9 Health Benefits of Sweet Potato

James Colquhoun JAMES COLQUHOUN

If you’re a lover of french fries and mashed potato, but dedicated to living a healthier lifestyle, you’ll probably have met their nutrient-packed cousin, the sweet potato. In America, sweet potatoes, or yams, are often used in sweeter dishes or for festive occasions, but here at Food Matters, we love to use them in everything! Think sweet potato fries from a trendy dive bar or an upgrade to your simple steamed veggies.

But aside from its delicious taste, why are people going crazy over this carb? Here are nine of my favorite health benefits of sweet potato that will make it your new dinner staple.

1. Lower Glycemic Load

For those with weight issues, diabetes, or who have been flagged with pre-diabetes, taking note of the glycemic load of foods is crucial to good health. While sweet potato does still offer a glycemic load of its own, it is greatly reduced from that of traditional potato, making it the perfect one-for-one substitute in any meal. 

2. More Nutrient Dense

At Food Matters, we have always encouraged nutrient-packed a more is more approach to food. That’s not necessarily in terms of caloric intake or portion size, but rather we believe in building in as many vitamins and minerals into one meal as possible. Sweet potatoes, compared to traditional potatoes, are a great way to do that. They are a rich and diverse source of fiber, vitamins A, C & B6, and the essential minerals manganese, potassium, and copper.

3. Supports A Thriving Immune System

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are one of the richest natural sources of beta-carotene, a plant-based compound that is converted to vitamin A in your body. And if beta-carotene sounds familiar to you - here’s why. As we begin to talk more openly about natural ways to support immunity, we increasingly seek out foods rich in beta-carotene. This is because Vitamin A is critical to a healthy immune system, with low blood levels linked to reduced immunity.

4. Promote Thriving Gut Health

As sweet potatoes punch well above their weight as a healthy source of fiber, they contribute to thriving digestion and in turn, incredible gut health. These vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble types of fiber, which is optimal for healthy digestion. Some of these fibers are also fermented by bacteria in the colon, creating short-chain fatty acids that support the cells of your intestinal lining, by keeping them healthy and strong.

But not only is their rich fiber content gut supporting, so too are antioxidant compounds found in sweet potatoes, which encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria. The Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species, in particular, have been associated with better gut health and lower incidences of IBS and infectious diarrhea. 

5. May Offer Cancer-Fighting Properties

While it’s difficult to label foods claiming to “cure” or “prevent” cancer, thanks to recent research we are able to quite easily define those that offer cancer-fighting properties. Many of the antioxidants offered from sweet potatoes have been shown to protect against cancer development in research trials, which is sufficient evidence to support these claims.

Anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants found in purple sweet potatoes, have been found to slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells in test-tube studies, including those found in the bladder, colon, stomach, and breast. Orange sweet potatoes have also been shown to contain similar properties. And while this evidence is compelling, there are still ethical boundaries preventing human trials.

6. Supports Healthy Vision & Eye Health

Remember the beta-carotene that is crucial for immunity? Well, it’s equally as important for optimizing vision and eye health. After beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, it is used to help support light receptors in the eyes, which is vital for healthy vision. The anthocyanins found in sweet potatoes have also been shown to protect against cell damage in the eyes.

7. Improves Brain Function

Anthocyanins, the powerhouse compound in sweet potatoes that can do no wrong, has also been proven beneficial in supporting brain function and longevity. These compounds have been shown to reduce inflammation and free radical activity, which can lead to cell death and impair brain function. Not only do anthocyanins prevent these negative effects, but some studies have also shown they can improve learning and memory receptors in animal studies.

While these effects are still yet to be proven in human-related trials, there is compelling evidence to suggest that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables leads to a lowered risk of mental decline and dementia.

8. Help To Manage Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading health concerns of our generation. Not only does it impact the body physically, but it has a profound effect on all aspects of our lives. Sweet potatoes also contain a significant amount of magnesium, which research has shown is beneficial in reducing the impact of stress and anxiety in the body. With magnesium deficiencies globally being linked to a rise in depression, it’s reason enough alone to incorporate sweet potato into your next meal.

9. Protect The Body Against Ulcers

If you’ve ever had an ulcer, you’ll know how painful and problematic the small site of inflammation can be. Ulcers occur due to the shedding of inflamed tissue (often triggered by stress), but the methanol extract found in sweet potatoes has been linked to decreased occurrence of ulcers, especially those related to aspirin and other painkillers.

Just when you thought sweet potatoes couldn’t get any more delicious, they bring a whole new range of health benefits to the table. Because of this, we chose to feature sweet potatoes throughout our signature Clean Eating Program as a kitchen staple. Want to learn more about the program? Discover it all, and more, here.