Potatoes are practical and delish, but they’ve gotten a bit of a bad rap, nutritionally speaking. Sweet potatoes have swooped in as a trendy tater alternative, and so began the sweet potato vs. potato health debate.
But are sweet potatoes truly healthier than potatoes? Nied asks. She writes that Keri Gans, MS, RDN, nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet, and Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, get to the root of this dietary dilemma.
Sweet potatoes (they are not yams) pack a lot of nutrients to back up their superfood status. “Sweet potatoes have several health benefits, including anti-inflammatory nutrients and blood sugar-regulating nutrients,” says Angelone. The color largely determines how much beta carotene is in a sweet tuber, she adds: A brighter, deeper orange hue signals more of the nutrient, which your body turns into vitamin A.
“If you are solely looking for vitamin A, then a sweet potato is your pick, hands down,” says Gans.
How about regular potatoes—are they healthy? Potatoes are a starch, which may give you a knee-jerk negative reaction—but it’s time to get over that once and for all, according to the nutritionists. “They do get a bad rap, but I believe that it is unfounded,” says Gans. “Just because a food has starch, that certainly doesn’t make it unhealthy. It is simply a form of carbohydrate.” (Btw, sweet potatoes contain starch, too.)
The starch in potatoes is a resistant starch, which helps regulate blood-sugar levels and contributes to satiety. Plus, potatoes actually top the satiety index (a handy measure of how full people feel after eating specific foods) as the number-one most filling food.
If you put sweet potatoes and potatoes in the ring and let them duke it out, it would be a fair fight. Both types of taters are healthy in their own right, and sweet potatoes and potatoes are very similar on nutrition stats.
Both contain vitamins with a head-to-toe impact and are covered in fiber-rich skin. “Vitamin A is important for eye health, vitamin C for a healthy immune system, B6 is needed for metabolism and our nervous system, and potassium is associated with regulating blood pressure,” says Gans.
The bottom line: While sweet potatoes have a slight edge on white potatoes because they contain more antioxidants, both options are nutrition-packed picks — as long as you don’t fry them.