Skip to main content

Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Jo has been an ITU nurse at the London North West NHS Trust for 14 years. She obtained her RN at University College London Hospital.

World Fastest Runner, Jamaica's Usain Bolt's Father credited Usain's  speed to a diet of Yellow Yams.

World Fastest Runner, Jamaica's Usain Bolt's Father credited Usain's speed to a diet of Yellow Yams.

Parsnip, Yam And Watercress Chowder

Parsnip, Yam And Watercress Chowder

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

 A Variety of Yams, very versatile and easily available

A Variety of Yams, very versatile and easily available

Grilled Yams and grilled Jerk Chicken

Grilled Yams and grilled Jerk Chicken

Dried Chinese Yams

Dried Chinese Yams

Spicy Sweet Potatoes Wedges

Spicy Sweet Potatoes Wedges

Sweet Potato and Yam are Healthy and Nutritious

Caribbeans and Africans have enjoyed the delicious sweet potato and nutritious yam for generations. Usain Bolt swears by the Yellow Yams. As a young boy growing up in one of Jamaica's highest Yellow Yam producing districts, the world's fastest runner grew up on a diet of yams and hail the yellow yam as his secret weapon. No banned substances to enhance Bolt's awesome running ability, just a diet containing lots of the runner's favourite nutritious food.

These two root vegetables, Sweet Potatoes and Yams, are versatile and can easily be used in a variety of ways. Both are ideal for the best hearty filling soups and stews, souffle, curries and pies, to name just a few. Sweet Potato and Yam can be boiled, roasted, baked or mashed; they can help to provide much of the daily recommended vitamins, minerals and fibres our body requires to remain fit and healthy.

According to research, more than 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese. Many, are finding the weight impossible to control. Obesity is said to be one of the biggest medical epidemics we are facing today, second only to the damaging effects of smoking on the body.

Supermarkets and food production manufacturers In the Uk are told to put their houses in order or face laws to curb high levels of sugars and fats in our food, according to the Guardian, 5th January 2013.

A Study in 2005 estimated that around 112,000 deaths are associated with obesity each year in the U.S and rising. Obesity is still a major cause of preventable deaths worldwide, with an increasing prevalence in both adults and children. Experts say this is one of the most serious public health problems we are facing in the 21st century.

However, there is still controversy; a recent study suggests, being overweight can lead to a longer life. This report was widely criticised, with other experts questioning the research method used, and a prominent professor asking the rather pertinent question “ Have you ever seen a 100-years-old human being who is overweight?

Personally, I believe a healthy life is a matter of balance and common sense, most of us want a long, happy and healthy life and are prepared to take steps to achieve it.

The majority of people are aware of the fact that they need regular exercise and a less sedentary lifestyle. We need to think about what we eat and make the smart food choice, know how the food we introduce into our bodies impact our physical and mental health.

We are eating more fruits and vegetables, less red meat and animal fats, although we are making progress, there is many more highly nutritious food we could be enjoying.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are usually fresh and can be an excellent source of vitamins. However, they can get rather dull, and as the saying goes, 'oranges aren't the only fruits.' There are other interesting alternatives to those versatile vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and cabbages, but for this article, we are going to look at sweet potatoes and yams.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, but the two vegetables are quite different and not related. Although both are flowering plants, they are not related botanically. The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant belonging to the Convolvulaceae family, related to morning glory family; it vary in size and the colour of the flesh. The darker the orange flesh, the higher the beta-carotene content.

Scroll to Continue

The sweet potato is a tuberous root vegetable; it is starchy and sweet tasting, a better source of fibre than a bowl of oatmeal. One medium size sweet potato has just about 120 calories and is surprisingly filling.

