What's So Healthy About Sweet Potatoes?

Not only do they taste great—they're super nutritious.

The word "sweet" might raise alarm bells for sugar-cautious eaters, but sweet potatoes are among the healthiest foods in the produce department, says Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, a New York City-based dietitian. Indeed, sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses, and they are one food most dietitians can agree is a healthy option for nearly everyone.

So what's so healthy about them? First and foremost, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A, which is considered to be a "nutrient of concern" by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. "That means most Americans aren't eating enough of it," Knott says. "And high intakes in the form of supplements can be toxic, so it's important to get vitamin A from food." One cup of sweet potato has more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.

Sweet potatoes also pack a lot of heart-healthy potassium, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamins C and E. These and other nutrients in this root vegetable offer a wide array of benefits, 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 some basic cooking ideas from Knott.

"Try roasting the chunks with oil, salt, and pepper as a side," she says. "Or bake the whole potato in the oven and use it as a base for a stuffed potato. Pureed sweet potato is also great to mix into oatmeal or 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:

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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. Vitamin A can prevent vision damage, while helping to 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 of a veggie-forward meal, you'll get more than 500 percent of your daily vitamin A.

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They help maintain healthy blood pressure.

You hear a lot about keeping your salt intake down in order to maintain 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 and eat more potassium.

"Sweet potatoes are a source of potassium, another 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 2,320 milligrams for women and 3,016 milligrams for men over age 20 according to National Institutes of Health. "One cup of sweet potato has about 450 milligrams," Knott says. If you eat a whole potato, you'll get nearly 1,000 milligrams.

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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.

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They're great for digestion.

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.

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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 worth it. Among them is a type of carbohydrate that provides 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 or into a chili at night. Or consider roasting them with cheese. In any form, they'll provide your body with a lot of essential nutrients and plenty of delicious flavor.

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