Why are sweet potatoes better than regular potatoes?

by 20469 · June 11, 2013 at 05:50 PM

Why are sweet potatoes supposed to be so much better than regular potatoes? So far, the only significant thing I see is that sweet potatoes have a lot more vitamin A, but since I already get megatons of vitamin A from other foods, I'd really rather have less vitamin A than more. And the only other benefit I can see is that sweet potatoes are not a nightshade. But besides that one thing, I am confused why sweet potatoes are supposed to be so much better. I was expecting to see some kind of giant nutrient difference between the two, so I was surprised not to find much. Am I missing something? Is it just the colored antioxidant thing or is there more?

Edited to add: Also, looks like regular potatoes might be higher in iron, magnesium, and potassium.

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22684 · January 13, 2011 at 01:18 PM

I eat both. White Potatoes require more prep.

Glycoalkaloids are why you can't eat white potatoes raw. It's why green white potatoes are scary. Absolutely always peel your white potatoes.


Sweet potatoes(not yams, yams have their own prep) don't have glycoalkaloids, and could be eaten raw, tho digestion might be an issue. To be fair tho trypsin inhibitors are found in sweet potatoes and make them unwise to eat raw, cooking deactivates the enzyme

You also have Nightshadeswhich are acommon enough allergy to have each person test for themselves. Again white potatoes but not sweet potatoes. There is supposed to e a lower lectin amount as well.

I still peelthe sweet potatoes as the lectins it does have and any fungal attack or anything from the ground will be mostly contained in the skin.

why-are-sweet-potatoes-better-than-regular-potatoes? This is my current potato of choice, slightly better nutrient profile, and more anthocyanins(antioxidant) than blueberries! why-are-sweet-potatoes-better-than-regular-potatoes?

9551 · January 13, 2011 at 09:39 AM

Alright, let's stack them up side-by-side.

Potato. Family: Solanaceae (Nightshades). Genus: Solanum. Origin: South America.

Toxic things inside: I think that the original fuss with potatoes may have been the lectins. The site paleodiet.com, whose author Don Wiss famously removed his link to Free The Animal amid the great potato uproar (the relevant two posts from Richard are here and here) links to an article in the BMJ, the British Medical Journal, that includes potatoes among the likely sources of dangerous dietary lectins. By the way, about the potato uproar: it should be noted that Wiss's objection to potatoes in Richard's post was not in defense of sweet potatoes as opposed to regular potatoes, but in defense of fruit as opposed to tubers: the fruit is designed to be eaten, but the tubers are not. But I would presume that Wiss would object to the special dangers that potatoes have as members of the nightshade family, for arthritis and so on.

Now, the nightshade issue aside, the other big offender in the case of potatoes is glycoalkaloids. This is what Stephan points to as a bigger offender than the lectins in the second post of his potato series (here; you can also get to parts one and three of the series easily), drawing on this study. But with the varieties available in the United States you don't really have to worry about this if you're not eating a zillion potatoes a week. (The nasty stuff is in fact in the skin, so it helps to peel.)

Advantages: complete proteins, lots of nice nutrients, etc.

Sweet Potato. Family: Convolvulaceae. Genus: Ipomoea. Origin: South America. (How did we all come to think otherwise?)

Toxic things inside: I don't know as much about this. Stephan says: "sweet potatoes contain goitrogens, oxalic acid, and protease inhibitors."

Yam. Family: Dioscoreaceae. Genus: Dioscorea. Origin: Africa and Asia. Sweet Potatoes are sometimes called yams in the United States. But apparently if you call a sweet potato a yam on your packaging then you also have to call it a sweet potato. I don't know anything about these guys, but if you're looking for an old-world tuber that is often mistaken with sweet potatoes, then go for yams.

The balance. I like this comment from Stephan:

We can measure the nutrient and toxin content of a food, and debate the health effects of each of its constituents until we're out of breath. But in the end, we still won't have a very accurate prediction of the health effects of that food. The question we need to answer is this one: has this food sustained healthy traditional cultures?

