White potatoes are a staple for many Americans, but switching them out for sweet potatoes can make a huge difference on the path to a nutrient-dense diet.
Quick note: while sweet potatoes are healthier and make a perfect substitute for potatoes sometimes, white potatoes also have their own benefits and are fine to include once in awhile.
Why Should I Eat Potatoes in Moderation?
Potatoes score high on the glycemic index scale, meaning that they are quick to elevate your blood sugar levels and cause a subsequent crash. Potatoes are virtually all carbohydrate and are (unfortunately) typically prepared in very unhealthy ways (think french fries, chips, tater tots, etc.). Fried potatoes have been heavily linked with obesity.
Also, potatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants, and research shows this family can, for many people, cause symptoms of inflammation, and can especially contribute to joint pain and arthritis.
Key Differences Between White and Sweet Potatoes
Both have their nutritional benefits, but sweet potatoes definitely come out on top. In terms of calories, sweet potatoes offer almost 60 calories less per serving (per medium-sized potato or sweet potato). Potatoes are also much higher in carbohydrates and much lower in vitamin A (sweet potatoes actually offer 438% of the RDA for vitamin A per serving). However, white potatoes are higher in potassium and a few other important nutrients and offer slightly more protein than sweet potatoes.
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family of vegetables and offer some unique health benefits (not to mention they taste delicious, although be careful not to eat them only in pie underneath marshmallows).
High in Fiber
Sweet potatoes (similar to potatoes) are mostly carbohydrate with trace amounts of protein. However, research shows that sweet potatoes are very high in fiber, which slows down the processing of starch and sugar, making them a better choice for maintaining stable blood-sugar levels than white potatoes.
Rich Source of Plant Compounds and Nutrients
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, E, C, and B vitamins, and the mineral manganese. They are also rich in plant compounds that play a distinct and important role in the human body, such as beta carotene, anthocyanins and coumarins. Their bright orange-reddish color means they are quite high in antioxidants.
Best Dietary Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A deficiency can cause vision problems and even blindness, as well as a weakened immune system. Sweet potatoes are one of the single best food sources of vitamin A, especially those with bright orange coloring.
Great for Satiety
Sweet potatoes fill you up in the same way that bread, pasta, or grains would, while offering much higher nutrient content and less empty calories. Instead of choosing rice or a refined carbohydrate (such as bread or pasta) with your meal, next time try serving one small or half of a large baked or boiled sweet potato, topped with a dab of coconut oil or grass-fed butter and salt to taste.
Not to be Confused with Yams
Sweet potatoes beat yams by a long shot in terms of their health benefits, so don’t be confused. Yams are higher in calories and carbohydrates and offer less nutrient value (although they are slightly higher in potassium). Again, they are not an unhealthy food, by any means, but sweet potatoes are nutritionally superior.
How to Use Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be incorporated into your diet in many of the same ways that white potatoes can. Have them as your complex carbohydrate alongside a meat and veggie dish to make a nutritionally balanced meal, grate them to make potato pancakes for your kids (top with cinnamon and applesauce), or indulge in sweet potato fries. Use them in dips, hashes, roasted vegetable medleys, or even on pizza. See this list for more ideas.
For a quick and easy side that the whole family will love, whip up these sweet potato fries with coconut oil:
Sweet Potato Fries Recipe
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes, washed (peel if they are not organic)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1 tsp dried or fresh thyme
- 1 tsp dried or fresh rosemary
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400F.
- Cut your sweet potatoes into wedges (you decide how thick or thin you prefer them).
- On a large, rimmed baking sheet, spread out your sweet potato wedges and evenly coat them with your oil (you might need to melt it first), herbs, salt, and pepper. Make sure the wedges are evenly spread over the baking sheet.
- Place them in the oven for about 30 minutes, taking them out once to stir. They might take a bit longer to cook, depending on the thickness of your fries.
- Remove and serve.
Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM
Rachel is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Certified Personal Trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has also undergone training in Functional Medicine under Dr. Daniel Kalish. Rachel has worked both in her own private nutrition and fitness practice in San Francisco, California, as well as in the realm of public health with a nonprofit complementary medicine clinic for women with cancer in the bay area, and an integrative medicine NGO in Nicaragua, focusing specifically on diabetes prevention and support. She is passionate about bringing affordable, quality healthcare to all, and in her free time enjoys singing, getting outside and spending time with her family.