Whoever does the PR for
sweet potatoes deserves a pay raise. Over the past few decades, these bright orange tubers have eclipsed their white potato friends as a “health food,” joining the ranks of chicken breast, broccoli, and brown rice on superfood lists and the menus of “health-conscious” chains like Sweetgreen.
But are sweet potatoes really that much healthier than regular potatoes? Beneath their brilliant color and all that good publicity, do they actually live up to the hype? To get to the bottom of these questions, we consulted two nutritionists and dug into the USDA’s nutritional analysis. Here’s everything you need to know.
Sweet Potatoes: Beyond the Peel
Sweet potatoes are unquestionably good for us. According to Kim Yawitz, RD, owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, MO, they are “incredibly rich in antioxidants” as well as a “great source of vitamin A and vitamin C.”
In fact, a 3.5-ounce serving of sweet potato boasts over 100 percent of our daily recommended Vitamin A intake. That’s a huge benefit because “diets rich in…Vitamin A can also protect against macular degeneration,” Yawitz says, keeping our eyesight strong later in life.
As for all those antioxidants? Yawitz says that they may protect us against a myriad of problems, including “liver damage, memory loss, cognitive decline, high cholesterol, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.”
In addition to all these virtues, sweet potatoes are also higher in fiber than regular potatoes, boasting 3 grams per 100-gram serving (regular white potatoes only contain 1.5 grams). And, due to all that fiber which causes them to release their energy more slowly, they also tend to have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes. This makes them a better choice for diabetics, or anyone trying to regulate their blood sugar. There’s no denying it: sweet potatoes have a lot of good attributes.
Regular Potatoes: Still Got Skin in the Game?
In the face of sweet potatoes’ flashy nutritional benefits, regular potatoes might seem to (literally) pale by comparison. And while they’re outclassed in certain categories, they definitely take the prize in others. According to Ally Mast, RDN, they’re a “good source of potassium,” a mineral which may help lower our blood pressure and risk of stroke. They’re also full of “Vitamin C” and “provide almost half the [recommended daily] intake for Vitamin B6.” Yawitz also says that they’re a “a good source of resistant starch,” which “feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and can help stabilize the blood sugar.”
When it comes to caloric content and the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, regular potatoes are basically identical to sweet potatoes. A 100-gram serving of both contains “2 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrate… and less than one gram of fat,” Yawitz says. Regular potatoes contain 92 calories per serving. Sweet potatoes contain 90 calories. So swapping sweet potatoes for regular potatoes isn’t necessarily a sure-fire ticket to weight loss.
The Root of the Matter
Sweet potatoes offer a plethora of nutritional benefits, but they’re not necessarily healthier than regular potatoes. They might be the better option for people with certain conditions, however. Mast notes that they’re a “better choice for individuals with cystic fibrosis or Crohn’s disease” since those people are at a “higher risk of Vitamin A deficiency.” But in general, both can be part of a healthy diet, so you shouldn’t feel obligated to eat only sweet potatoes if you’re really craving just a straight-up baked potato.
Whichever potato you choose, keep in mind that how you prepare it will also play a big role in its nutritional value. Any potato—sweet or regular—will lose most of its nutritional value if you throw it in the deep-fryer and shower it with salt.