Sweet Potatoes: Healthy and Delicious Superfood!

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

“Garnet Sweet Potato”

Sweet potatoes are tubers with orange or yellow flesh inside and a thin skin which can be orange, red, brown, white, yellow, or even purple. Growers and supermarkets often mislabel sweet potatoes as “yams.” Although sweet potatoes can be found in markets year-round, they actually are in season during November and December. The two varieties at my local market are “jewel” and the darker-skinned “garnet,” both sweet and moist when baked. The reddish-brown garnet is sometimes considered sweeter and tastier than the jewel sweet potato, and the deeper, or more vibrant, the reddish color the better. However, both varieties are healthy to eat often, very filling, relatively low in pesticides compared with baking potatoes, and excellent nutritionally.

In contrast to sweet potatoes, true yams have starchier, light yellow flesh and a rough, brown skin; they are native to Africa and Asia, and an important staple in the Caribbean and parts of Africa. But yams are not as nutritious as sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious vegetables available and were recently rated #1 of all vegetables in nutrition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)! They are low in sodium, very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, have a low glycemic index (actual yams do not), and are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, and vitamin C. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that protects and maintains the health of eyes, skin, and linings of our respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. Foods rich in beta-carotene include carrots, squash, kale, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes which actually contain the highest levels of beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes also provide significant amounts of manganese, copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron, with relatively few calories (180 calories per 1 cup serving) (3). Try to include these naturally sweet vegetables in your meals throughout the year, and not just at Thanksgiving. 

Sweet potato, baked, with skin
1.00 each
77.00 grams
95.39 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 13107.70 IU 262.2 49.5 excellent
vitamin C 17.06 mg 28.4 5.4 very good
manganese 0.52 mg 26.0 4.9 very good
copper 0.26 mg 13.0 2.5 good
dietary fiber 3.14 g 12.6 2.4 good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.25 mg 12.5 2.4 good
potassium 306.05 mg 8.7 1.7 good
iron 1.46 mg 8.1 1.5 good

Health benefits of sweet potatoes (1):

  1. Rich in antioxidants (orange-hued carotenoid pigments), anti-inflammatory nutrients (anthocyanin), and blood sugar-regulating nutrients. Antioxidants reduce the risk of cell damage that can eventually lead to cancer and other diseases and have been shown to improve conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and diabetes.
  2. Rich in potassium which may help to prevent and/or regulate high blood pressure. One sweet potato provides about 1/2 the Recommended Dietary Allowance of potassium.
  3. Good source of iron which helps to reduce risk of anemia.
  4. High in complex carbohydrates which fill you up and can promote weight control, which in turn helps to control diabetes.
  5. Improved blood sugar-regulation, possibly because they are high in both complex carbohydrates, as well as, fiber which helps to reduce blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which food is converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream.
  6. Help reduce risk of birth defects.
  7. May reduce risk of cancer.
  8. May reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.
  9. Provide a low-fat source of vitamin E, nearly as much vitamin E as do fatty nuts and seeds. Vitamin E has been correlated with reduced risk of cancer, improved cardiovascular health and male fertility.
  10. May improve memory.

Tips for selecting and storing sweet potatoes:

  1. Select sweet potatoes that have a bright color, are firm, smooth-skinned, and without cracks or soft spots.
  2. Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry, dark, well-ventilated  place, but not in the refrigerator. Try to use them within a week.
  3. Baking sweet potatoes whole is the best cooking method for retaining nutrients, since most nutrients are near the skin. Note that a small amount of fat will enhance absorption of beta-carotene.


