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Potato, Potahto: Sweet Potato vs. Potato

Out of all of the tuber type vegetables in the world, potatoes and sweet potatoes are close to the top of the list for the most-produced crop.  These essential, versatile, and nutritious veggies are full of vitamins, proteins, fats, and many other nutrients that the human body needs.

What was once native to Central and South America is grown worldwide thanks to their hardy nature.  Regular potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown in your own garden from either sprouted potatoes or by seed.  These great sources of nutrients and energy are often neck and neck with their nutrition values, but by the end of this article, you’ll be able to determine for yourself which potato is better.

What are the botany differences between these potatoes?

Before diving into nutrition it’s important to understand one major thing: white potatoes (and their varieties) are not the same as sweet potatoes.  While both are tubers, one is from the nightshade family, and the other is from the same family as morning glories. 

Can you guess which is which?

Regular Potatoes

Red, yellow, white, fingerling, and even purple potatoes are from the Solanaceae family.  This is where you see tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Most of these plants have some sort of irritant in their chemical composition. 

For example, tomato leaves and vines have a very irritating liquid that oozes out when the plant is cut or the leaves are pressed too hard.  This liquid can cause rashes and bumps if not rinsed off quickly enough (trust me, it’s not fun!).  With potatoes, they contain higher levels of glycoalkaloids called solanine and chaconine.  While healthy, ready to eat potatoes contain very low levels of these slightly poisonous compounds, eating potatoes with green sprouts could lead to digestive trouble

Sweet Potatoes

Not only do sweet potatoes and potatoes differ in appearance, they differ in nutrients as well.  Sweet potatoes, who are from the Convolvulaceae family, can come in a variety of colors as well from reds to purples, to yellows.  The differences in these types are mainly through coloration as well as where they grow.  Several species types are found in Asia while others are more so found in the U.S. and Europe. 

One thing to keep in mind is that sweet potatoes are not yams.  Yams are technically another type of tuber with even tougher skin and a lighter flesh.  They are also not as sweet as typical sweet potatoes.  The reason that we normally pair the two together is due to marketing in grocery stores rather than any actual relationship between the two.

Let’s Look at the Nutrition Facts

Here’s a quick breakdown of Potatoes vs. sweet potatoes when it comes to nutrients:

Sweet Potato vs. Potato Chart

 

Additional information for the sweet potato can be found here and information for regular potatoes can be found here.

Sweet Potato vs. Potato Nutrition Comparison

While the sweet potato may seem to be the clear winner, it’s time to break down these differences so that they are easier to interpret.

Calories, Sugars, and Carbohydrates

Here the sweet potato takes a hit since it has almost 10 more calories.  This difference is due to the presence of sugars that are in the tuber.  Sweet potatoes are known for their sweeter taste as compared to regular potatoes. 

With carbohydrates, the sweet potato is also heavier in carbs and yet again, this is due to the presence of sugars in the potato.  Additionally, don’t forget that carbohydrates convert to sugars that your body can process. As you can see in the chart, a white potato doesn’t have any sugar at all.  This is what gives the regular potato an edge.

Fats and Proteins

With both fats and proteins, these tubers aren’t too different.  There’s roughly the same amount of fat and the regular potato has more protein than a sweet potato.

Micronutrients and Fiber

One thing that isn’t mentioned in the chart above is the number of micronutrients in sweet potatoes vs. regular potatoes.  The Department of Agriculture breaks down how much of each micronutrient is in each tuber.  When you look at the sweet potato, it has a larger variety of micronutrients even if the regular potato contains more of specific micronutrients.

Sweet potatoes win by a small margin when it comes to fiber even if they are lower in micronutrients.  Fiber is one of the important elements when processing food especially those with a sugar content.  The fiber lets your body process the sugars more slowly and helps your body absorb the nutrients found in the tuber.

Vitamins and Minerals

There is one big area that the sweet potato takes the lead when it comes to vitamins and minerals.  The sweet potato has a massive amount of vitamin A which is necessary for eye health and cell reproduction.  Since every cell in your body constantly splits and grows, multiplying and supplying the body with nutrients, vitamin A is extremely valuable.

In regard to the rest of the vitamins such as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin Bs and more, potatoes and sweet potatoes seem to have about the same amount of most vitamins.  The major difference between the two is that potatoes contain more folate as well as higher concentrations of several types of vitamin B. 

Two things to note about both potatoes and sweet potatoes is that one, they have more potassium than a banana, and two, they provide about 1/3 of your daily value of vitamin C!  While the two are neck and neck in most cases, the amount of vitamin A puts the sweet potato in the lead.

Beta Carotene and Other Antioxidants

Potatoes do seem to excel in many areas when it comes to comparing the amounts of vitamins and minerals to sweet potatoes.  Like mentioned before, sweet potatoes have a ton of vitamin A.  Where they also go above and beyond is in their antioxidant content.  Not only do they have vitamin E which isn’t in regular potatoes, but they also have high amounts of beta carotene and alpha carotene. 

Carotene’s are broken down into even more vitamin A!

The amount of beta carotene in the common sweet potato and the amount of pigments in other variations, lead to a healthier existence.  A study from May 2016 showed that those who have a higher diet of beta carotene had a 17% lower chance of premature death

Most research focuses on the concentrations of beta carotene in orange sweet potatoes, however there is also research that indicates the power of purple and red sweet potatoes as well.  According to Lachman and Hamouz, purple and red varieties of sweet potatoes are a considerable source of antioxidants and should also be included in your diet if possible.

How Does Cooking Affect Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes?

Generally speaking, different types of cooking will break down the nutrients in any food differently.  Steaming your veggies is perhaps the best way to keep nutrients intact.  However, boiling your sweet potatoes can help it retain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, magnesium and phosphorous, while a regular potato retains more vitamin B.

Boiled, baked, or steamed, a sweet potato will have more sugar that develops as a part of the cooking process.  This isn’t something to truly worry about (unless you have specific health conditions revolving around sugar content) as these are naturally occurring rather than processed or added.

Which Potato is healthier?

This is where the rubber hits the road.  Sweet potatoes don’t contain the potentially harmful glycoalkaloids that were discussed earlier.  There has been research that indicates a possible anticarcinogenic quality, but eating the amount necessary for targeted treatment is at levels that would cause painful internal reactions.

Another downside to the regular potato is that it has a higher glycemic index.  Foods that have a lower glycemic index are better at regulating blood sugar due to a slower release.  This can relate back to having a higher fiber content that allows nutrients to be absorbed more slowly.  Even though there is more sugar in a sweet potato, it still ranks lower in the glycemic index, making it a valuable asset to anyone looking to maintain or lose weight.

Conclusion

The final question then becomes, which potato is ultimately healthier?

As long as you don’t have a condition where you have to be regularly aware of sugar content, then the sweet potato is the healthier choice.  With higher amounts of antioxidants, a greater variety of micronutrients, and insane amounts of vitamin A, the sweet potato is going to provide your body with more nutrients than a regular potato.