I still think it could be too limited as a method, but the real question is: do we have any other choice? Anyhow, Stephan has used this method in a number of posts and has come to the conclusion that both potatoes and sweet potatoes are healthy in moderation. With preparation, or the right preparation, the benefits can outweigh the disadvantages (which may not even be such great disadvantages, if the human body can handle small doses of the poisons these plants contain). As for whether "goitrogens, oxalic acid, and protease inhibitors" are worse than lectins or glycoalkaloids in the amounts in which they are found in the two foods, I have no idea. Potatoes seem to have a little more protein than sweet potatoes, and I don't think that sweet potatoes have the "complete proteins." But since most of us are not really eating potatoes for protein, this probably isn't an issue. For us the greater potassium and magnesium in potatoes might be more relevant. If you're looking for a food from the paleolithic era rather than from the neolithic era, neither one can help you.

1930 · January 13, 2011 at 09:05 AM

Well looking at a basic nutrition data comparison between

Sweet potatoes have slightly better protein quality, with more lysine.

Potatoes seem to have a superior n3:n6 balance (43:13 vs 60:4)

Minerals are a tossup.

Sweet potatoes have roughly 5x the amount of sugar, but a little more fiber and about half the starch.

Vitamin wise sweet potatoes have:

  • Much more A
  • 2x the C
  • Vitamin E (potatoes have none)
  • A touch more K
  • More thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid
  • Less folate
  • More betaine

2557 · January 13, 2011 at 10:26 PM

I don't like the taste of sweet potatoes. Potatoes go well with many condiments, sweet potatoes do not.

As for the whole thing about it being healthier than potatoes, that makes little sense and I think it is based on some things like potatoes being a nightshade, being called "white" potatoes (so it reminds people of white flour and grains), and being so starchy so people think it is so much like grains.

60 · November 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM

Long live potatoes.

30 · August 21, 2012 at 02:10 PM

"I don't like the taste of sweet potatoes." The taste can be improved by fermenting them.

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39204 · January 13, 2011 at 06:34 PM

I'm going to switch off between purple standard potatoes and various types of sweet potato. I have not yet been able to source purple sweet potatoes in my area.

From my experience of just a couple of days, I can say without hesitation that a greater amount of starch, and thus a lesser amount of fructose is highly desirable if one wishes to more toward restoring their natural level of appetite. As such, standard potatoes would likely be the better choice if weight loss is your primary goal currently.

Either one of these options will inflate one's appetite far less than an equivalent amount of carbohydrates consumed in the form of fruit.

4171 · January 13, 2011 at 01:58 PM

Stephen, did I miss the name of that potato? Is that a white sweet potato? I saw some that looked like this at the farmers market last week and almost bought some but wasn't sure if the preparation is the same so I skipped it then forgot to google it!

250 · June 11, 2013 at 05:50 PM

I prefer sweet potatoes because of their place on the glycemic index and the insulin response that place predicts. The numbers I've seen have put the sweet potato at a 39 on the glycemic index; while a white potato clocks in at over 50. That's a noteworthy difference. Layer onto that the fact that sweet potatoes do happen to be higher in nutrients and antioxidants, and you've got a pretty compelling argument to lean toward the consumption of them over white potatoes.

0 · June 11, 2013 at 09:35 AM

Certain people are making a whole livelihood out of food, aren't they. All this worry about what to eat... Anti-nutrients, lectins, oxalic acid, n3 /n6 ratios ,etc, etc. Don't worry, I am sure if you are eating real foods and have healthy gut fauna then the food will be processed by your body and used for the best.

499 · February 16, 2013 at 05:51 PM

I thought Robb W. recently 'revisited' this topic on one of his podcasts. I just tried to find it and couldn't. If I recall correctly he said that the white potatoes really are pretty close to sweet potatoes in nutrient value, white does have a higher glycemic hit, and he is concerned that white potatoes are easier to binge eat than sweet potatoes. Ultimately (again if I recall correctly) he felt they were ok in moderation but as always you had to take into account your goals, lifestyle, activity level, current metabolic state, and tinker with them to see how you react to them.

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