Of the thousands of vegetables available today, sweet potatoes are considered one of the most nutritious. The orange- (or sometimes purple) fleshed vegetables are loaded with minerals and A, B, and C vitamins. This has led to sweet potatoes being called a superfood by many.
What is a Superfood?
“Superfood” is layperson term coined in part by the media, which means that a food is purported to have particular benefits to health due to either its nutrient content or other molecules it contains (such as antioxidants). These are also commonly called “functional foods” in the scientific literature.
Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, sweet potatoes are also a good source of dietary fibre; along with vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. This “superfood” is also known to be a
superb source of vitamin A (as beta-carotene).
According to the USDA, a medium sized (2-inch diameter, 5-inch length), whole sweet potato contains:
• 103 calories
• 2.29g protein
• 23.61g carbohydrate
• 3.8g fibre
• Only 0.27g of fat!
A sweet potato is also rich in a number of vitamins and minerals, notably:
Vitamin or Mineral
Amount per Potato
% of Daily Intake
Vitamin A (as beta-carotene)
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Bear in mind that many sweet potatoes may be larger than this and provide even higher levels!
What Else is Inside?
Sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of beta-carotene (a molecule that is converted to vitamin A by our livers). This is why it’s a great source of vitamin A, particularly for vegans and vegetarians, as many other top vitamin A sources are animal based.
Although sweet potatoes usually have orange flesh, you can also encounter purple sweet potatoes. These potatoes are a special cross-breed which contain high levels of anthocyanins (which give the potatoes their distinctive purple hue). These anthocyanins are thought to be powerful antioxidants and may have a number of other beneficial health effects. This may mean that purple sweet potatoes are even more “super” than their orange cousins!
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes don’t just taste delicious, they can afford plenty of health benefits such as:
- Antioxidant Activity – Sweet potatoes contain high levels of carotenoids (including beta-carotene), which are good antioxidants. This antioxidant activity can reduce cell damage and impart protection against damaging chemicals from food or our environment.
- Anti-inflammatory Agency - The coloured pigments and anthocyanins found in these tubers can provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Blood Sugar Balance - Although starchy, the sweet potato has the potential to improve the regulation of blood sugar. This is because they contain high amounts of fibre. Bear in mind that boiled sweet potato has more benefit in this area than a baked sweet potato (because baking releases the sugars inside the potato).
How to Prepare Dishes with Sweet Potatoes
Make sure to scrub sweet potatoes well, as the tough skin can hold onto dirt. The skin is also usually tougher than a regular potato and may be less tasty. Bear in mind that by throwing away the skin you will also throw away some of the nutrients!
Also, keep in mind that the flesh of the sweet potatoes will oxidise quickly on contact with the air. So, make sure to cook with cut potatoes straight away to avoid this spoiling your meal!
As we already mentioned, boiled, rather than baked sweet potatoes may be better at controlling blood sugar (particularly important for diabetics). However, steaming may be an even better option, as it can reduce the amount of mineral and vitamins that are otherwise lost in the boiling water!
Because beta-carotene (vitamin A) is not soluble in water, but is in fat, consuming some dietary fat with your sweet potato can help you maximise your vitamin A intake. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take much. Only about 5g of fat consumed with the potato should be enough. Try having your steamed sweet potato pieces with a delicious piece of omega 3-rich fish like salmon!
The humble sweet potato’s antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral values make it a top contender as a “superfood”. Getting some in your diet could give your health a boost! But bear in mind that one single superfood on its own won’t make a balanced diet. Variety is the spice of life. Give a number of different fruits and veggies a go, plus complete protein sources (with all essential amino acids) and healthy fats.