“Superfood” is a term that gets thrown around easily these days, from a $15 acai bowl to an $18 batch of granola with goji berries and cacao nibs. But, technically, “superfood” is nothing more than a marketing term. In short, it’s any nutrient-dense food that comes with health benefits regardless of price. Now that it’s winter, our focus is on sweet potatoes—an affordable root vegetable packed with health benefits.
Although sweet potatoes are available year-round, they are often associated with the flavor of fall and winter. The cooler months inspire us to use it in a variety of dishes like sweet potato pancakes—vegetarian of course.
Sweet Potato Nutrition
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and packed with various vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds.
They are a good source of carbohydrates, which provide the body with energy, as well as vitamins A, C, and B6, plus manganese and potassium. Sweet potatoes, like white potatoes, are more nutritious when you leave the skin on.
“Sweet potatoes have multiple health benefits,” Rhyan Geiger, RDN, and founder of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian told VegNews. “[These include] Reduces the risk of cancer due to the pigment called beta-carotene, improves digestion and regularity from the fiber content, maintains eye health due to the high content of vitamin A, and boosts the immune system due to the vitamin C content. Overall, it’s a delicious nutrient-dense option.”
5 Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
In the kitchen, sweet potatoes — often mistakenly called yams — are a delicious multi-tasking ingredient that can be very good for you. Even better, they tend to be on the affordable side, averaging $0.75 to $1.80 per pound, according to the cost information website, ThePricer. Below, we’ll go through the health benefits of sweet potatoes and ways to use them this season.
1 They are anti-inflammatory
Beta-carotene, a natural pigment found in orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, all types of winter squash and carrots, helps reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
The same goes for anthocyanin, a flavonoid responsible for the vibrant red and purple colors in fruits and vegetables like purple sweet potatoes. A study of Taiwanese purple sweet potato found that the plant extract could even be used in anti-inflammatory and anticancer treatments.
2 Good for your gut
Sweet potatoes are a great source of dietary fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate that feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut. “Some studies have shown that sweet potatoes can increase healthy gut bacteria,” adds Geiger.
This starchy root vegetable actually contains two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber increases healthy gut bacteria, which, in turn, helps improve digestion. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation. Overall, adequate fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber is also known to reduce your risk of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
3 They can protect your eyesight
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, which is essential for preserving your vision and preventing night blindness as you age.
A study published in the journal Clinical interventions in aging suggests that beta-carotene and vitamin E – of which sweet potatoes are also a rich source – both play important roles in eye health and may help protect against age-related eye disease.
4 Boosts your immune system
Vitamin A plays many roles in your overall health. This important micronutrient helps ensure your body’s natural defenses function properly, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Specifically, vitamin A helps maintain mucous membranes that trap bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. It also helps the body produce white blood cells, which travel through your body, protecting it from attacks by bacteria, fungi and parasites.
Analysis of the benefits of vitamin A suggests that it may be beneficial in the treatment of various diseases because of its effects on the immune system. More research is needed, but it predicts that vitamin A will eventually pave the way for modern therapies.
5 Improves skin health
“Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, or pigments that give them their orange color,” Geiger says. “Our bodies convert these carotenoids into vitamin A, which plays an important role in maintaining healthy skin.”
Topical vitamin A—also known as retinol—is commonly used in skin care products to treat acne, improve elasticity, and reduce hyperpigmentation from sun damage.
Sweet potatoes can also help improve acne, which is an inflammatory skin disorder. A study published in Journal of Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology suggests that vitamin A and E deficiency can make acne worse. It also suggests eating more whole foods rich in these nutrients to reduce how bad flare-ups are.
Both orange and purple sweet potatoes (thanks to their anthocyanins) may also help improve psoriasis symptoms. This autoimmune disease is characterized by dry, itchy patches of skin.
6 They contain antioxidants
As mentioned above, sweet potatoes, both orange and purple, contain a variety of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds found in plant foods that inhibit oxidation, which causes the production of unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are believed to play a role in cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Sweet potatoes prove that superfoods don’t have to come with a high price tag. Geiger suggests embracing their versatility. “Potatoes are so versatile that they can be prepared in so many ways and transformed into almost any dish,” he adds. Boil, mash, air-fry, roast and stuff, roast, add chili – if you’re not already cooking with sweet potatoes, now’s the time to start.