Sweet potatoes and yams are often confused, and the names are used interchangeably. This confusion often extends to their nutritional benefits as well. However, the nutritional values are different which leads to this question. Are sweet potatoes or yams healthier?
Sweet potatoes are healthier due to their higher percentage of vitamins and minerals, fewer calories and carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes provide a higher percentage of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, B6, B5, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese than yams.
This article will include a side-by-side nutrient comparison of the two. In addition, the benefits of these nutrients are explained and why each food is better suited to certain nutritional goals.
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Sweet Potato vs Yam Nutritional Values
Any meaningful discussion about health benefits must start with reviewing nutritional information. Therefore, let’s quickly look at the nutrient content of yams and sweet potatoes and use it as a basis for the comparison we’ll be doing later.
Here’s a table of the nutritional contents of a 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving of baked sweet potato and yam.
|Sweet Potato Cooked (100 g)||Yam Cooked (100 g)|
|Protein||2.01 g||1.49 g|
|Carbohydrates||20.7 g||27.5 g|
|Fiber||3.3 g||3.9 g|
|Fat||0.15 g||0.14 g|
|Sugar||6.48 g||0.49 g|
|Vitamin A||19,200 IU||122 IU|
|Beta-carotene||11,500 mcg||73 mcg|
|Vitamin C||19.6 mg||12.1 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.28 mg||0.22 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||6 mcg||16 mcg|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.10 mg||0.09 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.10 mg||0.02 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||1.49 mg||0.55 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.88 mg||0.31 mg|
|Magnesium||27 mg||18 mg|
|Phosphorous||54 mg||49 mg|
|Potassium||475 mg||670 mg|
|Iron||0.69 mg||0.52 mg|
|Copper||0.16 mg||0.15 mg|
|Calcium||38 mg||14 mg|
|Zinc||0.3 mg||0.2 mg|
|Manganese||0.49 mg||0.37 mg|
Both contain a wide variety of nutrients. At first it may be difficult to figure out which one is better than the other. Therefore, let’s answer, which is better sweet potatoes or yams?
Sweet potatoes are better than yams due to their higher percentage of antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, protein and minerals. Sweet potatoes have a moderate glycemic index which helps keep blood sugar levels lower. Sweet potatoes have fewer calories and carbohydrates.
Yams are no slouch either and contain many of the same nutrients. Yams provide a higher percentage of fiber, folate and potassium.
Sweet Potato vs Yam Nutrition: Key Health Benefits Compared
The above table tells us several things about the health benefits of sweet potatoes and yams:
- Sweet potatoes may be slightly better for weight loss.
- Sweet potatoes and yams for digestion and gut health.
- Yams may be better for bodybuilding.
- Sweet potatoes are a better option for the immune system.
- Sweet potatoes and yams for the heart.
- Sweet potatoes for eye health.
- Yams and sweet potatoes for high blood pressure.
Let’s discuss these benefits in greater detail.
1. Sweet Potatoes Are Slightly Better for Weight Loss
Sweet potatoes pack slightly fewer calories, making them a better option than yams if you’re watching your calorie count to lose weight. Sweet potatoes also have a healthy amount of dietary fiber, particularly when consumed without peeling the skin.
Sure, they have a slightly lower dietary fiber than yams, but enough to provide weight loss benefits. Dietary fiber helps with weight loss by controlling your appetite 5. When consumed, it absorbs water to make you feel “fuller.” When you feel fuller, you’re less likely to “cheat” on your diet.
What all this means is the positive impact of sweet potatoes on weight loss is twofold:
- They provide fewer calories per serving, helping you stick to your daily calorie limit.
- They make you feel full with a relatively small serving, reducing your chances of snacking on unhealthy foods.
2. Sweet Potatoes and Yams for Digestion and Gut Health
Yams and sweet potatoes both contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber remains in the digestive tract and provides gut related health benefits. Fiber rich diets have been linked to regular bowel movements and a lower risk of colon cancer 6.
3. Yams May Be Better for Bodybuilding
One of the golden rules of bulking up is to consume more calories than you burn. Instead of restricting calories to the daily recommended count as you would when trying to get lean, the goal to bulk up would be to exceed that count.
To do that, you need increasing the calories and carbohydrate consumption, and this is where yams shine. If you take a look at the above table, you’ll notice a difference between the carbohydrate content of yams and sweet potatoes. You’ll also notice yams have more calories per serving, which further helps with bulking.
Carbs not only increase the calories, but they assist by being the primary fuel source with the following:
- Athletic performance
Find out how plantains and potatoes compared in taste and texture in my article, Plantain vs Potato – Which is Better? Let’s Compare.
Healthy carbs provide energy for your workouts and build muscle while optimizing recovery 7. Some healthy complex carbs include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
It’s also worth noting that yams have a bit more potassium than sweet potatoes. This all-important mineral plays several roles in our bodies, from regulating blood pressure to facilitating nerve and muscle function.
Specific to bodybuilding, it plays an important role in carbohydrate storage and improves muscle contraction so you can lift more.
If you want to try a low-carb diet, you may want to look for alternatives to potatoes altogether.
Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.
4. Sweet Potatoes for the Immune System
The sweet potato provides 19.6 mg of vitamin C compared to 12.1 mg for yams. The body can’t make vitamin C, so it must come from the foods ate every day. Vitamin C has been shown in studies to help with the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body 8.
Vitamin C helps heal and repair wounds, maintain healthy bones, skin and cartilage. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and fights free radicals which damage the cells. Helping to prevent cell damage can help with the following:
- Certain diseases like cancer.
