If you’ve ever tried Sweet Potato, you’d agree with me that sweet potatoes are by far the most sweet-tasting tuber vegetable you’ve ever had. Its naturally sweet taste in any meal is very flavorful and engaging. It hardly warrants the additional use of sugar or honey, even in dessert meals.
Even so, it is rather common to question the health benefit of this sweet tuber plant, and especially if you have diabetes. The effect of the sugary tuber on one’s blood sugar level can be considerable if not mindful. The health status of sweet potatoes depends on their nutritional content and their peculiar properties.
As such, this article will particularly look at eating sweet potatoes and its effects on diabetes? Is Sweet Potato Good for Diabetics? Or, is it bad? And, how to safely eat some sweet potatoes as someone with diabetes? And much more…
Let’s start with identifying what sweet potatoes really are…
What is Sweet Potato?
Scientifically, Sweet potato is also called Ipomoea batatas. It belongs to the Morning Glory family of plants, and is generally cultivated in tropical regions like Africa, tropical America, warmer islands of the Pacific and even in the Caribbean.
Added to its sweet taste, sweet potatoes give a creamy feeling in the mouth. Its texture, being very soft, makes an appropriate food, especially for infants.
And its versatility makes it one of the most consumed and enjoyable tuber vegetable plant in most parts of the world.
Sweet potato is a tuber crop or vegetable tuber, just like yams and cassava. Like other tuber crops, it has a starchy, large and tuberous root. Only that its tubers have a characteristic sweet taste.
However, its leaves and shoots are also edible, and is consumed as green vegetables in some parts of the world.
Though edible in several parts, it is most highly cultivated for its fleshy and starchy, sweet-tasting root, as its root can be prepared by several recipes into several sweet and savory meals.
But, how different these sweet potatoes from other types of potatoes?
Let’s find out…
Sweet Potatoes vs. Other Potatoes – What Are The Differences?
Sweet potato is only a variety of potatoes. There are other varieties of potatoes in the market that must not be mistaken for sweet potatoes.
These varieties of potatoes, though related, have a difference in their nutrient content. Thus, have different effect to health and affects the fasting blood sugar level differently.
The first step to differentiating the sweet potatoes from other varieties in a market or farm is by their marked physical appearance, different from the regular potato.
When you see a sweet potato, you’ll be able to tell by its small or medium-sized tapering tuber. A thick but, smooth skin accompanies this fusiform shape.
It has an outer light-brown color, with its inner flesh ranges from orange to purple color, depending on the variety of the sweet potato.
The sweet potato is also differentiated from other potatoes by its nutrient content, literally. Its high vitamins A content gives its flesh a characteristic orange color, which other potato does not have.
When peeled, the sticky white ooze from the sweet potato can be used to differentiate it from the regular potato. The white ooze, resulting from excess starch mixed with sugar in the flesh of the sweet potato, is not seen in other potatoes.
Types of Sweet Potato
There are over 400 different varieties of sweet potatoes found all over the world. These varieties all have their characteristic fusiform shape, their small to medium size, and their sweet taste. However, there are a few additional, or lost nutrient to each variety, that accounts for their different colors.
The following are the most commonly cultivated sweet potato varieties.
- Hannah sweet potatoes
It is the very sweet variety of sweet potato, that has a light brown skin, and a creamy white to yellow flesh. Its skin and flesh are smooth skin to touch, and both thick and fairly hard.
- Stokes purple sweet potatoes
It has a completely purple color, both inside and outside. Its flesh is quite dry, compared to other varieties, and it is less sweet.
- Japanese sweet potatoes
The Japanese sweet potato has a mix of the properties of the Hannah and a mix of the stokes purple potatoes. It has a purple and fairly smooth skin and a white, fairly firm flesh.
- Jewel sweet potatoes
Both the skin and the flesh of this variety of sweet potato is orange in color. It is sweet to eat and flesh yet firm when cooked.
- Garnet sweet potatoes
This variety of sweet potato is much like the jewel sweet potato, except that it is much more reddish in color than the jewel on the outside.
Now, let’s turn on to their nutritional content…
Nutritional Content of Sweet Potato
The sweet potato is one of the healthiest vegetables to be consumed. Its rich contents are all of good advantage to the body. Its high-water content, its carbohydrate and fiber content, as well as the no-fat content, makes the sweet potato very rich.
Below is the breakdown of the nutritional content of a 100grams sweet potato;
Sweet potato has a moderate caloric content of 86 to 103 calories. This level of caloric content is considered healthy and safe. It is due only to the sweet potato’s rich carbohydrate content, not from fat.
In a medium-sized sweet potato, water makes up a 70% of its content. Sweet potato, thus richly hydrates the body, and is, therefore, a perfect meal for healthy skin.
The protein content in a 100gram of potato, is only about 2%.
Sweet potatoes are not the best tuber vegetable to consider for a protein source. However, the type of proteins present, contains antioxidants properties, important for immunity.
