6 Sweet Potato Health Benefits That Prove Potatoes Can Be Healthy

Not only do they taste great—sweet potatoes are super nutritious.

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," says Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, a New York City-based dietitian. "You can buy them pureed in a can, frozen in chunks, or whole in the produce aisle." But are sweet potatoes actually healthy?

The word "sweet" might raise alarm bells for sugar-cautious eaters, but sweet potatoes are among the healthiest foods in the produce department. Indeed, sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses, and they are one food most dietitians can agree is a healthy option for nearly everyone. Here are several sweet potato nutrition facts and benefits to consider.

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Better Eye Health

"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.

Vitamin A is considered 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 getting vitamin A from food is important."

According to the National Institutes of Health, if you eat a whole medium sweet potato (the size of the 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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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 foods high in 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."

According to the National Institutes of Health, 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. "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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Ideal Cholesterol Levels

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 LDL and overall cholesterol 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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Improved Digestion and Health

There are actually two kinds of fiber in sweet potatoes: soluble and insoluble. Knott says the second kind is good for your digestive tract and bowel movements. Eating a bit of fiber at each meal can keep things moving well.

Sweet potatoes also contain prebiotics, substances which help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and can promote the growth of healthy bacteria. Wellness experts see a strong connection between gut health and overall health.

And since sweet potatoes pack a lot of heart-healthy potassium, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamins C and E, they offer a wide array of other disease-fighting benefits as well. Health experts say these nutrients can ward off diseases like cancer and decrease a person's risk for diabetes.

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Increased 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 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 bread, white rice, etc," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide for Every Runner. "They provide long-lasting energy."

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Easy to Prepare

Sweet potatoes are healthy. Their assortment of vitamins and minerals makes them a wonderful addition to a regular weekly meal plan. They're easy to prepare, too.

You can look for sweet potato recipes for inspiration or 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."

Sneak them into a chili at night, or consider roasting them with cheese. In any form, they'll provide your body with many essential nutrients and delicious flavors.

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