Sweet potatoes are versatile, delicious, and packed with health benefits. Learn all about these nutrient packed spuds and find recipes for side dishes, soups, salads, entrees, and more.
The Ultimate Guide to Sweet Potatoes including nutritional info, healthy benefits, how to cook it, and tons of delicious recipes.
No matter what you call it — sweet pa-tae-toe, sweet poe-tat-toe (I think you can do that bit with a sweet potato, right?) — these yummy little yams are making a comeback on menus everywhere. From bars (sweet potato fries) to bistros (sweet potato and chickpea curry) you bet these sweet orange babies are here to stay.
I know some of you might still be hung up on the sweet potato, thinking its only purpose is to provide the quintessential Thanksgiving side dish. You know the one — baked in butter and too many spices then doused in sickly-sweet marshmallows? I hate that dish, and I always have.
So you can imagine how hard-pressed I was to imagine eating a sweet potato outside of Thanksgiving. And, because I’m now a grown up and it’s my job to eat healthy foods and to create healthy recipes, I tried them again a few years ago. And they’re good! So good, in fact, I like to pretend the Thanksgiving sweet potato atrocity never happened. And it’s been banned from any and all holiday festivities in my house. The sweet potato can make an appearance, but not like that.
So just how good are sweet potatoes? Well, not only can you eat them just like a regular, old, run-of-the-mill potato, but they can also be made into fries, tater tots, veggie noodles, and soup. (Just remember, though, by frying them, adding tons of butter, oils, or otherwise serving them in an unhealthy way will nearly negate all the good you’re trying to add to your diet.) And, they also pair nicely with all sorts of proteins and vegetarian dishes as well. Want to know more about what makes sweet potatoes a star? Read on!
Are Sweet Potatoes Good for You?
Although all kinds of potatoes are actually not that bad for you and are chock full of vitamins and nutrients, sweet potatoes rise to the top of the tuber pack. The antioxidant beta-carotene is what gives the potato its orange color. That, plus other micronutrients, cancer-fighting capabilities, and a low glycemic index number all add up to one super spud.
The Nutritional Makeup of Sweet Potatoes
One medium, raw, five-inch sweet potato contains 112 calories, 2 grams of protein, less than a gram of fat, 26 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of sugar. It also contains a lot of mighty micronutrients, anti-inflammatory properties, and plenty of calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus plus folate and vitamin C.
The Health Benefits of Eating Sweet Potatoes
Even if you’re just not a sweet potato fan, don’t worry, you will be after you read how good they are! There are plenty of ways you can incorporate sweet potatoes in your diet — and plenty of reasons why you should want to. From warding off cancer to reducing inflammation and from being easily digestible to keeping your skin looking younger, the reasons for eating the sweet sweet potato are many.
- Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene. One of the best sources, in fact. This is one thing all orange fruits and veggies have in common — they owe their orange to the beta. One cup of sweet potatoes will provide you with 375% of your daily recommended allowance. I’d say that’s about as good as it gets.
- They are anti-inflammatory. Everyone has inflammation in their bodies. There’s just no getting around it. For every scrape, cut, bruise, broken bone, sneeze, upset stomach, or basically any and every little thing gone “wrong” there is an immune response triggered in your body, which leaves you with inflammation. Sometimes this inflammation lingers long after the “problem” has disappeared. Sometimes it never disappears. But, we can try to help it along by eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties that can help our bodies help themselves. Sweet potatoes — they can help with that.
- They can help fight aging. Carotenoids (like beta-carotene) serve as antioxidants in your body, which help protect your cells from the sun’s harmful rays, secondhand smoke, pesticides, and other pollutants. These, in turn help to prevent you from looking older than you are by protecting and exfoliating your skin.
- Sweet potatoes are good for your digestive system. Although not one of the more fibrous foods I’ve ever come across, sweet potatoes are no fiber slouch. Every little bit helps to keep you feeling fuller, longer, and to help keep your digestive system running smoothly.
- Sweet potatoes are better for your blood sugar. Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index number. Foods with lower GI numbers tend to not stimulate hunger or contribute to obesity like higher-glycemic-numbered foods. Foods on the lower end of the GI scale are considered better for your blood sugar overall. Unfortunately, sweet potatoes are still considered a high-carb food. That means, if you are following a low-carb diet, sweet potatoes will most likely be on the list of foods not to eat.
- Sweet potatoes are low-fat. They contain less than a gram of fat per an entire sweet potato — I’d say that’s about as low-fat as they get. That means, if you are trying to eat low-fat foods, or to incorporate only healthy fats into your diet, then sweet potatoes are basically a “free pass,” fat-wise.
- Sweet potatoes make a good substitute. If you need to thicken a soup or swap-in a better-for-you starch, then sweet potatoes are your jam. It’s also a smart swap for pastas and rice in a meal.
