What are the benefits of eating sweet potatoes?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@emmatalkshealth
@EmmaThornton
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16 May 2021

What are the benefits of eating sweet potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are a great source of dietary fibre, which benefits your gut health and helps you feel fuller for longer. They are also packed with nutrients and antioxidants including magnesium, beta-carotene (vitamin A), and vitamin C, which make them nutritious and anti-inflammatory. Plus, they count towards one of your five a day.

The health benefits of sweet potatoes

So, let's explore the main health benefits of sweet potatoes in more detail.
Sweet potatoes are especially healthy because they are:

1. Super nutritious

Sweet potatoes are packed full of nutrients, it's that simple! Interestingly, their vibrant colour is a dead giveaway. Did you know, (although it isn't a fail-safe method) that vibrantly-coloured fresh foods are generally more nutritious? Think vibrant reds, oranges, purples and greens (and no, beige doesn't count!).

In the case of lovely orange and red tones, these are often down to a generous beta-carotene content, and this is certainly the case for sweet potatoes. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, and plant-based sources of this antioxidant are just the ideal way to acquire this nutrient.

Vitamin A is fantastic for protecting the health of our eyes, plus, some lesser-known benefits include maintaining the integrity of our mucous membranes. These special membranes line the length of our respiratory tract, for one, which are very important for protecting us from cold and flu infections. If these become dried out or damaged, it can make us more vulnerable to infection so it's definitely worth stocking up on sources of this helpful fat-soluble nutrient.

Next, a quick mention of the vitamin C content. Vitamin C is fantastic for supporting the cells of your immune system, (1) plus, sweet potatoes prove you don't always need to be eating fruit in order to hit your quota! If you want to be extra sure you're getting enough, though, you can of course supplement a varied diet with our 1-a-day Immune Support supplement.

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2. One of your five a day

Unlike conventional white potatoes, sweet potatoes count towards one of your five a day -just one more reason to be eating more of them! However, that's not to diss white potatoes; as a nutritionist if they're a wholefood, then they're usually all good in my book!

White potatoes still contain a decent array of nutrients including an impressive vitamin C content, potassium, magnesium and iron, to name a few, sweet potatoes just go a little step up in terms of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity. Plus, sweet potatoes are generally a little gentler on our blood sugar levels than their white counterpart, as we'll go on to discuss.

3. Good for gut health

You might have heard that sweet potatoes are good for you gut, and believe me, I like nothing more than some gut-healthy foods!

The main reason that sweet potatoes are so good for your gut is the type of carbohydrate they contain. They contain a good dose of dietary fibre, which is arguably the best form of carbs we can opt for. Your average sweet potato contains around 4g of dietary fibre, which means you are already 8% of your way towards meeting your daily quota with just one serving of these beauties.

Dietary fibre helps to keep your digestive tract itself healthy and, therefore, helps to reduce the risk of disease states that can reside there. However, actually sufficient fibre is important for a number of whole-body effects, including encouraging healthy cholesterol levels.

Including some dietary fibre with every meal is also important for maintaining healthy blood sugar responses, which is important in the fight against some other unhealthy states, such as pre-diabetes.

4. Satiating - it helps keep you fuller for longer

Another perk of eating fibre-filled wholefoods is that they can help to keep us feeling fuller for longer. This can be linked back to the effects of the complex, slow-release carbs and the fibre content, as this can help to slow the release of the natural sugars contained in the food.

Now, this very area may be up for some debate when it comes to sweet potatoes: they taste sweet, so are they really healthy? Well, this sweetness comes from a naturally-occurring sugar element called maltose, which is a good start. Now, technically, how you prepare your sweet potato can impact exactly how it effects your blood sugar levels, and therefore it can vary in where it scores on the 'glycaemic index' table. Interestingly, chopping your sweet potatoes into smaller chunks/and or cooking them using quicker techniques such as boiling could mean that they come in slightly lower on the glycaemic index table as less of the starch content is hydrolysed into maltose during cooking. So, this might be preferable to some.

However, for me, especially if you keep the skins on, sweet potatoes are perfectly acceptable in any form. Just like anything else, as long as they aren't eaten in excess, of course. Another helpful strategy is to pair them with some lovely sources of protein or healthy fats which will instantly squash any questionable glycaemic index scores anyway; plus, back to my original point, leave you feeling even fuller, for even longer – result!

5. An anti-inflammatory food

Much like many fresh, whole-foods, sweet potatoes also boast some anti-inflammatory properties. Underlying inflammation can risk undermining a number of systems in the body, including the immune system. The anti-inflammatory properties of sweet potatoes are largely a result of the many nutrients and antioxidants they contain which are very protective of many of our bodily cells.

Interestingly, when it comes to achieving a more anti-inflammatory state, you can have a lovely double-whammy effect by adding something like more sweet potatoes to your diet. Not only are you eating more good foods but by default you're also more likely to be reducing your intake of pro-inflammatory foods including more processed items so it's a win-win situation.

6. Suitable for both sweet and savoury dishes

Although I say it about lots of my favourite fresh food ingredients, sweet potatoes really are so versatile! Not only can you cook them in lots of different ways including baking, roasting and boiling them for mash, actually, they can be used in an array of both sweet and savoury dished due to the lovely natural sweetness they provide. Check out my recipe video for my Spicy Sweet Potato wedges recipe below:

For kids and adults alike, sweet potatoes can work alone in their various forms as a nutritious side dish, or they can also work well when incorporated into stews, curries or soups, to name a few. I've posted some links to some of my favourite examples below:

Then, interestingly, due to their natural sweetness and lovely indulgent texture sweet potatoes can also work well being incorporated into sweet dishes such as brownies or sponges, and again, can often replace some less favourable ingredients such as refined sugar or lots of butter – yum!

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