20.1 grams of carbs are found in 100 grams of sweet potato. Starch forms the bulk of the carbohydrates present in the sweet potato, and is responsible for the white ooze seen in freshly peeled potatoes.
The sugar content in a medium-sized sweet potato is about 4.2 grams. The type of sugar present includes all simple sugar like fructose, glucose and sucrose.
Sweet potato is also rich in fiber, with 3 grams of fiber in a 100 gram of potato.
Fat is not a common content of the sweet potato. It is usually only present in fried sweet potato, or baked potatoes. If present, it is usually found in less than 1% of the total nutritional content.
The high antioxidants content of the sweet potato, is of great importance to the sweet potato.
Several of its contained compounds have antioxidant properties, including; beta carotene, anthocyanins, and chlorogenic acids.
The special effects of antioxidants on health places them at a high value.
The sweet potato is richly fortified with vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, B, C and E. Important minerals like potassium, and manganese are also found in the vegetable tuber.
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Because of their rich anti-oxidant content, sweet potatoes are considered one of the healthiest vegetables to consume.
The following are the advantages of eating sweet potato and the nutritional contents attributed to these benefits.
1. Prevents a vitamins A deficiency
Sweet potato is one of the best sources of vitamins A. It is richly endowed with this vitamin, and it’s evident in its color.
Its nutritional content, beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamins A, give it the orange to purple color.
Vitamins A deficiency is one of the leading deficiency diseases in the world today. To be deficient in vitamins A involves a decreased resistance to diseases, increased mortality of children, pregnant and lactating mothers, dry and poor eyesight. And eating sweet potatoes more regularly, will prevent consequences like the above.
2. Enhances vision
Better vision is guaranteed by the intake of vitamins A, a benefit given by sweet potato consumption. It will also reduce the risk of dry eyes and developed eye problems.
Besides vitamins A, good vision is also enhanced by vitamins C, B and E, all also found to be a rich component of the sweet potato.
Vitamins C are known to prevent cataract, and vitamins B and E prevent oxidative stress in the eyes.
3. Blood sugar regulation
Blood sugar regulation is one very important way to stay healthy, as there are many high glycemic meals in our world today.
The best way to regulate high blood sugar is the regular intake of low to medium glycemic meals, of which sweet potato is one of such.
4. Enhances digestion and Improves gut health
Fibers are parts of food substances that are very necessary for bowel movement in the gut. Food passing from the mouth, through the stomach and through the anus, needs to be bulky for smooth movement to be possible, preventing constipation.
Sweet potato, being very rich in fibers, aids digestion and ensure that the gut remains healthy.
5. Improved skin health
Regular intake of sweet potato can reflect on one’s appearance. The sweet potato is fortified with vitamins of which all, are beneficial to the skin and hair. Its water content, also keeps the body, and the skin hydrate, and looking fresh.
6. Improves brain function
The sweet potato has antioxidants that are believed to be effective in memory retention. This benefit is attributed to the anthocyanin it contains.
7. Enhances the immune system
8. Relieving stress
Magnesium forms a minor part of the mineral content of the sweet potato.
Magnesium is known to effectively reduce stress and anxiety, as studies have shown that magnesium deficiency causes anxiety and insomnia, which could lead to depression.
Thus, regular eating of magnesium-rich food like sweet potatoes, will relieve stress and anxiety that comes with day to day hustle.
9. Reduced risk of cancer
As already established before, the sweet potato is rich in antioxidant, one of which is Anthocyanin.
According to several studies, Anthocyanin is seen to exhibits some anti-cancer activities, and in sweet potato, reduces the risk of cancer in the body. Other anti-oxidants with anti-cancer properties includes carotenoid and beta-carotene, which are particularly effective against prostate cancers in men.
10. Blood pressure regulation
The magnesium present in sweet potatoes reduces anxiety caused by stress, and thus prevents hypertension. The potassium in sweet potato decreases the pressure at which blood flows through the body, thereby preventing stroke.
Other than the above benefits of eating sweet potato, this vegetable tuber also is effective in;
11. Weight Management
12. Boosting fertility in men and women
13. Preventing ulcers
What Does Science Say About The Effect of Sweet Potatoes On Diabetics?
In many ways, sweet potato has been found to improve the conditions associated with diabetes. Some research have shown that sweet potato has effects, majorly on the blood sugar levels.
Added to that effects on the blood sugar level, there are also other gains from sweet potato to people with diabetes. Below are the deduced effects of sweet potato on diabetics based on scientific researches;
1. Reduce fasting blood sugar level
Studies have shown that sweet potatoes in all its varieties help to improve diabetes by the reduction of fasting blood sugar level, as well as cholesterol level. However, strength of evidence were not strong.
Caiapo extract, from the strain of sweet potatoes, are believed to be responsible for this effect, as they reduce food consumption, thereby reducing fasting blood sugar level.
