Food EducationHealthIngredients

10 Proven Health Benefits of Sweet Potato, According to Science

Whether you bake them to eat whole or make them into a pie, sweet potatoes offer a host of health benefits. These tasty tubers help everything from your belly to your heart.

While many associate the health benefits of sweet potato to those of the regular white potato, the two really can’t be compared. Sweet potatoes contain nearly ten times the amount of vitamin A found in a white potato, and they’re known to help battle inflammation and fight cancer.

Health Benefits of Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes contain a ton of nutrients. While the name sounds deceiving, these root veggies won’t cause your blood sugar to go haywire.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, and contain plenty of vitamin A, C, and manganese. They’re also a great source of vitamin B6, potassium, copper, niacin, pantothenic acid and magnesium.

Here are 10 reasons you should start including more of these brightly-colored bulbs into your diet.

1. They Help You Manage Type 2 Diabetes

According
to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 100 million Americans
currently suffer from diabetes or prediabetes [1]. This is when your body
becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. It can also occur when your body
doesn’t produce enough of the substance. Insulin is a hormone that governs how
your body metabolizes glucose, a form of sugar it uses as fuel.

Symptoms
of Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination: When your body stops using
    sugar correctly, it tries to expel the excess through urine [2].
  • Increased thirst: When you go to the restroom
    frequently, you grow thirsty as your body tries to replace lost fluids.
  • Hunger: Because your body needs to
    metabolize sugar properly for fuel — but can’t — you feel famished. You don’t
    often lack calories, but rather nutrients. However, overeating leads to weight
    gain.
  • Fatigue: Because your body isn’t
    getting much fuel, even when you eat a lot, you feel tired.
  • Blurry vision: Diabetes hurts your eyes and
    can lead to blindness when left untreated.
  • Infections: Your body has fewer
    nutrients available to fight germs, meaning you get sick more often. Women with
    Type 2 diabetes often experience frequent yeast infections.
  • Slow-healing sores: Similar to infections, your
    body lacks the nutrients it needs to speed healing.

Despite
their name, sweet potatoes won’t
cause your blood sugar to rise dramatically when eaten in moderation.
Purple sweet potatoes may prove especially beneficial. They contain anthocyanins, substances that reverse Type 2 diabetes and
obesity by changing the way your gut absorbs carbohydrates [3].

2. They Can Decrease Cancer Risk

Did
you know that 85% of breast cancer cases occur in people with no family history
of the disease [4]? This strongly suggests
that lifestyle factors, such as diet, influence your chances of developing this
disease more than genetics.

Sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamin A. Researchers evaluated the efficacy of foods rich in this vitamin for combating lung cancer. Study participants who regularly consumed sweet potato leaves significantly reduced their risk of developing this disease [5]. You can toss the leaves in with a salad to boost your intake.

The protein found in sweet potatoes also possesses special cancer-fighting properties. It turns out that over 80% of the protein in sweet potatoes is a type of protease inhibitor with potential anti-cancer effects. 

These proteins have been tested against colorectal cancer cells, one of the most common and deadly cancers. Not only do these proteins slow down the growth of colon cancer cells, but they may also decrease cancer cell migration and invasion. 

Most
people remove the peels of their sweet potato. While you can certainly enrich
your compost pile this way, you’re missing key nutritional benefits. Sweet
potato peels contain antioxidants that fight cancer-causing free radicals in
the body. Free radicals damage cellular DNA and eventually lead to mutation and
cell death. Scientists implicate oxidative stress from these toxins in the
development of various diseases, including multiple forms of cancer.

3. They Lower Your Blood Pressure

Sweet
potatoes contain high levels of potassium and magnesium, two essential minerals
that keep your heart healthy. Unlike regular spuds, you can fry sweet potatoes
without raising the sodium or calorie count [6]. They make a delicious
snack on their own or as a side dish with any meal.

The
high potassium content in sweet potatoes helps your body cancel out the
negative effects of salt. It aids your kidneys to function more efficiently so
you can flush excess sodium from your body, lowering your blood pressure
naturally.

Too
much pressure on the veins puts stress on them. This increases your risk of
stroke and congestive heart failure. Merely swapping out regular fries for
sweet potato ones can make a big difference to your cardiovascular health.

4. They Decrease Inflammation

Many
people today suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid
arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Sweet potatoes contain choline, a natural
anti-inflammatory compound that can ease the pain [7].

Purple
sweet potatoes work best when it comes to fighting inflammation. You can mash
them up for a colorful twist on a comfort classic [8]. Top them with
low-calorie, low sodium toppings like salsa.

