Low-carb diets are a popular way to limit calories and lose weight. Sweet potatoes have carbohydrates, but you can still find a place for them on your plate and benefit from their nutrients.
Carbohydrates: The Basics
There are four types of carbohydrates:
- Simple natural, such as lactose in milk or fructose in fruit
- Simple refined, such as white sugar
- Complex natural, such as beans and whole grains
- Complex refined, such as white flour
Refined carbohydrates are add-ins, used to make foods such as cookies, candy, and soda. They can affect your blood sugar in a negative way. These are the ones you should avoid most of all when you're limiting carbs.
When you follow a low-carb diet, you lower the number of carbohydrates you eat each day. Instead, you eat more protein and "healthy" fat. Going low on carbs triggers your body to not store fat but to instead burn it for energy.
Most people who lower their carbs do it to lose weight. Another benefit, though, is that some low-carb diets have been found to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and other health conditions that involve how your body burns fuel.
Different low-carb diets vary on what they allow. Some let you have a few servings of fruit, whole grains, and vegetables. In these diets, sweet potatoes can have a place.
Sweet Potatoes: The Basics
You may think sweet potatoes are just a kind of regular white potatoes. But regular potatoes are tubers and belong to the nightshade family. Sweet potatoes are an edible root and belong to the morning glory family.
Sweet potatoes have more nutritional value than white potatoes. Even though sweet potato fries are a popular dish, people don't typically overeat sweet potatoes as they might with white potatoes.
Sweet potatoes have a lot of carbohydrates. One 5-inch sweet potato has about 26 grams of carbohydrates. In a low-carb diet, one sweet potato has half of the calories from carbohydrates that you may be allowed.
But that's still less than the carb content of a white potato: 35 grams, on average. That's also less than those sweet potato fries. The way they're prepared raises their carb content to about 34 grams.
Low-carb diets that allow vegetables in moderation can include simply prepared sweet potatoes — in moderation.
Nutrients in Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes have bronze skin and flesh colors of white, cream, orange, and purple. Naturally sweet, they are filled with nutrients such as:
- Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
Orange sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, but purple sweet potatoes have plenty of other antioxidants. These help protect your body against free radicals, bits of waste that your cells make. Free radicals can come from things like:
- Cigarette smoke
- Air pollution
Sweet potatoes also have fiber, a complex carbohydrate that slows your digestion in both forms: soluble and insoluble. Fiber provides moisture to your stool, which helps your stool move easily through and out of your digestive tract.
Besides lowering your risk for problems with your bowels, fiber can help lower high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels.
Preparation of Sweet Potatoes
Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place. It's best to use them within a week to get the most out of their nutrients.
Before you cook a sweet potato, scrub the skin to clean it, but leave it in place. The skin is nutritious and an excellent source of fiber.
You can slice and bake them. You can microwave them for 8 to 10 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Or you can cut the potatoes into 1-inch pieces and allow them to sit in a rolling boil for 15 to 20 minutes. You can also mash cooked sweet potatoes.
If you want to eat a smaller portion of sweet potatoes to limit your carbs, consider adding them cooked and diced to soup or salad. You can also slice a cooked sweet potato in half and top it with a protein and perhaps another low-carb ingredient for a quick meal.
Over time, lowering your carbohydrate intake may mean you lose some important nutrients from your diet. You'll want to get the most out of the carbs that you eat. So keep the high nutritional value of sweet potatoes in mind.
If you're still not meeting all of your nutritional needs, talk to your doctor about vitamins or other supplements.