Unsurprisingly, sweet potatoes are mostly carbs. Its profile is supplemented by varying degrees of protein, with almost no fat. This might first seem unremarkable, but their high fiber content gives extra benefits. They certainly have a reputation of their own. Here we will summarize why that is and give a couple of neglected reasons for their greatness.
These are the main nutrients we’re all familiar with: carbs, proteins, and fats.
In fact, they only have 8% of the daily value of carbs and yet 15% of the daily value of fiber. Most of this is insoluble fiber, whose primary function is to speed digestion and add substance to stool. The rest is soluble fiber, which slows digestion, delaying or avoiding the supposedly inevitable carb crash as well as reducing LDL cholesterol in the blood stream.
Although packed with complex carbs, sweet potatoes have a surprising amount of sugars, the simplest kind of carb, at about 1/5-1/3 of its total caloric content. This places it somewhere between fruit and regular starchy nutrients calorically. Carbs are of course useful as the simplest energy source for the body to utilize.
Here’s where they get more unique: vitamins and minerals.
Fist of all, the quantity of provitamin A in a medium sweet potato is astounding: 300~400% of the daily value. That means you’d only need a third or less to rest assured about this crucial vitamin.
Provitamin A is what the body uses to make its own supply of vitamin A. Plants provide provitamin A, while animals give us the vitamin itself.
Aside from this, sweet potatoes serve as a good source of potassium and vitamin B6, providing 10~15% of the DV for both of them. Potassium is essential to muscular functioning and fluidic balance in the body, and B6 keeps the skin healthy. Both are also essential for proper nervous and cardiovascular health.
Pesticide and Organic Concerns
For those concerned about insecticides or avoiding GMO crops, the potential benefits go even further.
Aside from the aptly-named sweet potato weevil, most insect damage is only cosmetic and doesn’t lessen the crop’s nutritional value. This means that pesticides aren’t nearly as necessary as with other crops. As a result, they’re very convenient for gardeners and conscious shoppers alike.
Being highly genetically diverse, sweet potatoes are easy to mutate and diversify. This not only gives more options at the market, but it means that it’s easier for farmers to select for desirous traits and avoid the laboratory to boost yields.
Don’t Forget the Leaves!
The leaves are often an overlooked part of the plant, but they are highly nutritious.
Most often, leafy foods are associated with high fiber and mineral content, but sweet potato leaves go beyond that. Their level of crude protein is comparable to that of milk, which should encourage vegans and vegetarians. They’re also high in minerals, especially potassium, which most people lack. But maybe most interesting of all is their richness in polyphenols, which are an effective antioxidant.
[ See also: 5 Superfoods To Add To Your Diet (and 5 to ignore) ]
Nutrition means more than just numbers at the store.
Not only would you be helping yourself by consuming more sweet potatoes, but you might make a positive impact on the world around you. This applies especially to developing countries. That’s because sweet potatoes are one of the most efficient crops to cultivate. They require relatively little input and can may yield much more than their grain competitors in the right climates.
In a Fijian study without mechanized equipment, it was found that rice yielded 17 times the energy invested into it, while sweet potatoes instead yielded 60 times over! There may be a number of reasons for this.
One is that sweet potatoes yield relatively better than major cereals in tropical environments, though these areas are unfortunately never ideal for any mass cultivation. Another is that sweet potatoes take very little time to cover the area they’re planted in, so weeds are much less of a threat.
However, the areas which might most desperately need sweet potatoes lack sources of protein more than they lack carbs. So can sweet potatoes alleviate this problem? Unfortunately, what protein they have can’t compare with other major crops. However, in the tropics, sweet potatoes, yams, and even bananas can equal the protein produced by major cereals acre for acre.
While sweet potatoes are great and it might be important for many people to add them to their diet, be sure you don’t take things too zealously. After all, white potatoes are still a better source of potassium, and you never want to make yourself sick of a wonder food by overindulging in it.
That said, for all its reputation, it’s one of the most underused of all crops. Maybe that’s because statistics aren’t enough. Maybe people just need to give it a better chance!