Best Food for Nutritional Value: The Sweet Potato

In many American homes, this nutrition-packed food is cooked up as sweet potato casserole for holiday meals. But once you know all the facts behind this good-eating and good-for-you food, you may want to add it to your regular meal plans.

Background of the Sweet Potato

Ninety percent of the world’s sweet potato crop is grown in Asia; with this vegetable being the sixth principal food crop of the world. North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and California produce most of the crop in the United States.

Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes when Christopher Columbus arrived on America’s shore. George Washington grew the vegetable on his Mount Vernon farm and George Washington Carver showed farmers how sweet potatoes as a rotation crop for cotton renewed the soil. Through many years of working with the vegetable, Carver was able to show its value as an economically-valued nutrition source.

In the United States, sweet potatoes are often referred to as “yams.” True yams, another vegetable but only distantly related to the sweet potato, grow in Asia and Africa and may grow as large as 100 pounds. What Americans call yams are sweet potatoes originally grown in this country from a Puerto Rican-derived variety of the vegetable that has orange flesh.

Nutrition Information for the Sweet Potato

One sweet potato, weighing 200 g baked in skin without added salt provides 180 calories, 4 g protein, 0.0 g fat, 41 g carbohydrates and 7 g dietary fiber. The fiber in one sweet potato provides one-fourth of the suggested daily allowance for dietary fiber.

This one sweet potato provides over 7x the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, 65 percent of the RDA of vitamin C and eight percent of the RDAs of iron and calcium. The vegetable is also a good source of vitamin B6, potassium and manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, niacin and thiamine.

Sweet potatoes provide antioxidants, causing them to rank high on the anti-inflammatory scale at 378, with the daily target number being 50. Antioxidants neutralize the affects of free radicals in your body. The body’s response to the presence of free radicals is to produce inflammation as part of the process of the body to rid itself of these foreign cells. Antioxidants destroy the free radicals before the body produces a response to it, halting the natural inflammatory response.

One sweet potato has a glycemic load of 17; the same serving size of a baked russet potato has a glycemic load of 26. Glycemic load measures how a food in processed in your body in relation to increasing your blood sugar and how fast that increase occurs. White potatoes are considered to have a high glycemic load rating; sweet potatoes are in the moderate to high range. The Center for Science in the Public Interest explains that sweet potatoes have the lowest glycemic load of all root vegetables, thanks in part to the complex carbohydrates in this food.

Sweet Potato Ranked Top Vegetable for Nutrition

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, CSPI, is a forty-year-old nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that works to provide consumers with the most reliable and up-to-date information about the foods we eat. Nutritionists as CSPI ranked the sweet potato atop all other vegetables for its high nutrient values.

One of the ways to incorporate this vegetable in your diet is to use it to replace write potatoes or white rice at least once a week. Recipes abound using the sweet potato, such as whole wheat sweet potato muffins or sweet potato pancakes. Recipes such as the muffins and pancakes should be used to substitute for those foods, not as an addition to your diet because of the calorie content. But using them as a substitute when you would be eating muffins or pancakes already allows you to enjoy the nutrition of the sweet potato while still eating some of your favorite foods.

Sources: FoodReference.com: Food Facts & Trivia
Food Reference.com: Sweet Potato Nutrition
NutritionData: Sweet Potato
Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
Center for Science in the Public Interest