- Heart disease.
- Promote healthy aging.
Although vitamin C is widely talked about for the immune system, vitamin A is important also. According to Harvard University, vitamin A is a great source to stimulate healthy white blood cells 9.
These cells have the responsibility of keeping the immune system as healthy as possible to fight viruses and illnesses effectively.
Find out how purple sweet potatoes and purple yams compared to each other in my article, Purple Sweet Potato vs Purple Yam: What’s The Difference?
5. Sweet Potatoes and Yams for Heart Health
Sweet potatoes and yams benefit the heart in several ways. One reason is due to the vitamin C. This vitamin helps lower blood pressure in individuals with elevated blood pressure levels and those without 10.
Vitamin C also helps check several risk factors of heart disease, including the following:
- High blood pressure.
- High levels of “bad” cholesterol.
- Low “good” cholesterol levels.
By reducing these risk factors, it helps reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
The effectiveness of Vitamin C in reducing the risk of heart disease is well documented in various studies. For instance, a review of 9 scientific studies with almost 300,000 participants established maintaining a daily consumption of at least 700 mg of vitamin C for ten years lowers the risk of heart disease by 25% 11.
6. Sweet Potatoes for Eye Health
For eye health, sweet potatoes are more beneficial than yams. There are two nutrients the body converts into vitamin A. Most notably, Beta Carotene, which is easily absorbed by the body.
Sweet potatoes provide 19,200 IU of vitamin A and 11,500 mcg of beta-carotene. Yams provide 122 IU of vitamin A and 73 mcg of beta-carotene.
According to scientific studies, vitamin A helps the eyes when it comes to dim light vision and dry eyes 12.
Consuming one regular sweet potato provides 730% of the daily value for vitamin A. The Anthocyanins found in sweet potatoes have been found in studies to protect eye cells from damage improving overall eye health 13.
Find out how taro compared to potatoes in my article, Taro vs. Potato – A Complete Comparison.
7. Yams and Sweet Potatoes for High Blood Pressure
Yams and sweet potatoes contain the following nutrients beneficial for blood pressure:
- Vitamin C
Let’s take a look at each one of these minerals and how they benefit blood pressure. Vitamin C was already discussed earlier.
Yams provide 670 mg of potassium and sweet potatoes 475 mg. Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 14.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 15.
The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 16.
Sweet potatoes provide 27 mg of magnesium and yams 18 mg per 100 grams. Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced.
A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 17.
Magnesium helps control the following:
- Blood sugar
- Blood pressure
- Nerve function
One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.
In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 18.
Sweet potatoes provide 38 grams of calcium and yams 14 mg. Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 19.
Calcium also helps the following:
- Helps muscles function properly.
- Improve nerve function.
- Build and maintain strong bones.
Find out how white sweet potatoes compared to sweet potatoes in my article, White Sweet Potato vs. Sweet Potato: What’s The Difference?
Additional Nutrient Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes and Yams
Of the six B vitamins listed below, sweet potatoes contain more than five of them. Although both contain a good number, yams just provide slightly less. The B vitamins provided by sweet potatoes and yams include the following:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic Acid)
- B9 (folate)
B vitamins help support the following:
- Brain function.
- Red blood cells.
- Energy levels.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Nerve function.
Sweet potatoes provide 54 mg of phosphorus and yams 49 mg per 100 grams. Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:
- Muscle contraction.
- Muscle recovery.
- Help the kidneys remove waste.
- Help the body manage and store energy.
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
- Promote teeth and bone strength.
If you’re interested about how sweet potatoes held up against pumpkin for health and nutrition, check out my article, Pumpkin vs Sweet Potato: A Complete Comparison.
Sweet Potatoes and Yams Glycemic Index
Knowing the glycemic index of certain foods is important especially if blood sugar levels is a concern. Diabetic or not, blood sugar is an important thing people should be aware of.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises or spikes the blood sugar in the blood 20. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves 21.
In general, many people should try avoiding eating high-GI foods. Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:
- Low-GI foods: 55 or under
- Medium-GI foods: 56-69
- High-GI foods: 70 or over
How blood sugars levels are affected:
- Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a more quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.
Now we know what GI is, and how it affects blood sugar, let’s answer, what has a lower GI, sweet potatoes or yams?
Sweet potatoes and yams have a similar GI depending on how the food is cooked. A boiled sweet potato has a GI of 44 and a boiled white yam has a GI of 44. A baked sweet potato has a GI of 94, and a white yam roasted has a GI of 50.
Not every sweet potato or yam has an equal GI. Different sweet potatoes and yams have different GI scores 22. In addition to how they’re cooked, the heat of the potato when eaten affects the GI.
A study published in the Journal of the Diabetic Association found boiled potatoes eaten cold had a GI score of 56. When eaten hot the boiled potato had a GI score of 89 23.
To achieve the lowest glycemic number possible, eat a cold, boiled sweet potato or yam.
Wrapping Up The Sweet Potato and Yam
As far as choosing between a yam and sweet potato nutrition goes, there’s no right or wrong answer. Like many other food choices, it all comes down to your nutrition goals.
But if I were to choose a “winner” based on what we’ve covered today, it would be sweet potato, more so if you’re watching your weight.
Important note: There are other differences in the nutritional profiles of these foods, but they aren’t significant enough to make a difference. If anything, these negligible differences demonstrate that both yams and sweet potatoes pack adequate amounts of micronutrients like B vitamins and minerals like iron, phosphorus, and copper.
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- USDA: Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, flesh, without salt
- USDA: Yam, cooked, boiled, drained, or baked, without salt
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