The word “sweet” might raise alarm bells for sugar-cautious eaters, but sweet potatoes are among the healthiest foods in the produce department at your grocery store or in the aisles at the farmers’ market, says Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, a registered dietitian based in New York City. Indeed, sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses, and they are one food most dietitians can agree is a healthy option for nearly everyone.
Beyond their pleasant, delicately sweet flavor and tender, almost creamy texture, these spuds boast a variety of healthful benefits that make putting them on your lunch or dinner plate routinely a worthy goal. They’re a good source of vitamin A, for example.
“Vitamin A is considered to be a nutrient of concern per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, meaning most Americans aren’t eating enough of it,” Knott says. “It’s important to get vitamin A from food, however, since high intakes in the form of supplements can be toxic.”
They also pack a lot of heart-healthy potassium and fiber, as well as antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Many other nutrients in the root vegetables have a variety of benefits, too, from warding off diseases like cancer to decreasing a person’s risk for diabetes. Unlike some superfoods or splashy fruits of the moment, sweet potatoes are light on your wallet and food budget. You can afford to eat them regularly and reap the rewards.
“Sweet potatoes are relatively inexpensive and have a long shelf-life,” Knott says. “You can buy them pureed in a can, frozen in chunks, or whole in the produce aisle.”
They’re easy to prepare, too. You can look for sweet potato recipes for inspiration, or you can follow these basic cooking ideas from Knott.
“Try roasting the chunks with oil, salt, and pepper, as a side or bake the whole potato in the oven and use as a base for a stuffed potato,” she says. “Pureed sweet potato is also great to mix into oatmeal or to use in a smoothie.”
If you need even more permission to slice into a steaming potato every once in a while, consider the good the potatoes are doing for your body.
They keep your eyes healthy
“The orange color [of sweet potatoes] is due to the beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body,” Knott says. “One cup of sweet potato has more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.”
Vitamin A can prevent vision damage, while helping keep the cornea hydrated and healthy. Vitamin A can also stop the clouding of the front of the eye, which will impede vision and reduce sight.
If you eat a whole medium sweet potato, the size of spud you might eat with fish or as the main dish on veggie-forward meal, you’ll get more than 500 percent of your daily vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes help maintain healthy blood pressure
You hear a lot about keeping your salt intake down in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure, but potassium works within your body to balance out negative effects caused by too much sodium, like bloating and high blood pressure. The right approach to keeping your ticker moving might be finding a way to do both: limit salt, eat more potassium.
“Sweet potatoes are a source of potassium, a nutrient most Americans don’t get enough of due to our limited intake of fruits and vegetables,” Knott says. “Potassium plays an important role in regulating blood pressure, maintaining fluid balance, and is important for muscle contraction and kidney function.”
The average healthy adult’s daily goal for potassium should be 4700 milligrams. “One cup of sweet potato has about 450 milligrams, or about 10 percent of your daily needs,” Knott says. If you eat a whole potato, you’ll get nearly 1000 milligrams.
Sweet potatoes keep cholesterol in check
Oats get a lot of praise as a heart-friendly source of soluble fiber, but sweet potatoes aren’t far behind them. Knott says the soluble fiber in sweet potatoes creates a gel-like substance when it’s breaking down in the digestive tract. This substance then blocks the absorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream. If your numbers are borderline or high, adding soluble fiber-rich foods like sweet potatoes may help you knock down your score a few notches.
Sweet potatoes keep you regular
Fiber is good for more than your heart. It’s good for your digestive tract and your bowel movements, too, Knott says. Eating a bit of fiber at each meal can keep things moving well.
Sweet potatoes give you better energy
Yes, sweet potatoes have more grams of sugar than the white variety, but those sugars are couched with a lot of healthy nutrients that make the few extra grams in your daily total worth it. Among them is a type of carbohydrates that provide even, steady energy for hours.
“Sweet potatoes are a source of complex carbohydrates, which means they take longer to digest than simple carbs, such as white breads, white rice, etc.” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide for Every Runner. “They provide long-lasting energy.”
The bottom line
Sweet potatoes are healthy. Their assortment of vitamins and minerals makes them a wonderful addition to a regular weekly meal plan. Sneak them into smoothies in the morning, have a stuffed sweet potato at lunch, or consider using them as the base of a sheet pan of nachos for dinner. In any form, they’ll provide your body with a lot of essential nutrients and plenty of delicious flavor.
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