long can lead to a loss of nutrients, she says. Keep in mind, too, that a serving size of sweet potato is typically ½ cup, about the size of a computer mouse or your cupped palm.
And don’t forget your fat. Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A are best absorbed with a fat source, so eat a small amount with your sweet potato, says Ansari. One healthy pairing is olive oil, which you can drizzle over your spuds before baking them. Another way to add healthy fat is to eat sweet potato alongside avocado, chopped pecans or walnuts.