When you think of sweet potatoes, you might imagine any one of several types. From sunset-hued garnet to a pleasing Okinawa crimson, this tuber of the morning glory family spans hundreds of varieties that vary in color and flavor. (Just don’t confuse them with yams, which have brown, shaggy skin, pale flesh, and a less sweet flavor.)
With a long history — more than 5,000 years, according to the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse — sweet potatoes have made a culinary impression worldwide. They are a staple in the cuisine of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. And while they were once relegated to overly sweet Thanksgiving casseroles in the United States, these days you can find sweet potatoes at the center of all kinds of delicious dishes, including curries, tacos, salads, and stir-fries.
However you prepare them, you’ll get a delicious, colorful result—and plenty of nutrients. Beneath their earthy shell are many nutrients, including high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and manganese. Not surprisingly, they lead to a host of potential health benefits. Here are seven to consider.
1. Sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar
Sweet potatoes tend to get a lot of press compared to their white potato counterparts—and for some health concerns, the hype may be warranted. One such example: their effect on blood sugar.
Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber than white potatoes, which can help stabilize blood sugar. For reference, a 1-cup serving contains 6.6 grams of fiber, compared to 2 grams of red potatoes per cup, as noted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Even though sweet potatoes are a starchy food, the fiber in them can help slow down the digestion of the sugars in the potato, leading to more stable rises and falls in blood sugar,” says Kelsey Lorenz, RDN, who is based in Saginaw, Michigan and is the founder of Graciously Nourished.
If you live with diabetes or another health condition that affects blood sugar, sweet potatoes can be a smart choice. “Watching your portion sizes of white or sweet potatoes is the most important part of blood sugar management. Stick to a small sweet potato or a cup of diced, baked sweet potatoes (or less) at a time,” recommends Lorenz.
2. Sweet potatoes support eye health
You’ve probably heard that carrots can promote healthy vision, but they’re not the only orange vegetable with this potential power. Sweet potatoes are also linked to eye health—and it all comes down to their abundance of vitamin A. They’re an excellent source of this nutrient, according to USDA data.
“Vitamin A can be good for overall vision health, along with possibly helping macular degeneration,” says Amanda Sauceda, RDN, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California. According to a study published in 2019 Antioxidants, beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) is one of several nutrients that contribute to a reduced risk of macular degeneration. In addition to potentially helping to prevent macular degeneration, vitamin A has been linked in some studies to a reduced risk of age-related cataracts. “Vitamin A is so important to your eyes because of the role it plays for epithelial cells,” explains Sauceda. “These are the types of cells that cover all the surfaces of the body. This includes the surface of the eyes.
Another reason these tater tots are sweet on the eyes: their high beta-carotene content, as research confirms. “Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, which is a phytochemical that can be converted into vitamin A,” Sauceda says. “Along with other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, it helps support the health of the macula, which is the central part of the eye that provides the sharpest vision.”
3. Sweet potatoes can reduce systemic inflammation
Beta-carotene, which may improve vision, has some other potential tricks up its sleeve, including reducing inflammation. That’s because beta-carotene is an antioxidant—a dietary compound that “cleanses” the body’s cells of pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Consuming a lot of beta-carotene from sweet potatoes can have a ripple effect on overall health. “Several studies have found that low levels of beta carotene in the body are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease,” says Lorenz. A previous study published in Mediators of inflammationfor example, concluded that carotenoids have a general protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
Meanwhile, the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes is joined by other anti-inflammatory agents, including vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties, according to a previous study. (One cup of sweet potatoes provides an excellent source of vitamin C, according to the USDA.) And a study published in 2019 in Molecules found that antioxidant anthocyanins, responsible for the purple color of sweet potatoes, may protect against cancer, liver disease, hypoglycemia and other health problems.
4. Sweet potatoes can improve digestion
When you’re struggling with digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea, you’ll want to turn to sweet potatoes. “Sweet potatoes have soluble fiber that helps with easy and trouble-free bowel movements,” says Sauceda. This soluble form of fiber absorbs water in the colon, creating bulk and providing food for good gut bacteria, research shows.
Purple sweet potatoes can be especially helpful in taming diarrhea. An animal study published in 2021 in Food and function found that when mice with antibiotic-resistant diarrhea were fed purple sweet potatoes, it changed the diversity of their gut flora, alleviating their symptoms.
5. Sweet potatoes help protect cardiovascular health
Sweet potatoes’ unique combination of nutrients (and culinary versatility) make them a delicious option in a heart-healthy diet. “A 5-inch sweet potato has 4 grams of fiber, including soluble fiber, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Lorenz, a claim that’s backed up by research.
“You’ll also get 9 percent of your daily value for potassium from a serving of sweet potatoes,” Lorenz adds. “Eating potassium-rich foods helps lower blood pressure by helping your body get rid of excess sodium and helps dilate blood vessel walls, lowering blood pressure.”
6. Sweet potatoes can increase longevity
The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes may be one of the keys to getting more candles on your birthday cake. A meta-analysis published in 2016 in Scientific reports found that higher beta-carotene intake significantly correlated with a lower risk of death from any health cause.
Sauceda says this has to do (again!) with beta-carotene’s antioxidant effects. “Beta-carotene is thought to be able to prevent free radical damage. This damage can potentially lead to other processes that can lead to the development of chronic diseases,” she says.
Want to stick to even more beta-carotene in your tater tots? Try boiling them. This cooking method preserves more of this antioxidant than other methods, such as baking or frying, according to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
7. Sweet potatoes can help maintain a healthy weight
Because of their high carb content, you may not connect any kind weight-loss type of potato—but don’t overlook sweet tubers to reduce your number on the scale. In addition to keeping you feeling full between meals, their abundance of fiber adds to your daily goal (38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). According to research published in Journal of Nutritioneating more dietary fiber promotes weight loss and may even help people stick to their chosen diet.
If you want to lose a few pounds, be careful how you prepare your vegetables. Instead of pairing them with heavy or sweet ingredients like cream, butter, and sugar, try them in lighter recipes like salads, grain bowls, or simply roasted with olive oil. “Sweet potatoes are such a versatile vegetable that it’s easy to incorporate them into any meal of the day,” says Lorenz.