- Sweet potatoes are gluten-free. If you are looking for a starchy veggie that is gluten-free, look no further than the sweet potato.
What’s the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?
Frankly, nothing. Whether the orange potatoes are marked “yams” or “sweet potatoes,” it makes no difference, they are all sweet potatoes or a variety of a sweet potato. There was some confusion when orange sweet potatoes were swapped for white ones shipped in from Africa a few decades ago. But yams and sweet potatoes aren’t even related. It’s kind of confusing. There are, after all, 16 varieties of sweet potato, so odds are pretty good that, no matter what the label says, what you’re buying is probably a sweet potato.
Is a Sweet Potato a Carb or a Vegetable?
Sweet potatoes are tubers and tubers are considered starches, not vegetables. But don’t be too bummed out — some starchy “vegetables” have nutritious properties too! But, alas, you can’t really say you’ve eaten your veggies if you had sweet potato fries with your lunch. You’re still going to have to eat your broccoli.
How to Buy and Store Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are available year-round, but are technically a winter crop. When buying sweet potatoes, look for ones that have the roots still on, if possible. Skinny sweet potatoes keep just as well as the bigger ones, so size doesn’t matter. However, you want them to feel heavy for whatever size they are. Skip any that have bruises or soft or bad spots or look like they are about to sprout. The skin of an orange sweet potato should be the same all the way around, but it can be mottled in lighter varieties.
Once you get your potatoes home, you don’t really have to do much with them. Store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place (like a pantry, perhaps?) and skip the fridge. Refrigerating them can make the centers hard and make them taste bad. They can keep for up to two weeks, but if I’m being honest, I’ve kept them longer than that. If they look bad, toss them out. It really is that easy.
How Do You Dice a Sweet Potato?
That’s a great question. I usually don’t sweat it if all my pieces aren’t the same size (I try to get as close as possible, though) and I also don’t mind to leave the skin on. But, if you want uniform pieces or you want your food to look professional (guests perhaps), or even if you’re just honing your knife skills, this is the proper way to achieve those perfect squares.
- Peel your potato.
- Cut off the ends.
- Square the potato as much as possible by cutting off the other four round edges.
- Slice your square into half-inch pieces.
- Take those smaller square pieces and cut those into half-inch, large-fry-like logs.
- Cut those logs into half-inch dices. Viola!
- Note: Save your scraps. You can always roast the potato peels or use the scraps for nutrient-packedchili, stew, or cooked into a soup (especially if you’re going to puree it anyway).
What Is the Best Way to Cook a Sweet Potato?
I’ll go into several recipes below, but if you’re looking for just simple, straight-up directions for baking a sweet potato in the oven, I have you covered. First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash your sweet potato and vent it with a fork or a knife to allow heat to escape. Sprinkle it with salt and wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil. Place it right on the rack and bake for about 40-60 minutes, or until a knife stuck into it reveals it’s nice and soft in the middle.
However, if you’re looking for something a little more creative, you know I can certainly help you with that. Read on to discover some of my favorite ways to incorporate sweet potatoes in my meals.
Side Dish Ideas
Sheet pan recipes are so easy, and sweet potatoes seem to be just made for them. When you tire of boring old, white potatoes, give me a call. I’ve got your sweet potato sides right here in this One Pan Roasted Salmon, Sweet Potatoes, and Asparagus, One Pan Blackened Cod, Sweet Potatoes, and Zucchini, Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges, or these Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Carrots.
You can put sweet potatoes in salads. I mean, you make Russet potato salads, right? Just cook them first and toss them with other yummy ingredients for a nutritious lunch or dinner entree. Some of my favorite dishes include this Sweet Potato and Avocado Kale Salad (with or without salmon), Southwestern Sweet Potato, Kale, and Quinoa Salad, or this Dairy-Free Curried Sweet Potato Salad.
On the grill
These recipes for Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Black Beans and Cilantro Pesto and Grilled Honey Mustard Sweet Potato and Vegetable Kebobs are delicious any time of year. Or try these Grilled Sweet Potatoes and Vegetable Foil Packets if you’d rather not do the dishes (which is probably always, right?).
Soups and Stews
Sweet potatoes complement ground turkey or chicken quite nicely, especially in soups and chilis. Try this Whole30 Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili, Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Lentil Stew or a nice bowl of Slow Cooker Chili Quinoa and Sweet Potatoes to warm you up on a cold evening.
If you can have hash browns or diced potatoes with your brunch, then there’s no reason you can’t have sweet potatoes, right? Sweet potatoes still give you that starch you crave, but with slightly more nutrients and a starch that keeps you fuller, longer. Those were my thoughts exactly when I made this Sweet Potato and Spinach Breakfast Casserole, this Sweet Potato, Avocado, and Tomato Toast, and these Sweet Potato and Spinach Egg Muffins.