2. Prevent regular blood sugar level spikes
The types of carbs present in sweet potatoes are those that slowly into the bloodstream. This slow release of sugar to the blood helps prevent spikes in blood sugar levels resulting from taking regular carbs.
3. Promoting insulin resistance and reduces the risk of diabetes for prediabetics
Insulin resistance is the cause of diabetes type 2. It results when the body fails to respond to the glucose-converting enzyme of the body, insulin. The antioxidants of sweet potato, however, helps to minimize and improve insulin resistance. It also helps in reducing the risk of developing diabetes type 1 or 2 following pre-diabetics.
4. Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease in diabetes
Based on scientific research, it is believed that the antioxidants found in both the tuber and the edible leaves and stem of the sweet potato, has protective properties to the heart. They can prevent coronary heart diseases and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, by preventing oxidation in the body.
5. Good for neuropathic diabetics
Sweet potato is proven to be very effective in the treatment of neuropathic diabetes (nerve pain), as they are powerful anti-inflammatory substances. They help in the maintenance of wounds sustained by neuropathic diabetics and aids in quick recovery.
6. Prevent phases of hypoglycemia in diabetics
Diabetics do not just experience a rise in blood sugar level, but sometimes, a reduction in blood sugar level. This is called hypoglycemia, common with persons experiencing unstable blood sugar.
The significant, but moderate sugar contained in the sweet potato, may just be the boost needed to prevent hypoglycemia in diabetics. Just like a banana!
Is Sweet Potato Good for Diabetics?
Is sweet potato good for diabetics then? Yes.
If a person with diabetes constantly has a high blood sugar level that is dangerous to his/her body’s organs. To manage the condition, a person with diabetes must regularly control his intake of high glycemic food, and take substances that regulate his blood sugar level.
Thus, diabetics need regularly, meals like the sweet potato, as it’s a good way of maintaining the condition. According to the above findings, it can be said that the vegetable tuber is good for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics compared to many other dangerous foods
One can also say confidently, that it is effective in preventing diabetes in pre-diabetics.
When is Sweet Potato Bad for Diabetics?
Even in eating healthy food, moderation is still very important. Sweet potatoes will do more harm than good to a diabetic that eats them too much.
Research has shown that various methods of processing carbohydrate-containing food have effects on the glycemic indices of the new turned food. Therefore, the highly rich, low glycemic tuber, sweet potato, can have an increased glycemic index. This is shown in the difference in the GI of the baked and the boiled sweet potato.
Thus, eating a small to moderately sized sweet potato meal, that is boiled rather than baked will be best for someone with diabetes.
How Much Sweet Potato Should a Diabetic Eat?
It is easy to get carried away while eating a savory sweet potato meal. Still, a person with diabetes must consider the risk attached to overeating of the sweet potato.
So thus, as a good guide to moderate consumption of the tuber vegetable, only the small-sized tuber or half of a medium-sized tuber should be prepared. The healthy portion of the meal to be taken, according to the US Department of Agriculture, is a serving size of ½ cup.
Risks of Eating Sweet Potatoes
Yes, sweet potato has several health benefits attached to eating it, as noted above. Similarly, there are a few risks to eating sweet potatoes too. And they include:
- Buildup of beta-carotene
This risk could be self-inflected when the sweet potato, which is very rich in beta-carotene is eaten too much. The effects of the buildup of beta-carotene will result in orange-colored skin and nails.
- Kidney stones
People with kidney stones should avoid sweet potatoes because of the antioxidants richly present in it.
Best Ways To Cook Sweet Potatoes for Diabetics
If you have diabetes, and you’re looking for ways to enjoy your sweet potatoes newly purchased, and yet conserve the important nutrients it contains, try the recipes below:
1. Sweet potato toast
This recipe can serve as a quick and nice breakfast choice for a person with diabetes. The first step in making this meal is cutting the sweet potato into thin slices. Then toasting these slices. It is advisable to add an extra protein source, like shred cheese or scrambled eggs, to the meal for maximum benefit in serving this dish.
2. Mashed sweet potato
This simply involves mashing cooked sweet potato and spice it. To make it extra delicious and creamy, yogurts, and butter-cream sprinkles is usually added.
3. Sweet potato soup
Soups can be very nourishing and healthy, depending on their nutrient content.
A sweet potato soup best for a diabetic will include; boiled slices of sweet potato, red lentils, carrots, onions and a diabetic-friendly mix of herbs and spices.
Alternative Potatoes and Yams Diabetics Could Try
Other tuber vegetables that are healthy for diabetes consumption are;
They all contain relatively low GI, and are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
In line with several studies that have been carried out, both on animals and humans, it is clear that sweet potato is one food that must be taken to maintain health. Added to that, it also gives benefits to the sick to achieve a better health status, like the diabetics, for the control and maintenance of their blood sugar level.
As always, there are no exceptions when you would like to make a change to your food and eating habits. Please make sure to talk to your doctor!