Five Reasons to Eat More Sweet Potatoes

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From cognitive protection to immune support here are five compelling reasons to incorporate sweet potatoes into your everyday diet

Sweet potatoes are more than just a popular staple food serving as a sweet appetizer, side dish or filling snack on their own. This starchy root vegetable has plenty to offer when it comes to achieving optimal health. Sweet potato is a common food source for many indigenous populations in Africa, Central and South Americas, the Caribbean and Hawaii.[i]

It's an excellent source of natural compounds, including beta-carotene and anthocyanins. The high concentration of these compounds in the root crop, paired with its stable colors, make sweet potato a healthful alternative to synthetic coloring agents in food. Let's take a closer look at five ways that sweet potatoes benefit overall wellness.

1. Rich Nutrition Profile

One cup of cubed sweet potatoes provides the following:[ii]

Water -- 103 grams (g)

Energy -- 114 kilocalories (kcal)

Protein -- 2.09 g

Carbohydrate -- 26.9 g

Fiber -- 3.99 g

Sugar -- 5.56 g

Calcium -- 39.9 milligrams (mg)

Iron -- 0.811 mg

Potassium -- 448 mg

Phosphorus -- 62.5 mg

Sodium -- 73.2 mg

Vitamin C -- 3.19 mg

The orange and purple varieties are rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid and vitamin C.[iii],[iv] There's an abundance of colors of sweet potatoes worldwide, including white, yellow, orange and purple. In the American market, however, sweet potato typically has a deep-orange flesh color, a skin color of light to medium rose, copper or red, a sweet flavor and moist texture.[v]

2. Enhanced Memory and Cognitive Health

A 2013 study found that a purple sweet potato extract rich in caffeoylquinic acids led to a neuroprotective effect on the brain of animal models, potentially helping improve spatial learning and memory.[vi]

Purple sweet potato color comes from a class of naturally occurring anthocyanins that have strong antioxidant and neuroprotective activity.[vii] In animal subjects, it showed great promise in improving cognitive function. In further animal studies, purple sweet potatoes were shown to protect the brain by reducing inflammation.[viii]

3. Immune Support

Sweet potatoes with orange flesh are among the best natural sources of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body.[ix]

Vitamin A is critical to a healthy immune system. "It is not surprising that vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired intestinal immune responses and increased mortality associated with gastrointestinal and respiratory infections," researchers wrote in Nature Reviews Immunology.[x]

Purple sweet potatoes are also of particular interest in immune support, with polysaccharides including water-soluble polysaccharide, dilute alkali-soluble polysaccharide and concentrated alkali-soluble polysaccharide (CASP) evaluated for immune-enhancing effects.[xi]

All three polysaccharides evaluated were found to stimulate immune responses of macrophages as well as positively regulate the subjects' adaptive immunity by enhancing immunoglobulin production. Separate research also indicates that purple sweet potato extract may address immune dysfunction by mobilizing antioxidant defenses.[xii]

4. Anticancer Potential

Anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants found in sweet potatoes, have been widely evaluated for their anticancer properties, particularly against colorectal, colon, bladder, breast and gastric cancers.[xiii],[xiv],[xv],[xvi]

Against colorectal cancer, sweet potatoes may induce cell-cycle arrest, antiproliferative and apoptotic, or cell death, mechanisms. In bladder cancer, sweet potato anthocyanins had an antitumor effect. Taiwanese purple-fleshed sweet potatoes, too, were found to have anticancer activities through their ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cell lines such as breast cancer, gastric cancer and colon adenocarcinoma.

Even sweet potato peel, usually discarded as waste, contains constituents that may help prevent various types of cancer from developing.[xvii]

5. Diabetes Control and Prevention

Anthocyanins can also serve as a functional food for diabetes. Antioxidants in general have been found to reduce oxidative stress due to hyperglycemia, and anthocyanins from purple sweet potatoes positively affected liver and renal activity as well as blood pressure in diabetic animal models.[xviii]

This class of antioxidants, found in purple sweet potato, also had beneficial effects on diabetes-induced endothelial dysfunction in animal subjects.[xix] You can learn more about sweet potatoes and their health benefits through studies on the database.


