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Potato or Sweet Potato: Which Is Healthier?
By Lekhak February 12, 2022
Neither spud is a dud, but one offers just a bit more nutrition
Don't be fooled by the last name: sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are not similar. In the field of botanic genealogy, they're considered "distantly related" at best, with some notable differences.
They're typically considered side-dish siblings at the dinner table, right down to the rivalry over which one is more nutritious. Of course, there's much controversy about which spud is the best.
We turned to registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, to settle the debate — at least in the context of which potato is the better pick. (You're on your own for taste.)
The importance of potatoes and sweet potatoes
Potatoes and sweet potatoes may not seem very impressive, but they are two of the world's most widely grown crops. Both are considered essential to global food security.
In 2019, farmers plucked almost 370 million metric tons of potatoes from the ground. The entire sweet potato crop reached over 92 million metric tons during the same year.
"Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a staple in almost every diet," Czerwony says. "Aside from being healthy, they're also cheap and versatile in the cooking."
Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family, while potatoes belong to the nightshade family. Both are root vegetables, which means the part of the plant you eat grows underground.
Sweet potatoes have orange flesh inside, whereas regular potatoes have white or yellow flesh. Both have brownish skin; however, the colors range depending on the variety.
There are around 4,000 different potatoes and 1,000 different sweet potato varieties grown worldwide.
Nutrition: potato vs. sweet potato
Let's start with this basic fact: When it comes to nutrition, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, according to Czerwony, have a lot more to offer. They're both lower-calorie, low-fat foods that are rich in:
Fiber. However, the key to obtaining this health advantage is to consume the skin of the potato. "The skin of a potato or sweet potato contains half of the fiber," adds Czerwony. (Be sure to clean the skin to remove any dirt thoroughly.)
Carbohydrates. Because of their high carb content, potatoes and sweet potatoes are considered starchy vegetables and provide an energy boost.
Potassium. Fun fact: A banana contains more potassium than potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B6. A medium-sized potato or sweet potato provides around 30% of your daily vitamin B6 need, which helps to support your brain and nerve system.
Vitamin C. Are you surprised by this? Quite a few people are. Potato or sweet potato can provide you with around one-third of your daily vitamin C requirement. (Take that, oranges.)
Here's a side-by-side nutritional comparison.
So which potato is healthiest?
Whichever angle you take at this question, one thing is clear: potatoes and sweet potatoes are both excellent, nutritious foods. "Neither of them is a poor option," Czerwony says.
If you had to choose only one, sweet potatoes have a slight advantage, according to Czerwony. What is the key reason? Vitamin A and beta carotene
The presence of beta carotene, an antioxidant that works to protect your body's cells from damage and diseases like cancer, is responsible for sweet potatoes' orange flesh. The beta carotene in your body is transformed into highly high levels of vitamin A.
"That's the major reason why sweet potatoes appear to be a somewhat better option," Czerwony explains. "But, in the end, it's a matter of personal taste."
Her best advice? "Use both of them. It'll give your diet some variety."
Cooking healthy with potatoes and sweet potatoes
While potatoes and sweet potatoes are healthy, it's also simple to transform them into a fatty calorie bomb. For instance, all the goodness in those potatoes doesn't make up for the disadvantages of frying them in a deep fryer.
According to a 2017 study, eating fried potatoes twice a week increases your risk of dying. This is terrible news given the number of French fries and potato chips consumed in many diets.
So, how can you get the most out of your potatoes or sweet potatoes? Baking them causes the slightest reduction in nutrients, says Czerwony. However, be careful with the toppings you add afterward... Make careful to consume the skin as well.