A. “Baked Sweet Potatoes”:

Ingredients: 6-10 Sweet Potatoes, either garnet or jewel, or a combination


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Scrub sweet potatoes well under cool water and carefully remove any obvious blemishes or bruises with the tip of a sharp knife.
  3. Pierce the skin of each potato with a fork to allow steam to escape during cooking, unless cutting was already done to remove blemishes and bruises.
  4. Arrange sweet potatoes on a large baking or cookie sheet which provides firm support and is lined with aluminum foil to reduce clean-up time. Bake until tender and caramelized: Small potatoes may be done within an hour; medium-size potatoes within 1-1/2 hours; large potatoes within 2 hours. Usually the longer the potatoes cook, the sweeter they become. Since oven thermostats may vary, check potatoes before end of cooking time, to make sure they don’t dry out too much. (I tend to cook many medium/large potatoes at a time and have found that 2 hours at 400-degrees seems best, for my oven.)
  5. When time is up, remove baking sheet with potatoes from oven carefully, and allow them to cool a bit before serving. Baked sweet potatoes are delicious all by themselves with nothing added and can be enjoyed hot or cold, any time of the day, and even in place of dessert!. You may also wish to cut them open and mix in some unsweetened applesauce or crushed pineapple for extra moisture and sweetness.

(Oven baking allows sweet potatoes to caramelize wonderfully as they cook. If you do not have time to oven-bake them, microwave the potatoes according to your appliance’s directions. Otherwise, place 1 or 2 potatoes in the microwave on a paper towel or microwave-safe plate and cook on high for about 6-8 minutes. I have found that the “baked potato” cycle of my microwave results in a baked sweet potato that is drier, tougher, and less sweet, so I always use my oven.)

B. “Scalloped Sweet Potatoes”(2):

Serves 4

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)

1/4  cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup vegetable stock or water

1 teaspoon ground allspice

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the unpeeled sweet potatoes and enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes just begin to soften but are still relatively firm. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (about 16 slices). Place 4 sweet potato slices in a medium saute pan, arranging them in a circle and overlapping the edges slightly. Repeat the pattern with the remaining slices. Drizzle the orange juice and stock over the potatoes and sprinkle with allspice. Cover and set aside until ready to serve. Reheat in the oven if necessary.

C. “Simple Sweet Potato Fries”(2):

Cut sweet potatoes into thin slices, with a mandolin or sharp knife, toss with a bit of olive oil, pepper, and coarse salt, and roast on a cookie sheet, in a preheated 400-degree oven, for about 20 minutes, turning them occasionally. Since thinner pieces will cook more quickly, watch carefully to avoid burning them.

D. “Sweet Potato Oven Fries”(2):

Serves 4

Enough sprigs of rosemary to cover a baking sheet

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

2 medium or large sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), scrubbed and blotted dry

  1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Coat or spray a large baking sheet with olive oil, or line with parchment paper, or use an ungreased, unlined non-stick baking sheet.
  2. Spread rosemary sprigs on the baking sheet in a single layer, covering the entire surface.
  3. In a small bowl, blend the chili powder, cumin, paprika, pepper, and salt.
  4. Square off the potatoes by slicing off the sides lengthwise about 1/2 inch in from the edge. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips the size of steak fries, leaving the skin on. Slice remaining rectangles into 1/2-inch strips, also the size of steak fries.
  5. Lay potato strips on the rosemary sprigs in a single layer and sprinkle generously with the seasoning mixture. Drizzle or spray lightly with olive oil.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and drizzle or spray again lightly with olive oil.
  7. Return to oven for about 25 minutes, or until the fries are golden and puffed. Brush off rosemary sprigs and serve warm.


  1. Colton, Katherine. The Quick and Easy Way to Healing Foods. MJF Books: NewYork. 1999. pp. 94-95.
  2. Pratt, Steven and Kathy Matthews. Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life: Superfoods Rx. HarperCollins Publishers: New York. 2004. pp.  106-107, 213-214, 223-224.
  3. “Sweet Potatoes: The World’s Healthiest Food.” WHFoods:Sweet potatoes. The George Mateljan Foundation. 2011.(Source: whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=64)


Candis Galuszka November 25, 2011 at 6:26 am

Many thanks for your post! I really enjoyed reading it.

Johnathan Vrooman November 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I really value what you’re writing here. Keep working that way. Take care!

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