[i] Bovell-Benjamin A "Sweet potato: a review of its past, present, and future role in human nutrition" Adv Food Nutr Res. 2007;52:1-59.

[ii] USDA FoodData Central, Sweet Potato

[iii] Rautenbach F et al "Antioxidant capacity and antioxidant content in roots of 4 sweetpotato varieties" J Food Sci. 2010 Jun;75(5):C400-5.

[iv] Philpott M et al "In situ and in vitro antioxidant activity of sweetpotato anthocyanins" J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Mar 24;52(6):1511-3.

[v] USDA July 30, 2021

[vi] Sasaki K et al "Caffeoylquinic acid-rich purple sweet potato extract, with or without anthocyanin, imparts neuroprotection and contributes to the improvement of spatial learning and memory of SAMP8 mouse" J Agric Food Chem. 2013 May 29 ;61(21):5037-45. Epub 2013 May 16.

[vii] Juan Z et al "Purple sweet potato color protects against high-fat diet-induced cognitive deficits through AMPK-mediated autophagy in mouse hippocampus" J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Nov 12 ;65:35-45. Epub 2018 Nov 12.

[viii] Wang Y et al "Purple sweet potato color suppresses lipopolysaccharide-induced acute inflammatory response in mouse brain" Neurochem Int. 2010 Feb;56(3):424-30. Epub 2009 Nov 24.

[ix] Islam S et al "Carotenoids and β-carotene in orange fleshed sweet potato: A possible solution to vitamin A deficiency" Food Chem. 2016 May 15;199:628-31. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.12.057. Epub 2015 Dec 12.

[x] Mora J et al "Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage" Nat Rev Immunol. 2008 Sep; 8(9): 685-698.

[xi] Tang C et al "Immune-enhancing effects of polysaccharides from purple sweet potato" Int J Biol Macromol. 2019 Feb 15 ;123:923-930. Epub 2018 Nov 19.

[xii] Kim O et al "Immunomodulatory and Antioxidant Effects of Purple Sweet Potato Extract in LP-BM5 Murine Leukemia Virus-Induced Murine Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" J Med Food. 2015 Jun 15. Epub 2015 Jun 15.

[xiii] Lim S et al "Role of anthocyanin-enriched purple-fleshed sweet potato p40 in colorectal cancer prevention" Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Nov ;57(11):1908-17. Epub 2013 Jun 19.

[xiv] Mazewski C et al "Comparison of the effect of chemical composition of anthocyanin-rich plant extracts on colon cancer cell proliferation and their potential mechanism of action using in vitro, in silico, and biochemical assays" Food Chem. 2018 Mar 1 ;242:378-388. Epub 2017 Sep 18.

[xv] Li W et al "Purple sweet potato anthocyanin exerts antitumor effect in bladder cancer" Oncol Rep. 2018 May 8. Epub 2018 May 8.

[xvi] Sugata M et al "Anti-Inflammatory and Anticancer Activities of Taiwanese Purple-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas L. Lam) Extracts" Biomed Res Int. 2015; 2015: 768093. Epub 2015 Oct 5.

[xvii] Oluyori A et al "Sweet Potato Peels and Cancer Prevention" Nutr Cancer. Nov-Dec 2016;68(8):1330-1337. Epub 2016 Sep 27.

[xviii] Herawati E et al "Protective Effects of Anthocyanin Extract from Purple Sweet Potato (L.) on Blood MDA Levels, Liver and Renal Activity, and Blood Pressure of Hyperglycemic Rats" Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2020 Dec 31 ;25(4):375-379.

[xix] Sun C et al "Purple sweet potato color inhibits endothelial premature senescence by blocking the NLRP3 inflammasome" J Nutr Biochem. 2015 Oct ;26(10):1029-40. Epub 2015 May 15.

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