Health & Wellness, Nutrition

What’s So Sweet About Sweet Potatoes? 7 Nutritional Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

When it comes to plant-based complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are my go-to food! They’re filling with a slightly sweet flavor that I absolutely adore. But, it’s not just the taste I love—the many nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes are what truly make them one of my favorite foods. There’s nothing like eating a delicious meal and knowing that you’re providing your body with quality nutrients that support optimal health. Plus, it’s so easy to bake or roast a sweet potato or even add it to one of your favorite recipes, making it a really versatile food.

Let’s take a closer look at the many nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes as well as some of the many ways you can enjoy eating them! If they aren’t already, I’m sure sweet potatoes will become one of your favorite foods in no time!

 

7 Nutritional Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

The nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes stem from the fact that they’re loaded with many vitamins and minerals—from vitamins A and C to magnesium and potassium. They’re even rich in fiber and many health-promoting antioxidants. Here are seven of the amazing nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, some of which may surprise you!

1. Help strengthen your immune system

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant known as a carotenoid that produces a red/orange pigment in certain plant-based foods. While beta-carotene is commonly associated with carrots, it actually exists in great abundance in sweet potatoes.

Amazingly, beta-carotene is a precursor for vitamin A, meaning your liver actually converts any beta-carotene you consume into this health-promoting vitamin. And, when this happens, it helps your body to both prevent and fight infections.

In fact, studies have shown that a vitamin A deficiency actually impairs your natural immunity by blocking the normal regeneration of your mucosal barriers. [1] This makes adequate beta-carotene consumption vital because mucosal barriers actually keep the bacteria and toxins in your environment from regularly entering into your body. So, anytime you have an inadequate intestinal mucosal barrier, it allows more microbes and toxins to enter your body, which can result in inflammation. [2]

Moreover, these barriers allow water, nutrients, and other health-promoting factors to enter into your body, keeping you healthy and your immune system strong.

2. Can help manage stress and anxiety

When it comes to the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, their ability to help manage stress and anxiety is one not to be missed. You see, one sweet potato contains 30 to 35 mg of magnesium.

Why does this matter? Well, magnesium is very involved in producing the very neurotransmitters that help to keep you calm. In addition, magnesium is also involved in producing cortisol, which is the hormone produced to help your body adapt during times of stress. So, when you aren’t getting enough magnesium, you’re at an increased risk of higher stress levels as well as more bouts of anxiety.

In fact, one animal study revealed that a magnesium deficiency could increase both anxiety and depression. [3] And a 2014 study revealed that lower levels of antioxidants were linked to symptoms of anxiety. [4]

Give their magnesium and antioxidant content, it’s easy to see how regularly consuming sweet potatoes could support your body’s stress response and help to fight anxiety.

3. Support digestion

Sweet potatoes are also a great source of soluble fiber, which supports a healthy gut.

As you now know, the state of your gut is linked to many other health conditions, making gut health critical for overall health. In fact, a 2018  study revealed that purple sweet potatoes actually act as a prebiotic by promoting the growth and development of healthy gut bacteria. [5]

Additionally, a 2020 study showed that the dietary fiber in sweet potatoes significantly increased the amount of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus (good bacteria) in the microbiome. These bacteria are known to improve digestion as well as absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. [6]

4. May help improve memory

Just as the antioxidant beta-carotene provides plant-based foods with a red or orange color, the antioxidant anthocyanin provides them with a purple color. But the difference here is that foods known to contain anthocyanin are typically referred to as “superfoods,” thanks to this antioxidant’s many health properties.

In fact, anthocyanin, which is famously found in high amounts in purple sweet potatoes, has been shown to enhance memory as well as boost focus in animal studies. [7] Furthermore, research has shown that consuming foods rich in anthocyanin boosts focus and attention in children.

According to a 2012 study, children aged 7 to 9 consumed either a control beverage (with no anthocyanin), a beverage containing a moderate amount of anthocyanin, or a beverage containing a fairly large amount of anthocyanin. The children were then asked to complete certain memory- and focus-related tasks. The researchers found that memory, attention, and focus were all significantly better in the children who consumed the anthocyanin beverage than those who drank the control beverage. [8]

5. Support eye health

When it comes to the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, we can’t ignore their ability to support eye health. And, once again, we can largely link this back to its vitamin A content and beta-carotene content.

Did you know that vitamin A has been shown to help soothe eye inflammation? One study followed 12 patients who had a type of eye inflammation known as superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis. The researchers found that using eye drops containing vitamin A were found to be an effective treatment in 10 of the 12 patients. [9]

Additionally, a 2019 study revealed that vitamin A consumption improved the quality of tears in patients with dry eye, exhibiting how helpful vitamin A can be for eye health. [10]

6. Contain anti-inflammatory properties

Sweet potatoes are also known to fight inflammation—once again due to its vitamin A and beta-carotene content. In fact, studies have shown that having adequate levels of vitamin A can actually help fight inflammation by keeping your immune system from overacting.

According to a 2017 review, both clinical trials and animal studies have shown that consuming carotenoids reduced systemic inflammation in young infants as well as neuroinflammation in people with brain injuries. [11]

Furthermore, the researchers stated that consuming vitamin A, in select cases, could improve inflammation. They also surmised that vitamin A’s positive effects on both the immune system and the integrity of epithelial tissue (the protective tissue surrounding your organs and blood vessels) are the main mechanisms in preventing disease.

7. Support healthy blood sugar levels

Finally, the last of the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes is the ability to fight diabetes by supporting healthy blood sugar levels.

In 2008 study, researchers conducted a trial on 27 patients with type 2 diabetes. They found that consuming an extract of sweet potatoes improved the participants’ insulin sensitivity, fasting glucose, hemoglobin, and triglycerides. [12]

Also, a 2011 study revealed that consuming sweet potatoes helped to manage blood sugar levels, especially compared to white potatoes. The researchers stated that due to their ability to minimize post-meal blood sugar spikes, sweet potatoes could aid in managing type 2 diabetes. [13]

 

Nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes - Dr. Pingel

 

Baked, Roasted, Mashed, and More: The Many Ways to Eat Sweet Potatoes

As I mentioned above, you can enjoy the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes in many ways. Whether you prefer them baked, roasted, boiled, or mashed, sweet potatoes are delicious and will provide the health benefits you’re seeking.

But, just in case you want to try a few recipes, I’ve provided a few links to some of my favorite preparations. They vary from pizza crusts to side dishes to dessert-inspired muffins, so you can choose from recipes that feature sweet potatoes prominently or those that incorporate it without making it a featured ingredient. Take a look at the list below and see which appeal most to you:

I hope you find these recipes delicious and filling—I know my family does. And the best part? You can eat them with confidence, knowing you’re filling your body will all the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes and leading your body toward optimal health!

 

Key Takeaways

  • There are many nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, making them one of my favorite foods.
  • Some of the top health benefits include: boosting the immune system, fighting stress and anxiety, supporting digestion, boosting memory, supporting eye health, fighting inflammation, and supporting healthy blood sugar levels.
  • You can eat sweet potatoes baked, roasted, mashed, or as ingredients in many different recipes.

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