5. They Are Nutritional Powerhouses

You
can find over 25 varieties of sweet potatoes at American grocery stores. All of
these tasty tubers have unique phytonutrient profiles. However, they share many
essential vitamins and minerals in common.

Just
one sweet potato contains more than half your recommended dietary intake of
Vitamin C. They supply more than a quarter of your daily vitamin B6 [9]. They even contain
significant levels of protein — all in 180 tiny calories per tuber.

6. They Protect Your Eye Health

One
sweet potato contains nearly 800 times the recommended daily allowance of
vitamin A. This
vitamin is essential for vision because it’s needed to form rhodopsin, a
protein that absorbs light in the retina [10]. This improves your ability to see even
in dimly-lit conditions.

Sweet potatoes also contain
moderate levels of zinc, another important mineral for eye health. The
Age-Related Eye Disease study evaluated the efficacy of zinc in preventing
macular degeneration. They discovered eating foods high in the mineral
significantly reduced the severity of age-related macular degeneration and
warded off blindness resulting from the condition.

Try whipping up a vegan
sweet potato casserole that combines the delicate flavor of these spuds with
the nutty goodness of pecans. It makes a terrific alternative to
marshmallow-laden holiday side dishes and pairs perfectly with cauliflower
steaks or tofurky.

7. They Aid in Digestion

Sweet
potatoes contain high levels of fiber. Fiber helps you maintain healthy body
weight by making you feel fuller longer. Additionally, this substance draws
water to your large intestine, lubricating your bowel movements and making them
easier to pass. If you suffer frequent constipation, reach for one of these
colorful roots.

The
way you cook sweet potatoes influences the amount of fiber you consume. For
maximum intake, try baking sweet potatoes as opposed to air frying them. You
can drizzle them with a bit of olive oil for healthy fat and a bit of moisture.
This method of preparation does increase the glycemic index slightly, but it’s
still lower than a regular spud.

8. They May Boost Your Fertility

Vitamin
A does much more than promote good eye health. It may boost your fertility as
well. Deficiency in this nutrient can lead to secondary infertility in women of
childbearing age [11].

Sweet
potatoes also contain significant levels of iron. Women with iron-deficient
anemia often develop infertility. The good news? By rectifying the underlying
lack of this mineral, many women conceive within the first year.

Further
research indicates that increasing the intake of this mineral may help
stimulate the ovaries to release eggs. If you and your partner have struggled
to get pregnant, try adding more sweet potatoes into your diet. Mix up some
baked chips to eat instead of salty, store-bought crisps with no nutrient
value.

9. They Promote Healthy Brain Function

Diets
rich in fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes result in a 13% lower risk of
cognitive decline [12]. In addition to causing
cancer, free radicals can damage cells in the neurological system. This
includes your brain and spinal cord.

One
study indicates combining cordyceps mushroom extract with sweet potatoes
improved learning and memory in mice [13]. Try roasting these
colorful tubers with mushrooms and marjoram for a brain-healthy treat before a
big exam or work presentation. The mental boost you receive can help you excel.

10. They Support Your Immune System

Both
vitamins A and C improve
your immune system function. Vitamin A protects epithelium and mucus integrity in the
body [14]. Your epithelium lines the outer surfaces of your internal organs,
protecting them from infection. It makes up the top layer of your skin or
epidermis — as a bonus, upping your intake of sweet spuds may leave your skin
glowing and more radiant.

Your
mucus carries infection from your body via your nasal passages and throat.
Healthy levels of mucus help prevent germs from entering your body in the first
place. If bugs do get past your defenses, increased mucus production helps
flush them out more quickly, helping you feel better.

Your
body needs vitamin C to heal and repair cells. Your body cannot manufacture
this nutrient the way it can vitamin D, which requires adequate light exposure
[15]. This means you need to
consume it in foods or supplement form. Since supplements vary widely in
quality, you’re better off getting an appropriate amount through your diet.
Consuming additional vitamin C decreases the span of the average common cold by
one and a half days in many people.

10 Solid Reasons to Eat More Sweet Potatoes

Whichever
way you
prepare them, sweet potatoes provide high levels of necessary nutrients.
They benefit your overall health in multiple ways and can help you look and
feel your best. Stock up next time you go to the farmers market and reap the
various benefits.

sweet potatoes on blank white background with text - sweet potatoes fight inflammation, nourish the nervous system, boost fertility and reduce cancer risk

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