Sweet potatoes are readily available, they are inexpensive, and taste good! But there are many more reasons why we should eat more of this delicious root vegetable. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients Including the following:

  • Vitamin B6, we'll find out more about this vitamin later
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • copper
  • manganese
  • Fibre, there are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, each with different functions, and can be found in a variety of plant foods, both are important in the diet. Soluble fibres are found in many fruits and vegetables including sweet potatoes, an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fibres which plays a role in maintaining blood sugar balance. Getting sufficient amounts of this fibre can help to prevent type 2 diabetes. In some diabetes suffers, an increase of soluble fibre in the diet are thought to be able to reduce the need for medication.
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium belongs to the class of nutrients known as minerals, but it is also a vital electrolyte essential for the proper functioning of the heart, Kidney, muscle, nerve and digestive system.

    One 5 inches raw sweet potato contain about 438 milligrams of potassium. A large cooked sweet potato in the skin contains over 850 milligrams, in comparison, a medium size banana contain about 440 milligrams of potassium and a cup of coconut water has about 600 milligrams.

    Potassium and other electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium and sodium are crucial in helping the body to regulate fluid balance, muscle contraction and heart function.

    A 5-inch sweet potato provides around 112 calories most of which are contained in its 26 grams of carbohydrates. A 5-inch sweet potato also contains about 4 grams of fibre, 2 grams of protein and virtually no fat. Sweet potatoes can supply a third of the daily requirements of vitamin C and greater than four times the daily requirements for vitamin A.

  • Release natural sugars slowly into the bloodstream
  • High levels of carotenoids in the form of beta-carotene. Recent studies have shown that the sweet potato is unsurpassed as a source of beta-carotene. This root vegetable has a superior ability to raise the blood levels of vitamin A.

    In an African study, sweet potatoes were found to contain between 100- 1,000 micrograms of vitamin A in every 3.5 ounces, sufficient on average, to meet 35% of all vitamin A needs. A Recent study suggests that a minimum of 3-5 grams of fat per meal can significantly increase the uptake of beta-carotene from sweet potatoes.


Yams are edible tubers, similar to sweet potatoes, but are not as rich in vitamins and minerals as sweet potatoes. The yam was introduced to the U.S in 1676, the word Yam comes from the African word njam, myami, or djambi, meaning to eat. A member of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Yam is closely related to lilies, and grasses.

True yams are native to Africa and Asia and come in a variety of sizes. Size can range from that of a small potato to a record 130 pounds, and are believed to be able to grow to over seven feet in length. Now that's a whopper!...There are about 600 varieties of yams, 95% of which are produced in Africa. Yam grows from a vine that creeps along the ground with alternate heart or arrow shaped leaves.

Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier in texture and a good source of Vitamins and Minerals Including:

Vitamin B6, Yams are high in vitamin B6. The body uses Vitamin B6 for breaking down homocysteine; a common amino acid mostly acquired from eating meat and can directly damage the blood vessel walls leading to atherosclerosis.

Individuals who have had Myocardial infarction (heart attack) are often discovered to have high levels of homocysteine that is often associated with low levels of B6, B12 and folate, with an increased risk of heart attack and strokes, even though they may have normal or even low cholesterol level. Therefore, a proper intake of vitamin B6 makes sense; B6 has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Vitamin C

Dietary fibre


Carbohydrates, yam, is a healthy source of carbohydrates in the form of vegetable starch and fibre. Carbohydrates from yam provide long lasting energy and are low on the glycemic Index. Excellent for weight loss and very nutritious.

Potassium, yam provide 25% of the daily recommended value of potassium. Since much of our diet contains high levels of sodium, it is more common to be deficient in potassium than sodium, a diet containing yam will help to maintain a healthy balance. The average daily amount of potassium for healthy adults is set at 4,700 mg/day, lower in children and higher in mothers who are breastfeeding.

When the levels of potassium in the blood are too high or too low, this can result in cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm), a good reason potassium supplements are only available in small doses. However, potassium toxicity doesn't typically occur from dietary intake. Dietary supplements of potassium, are not usually needed since a diet rich in fruits and vegetables should provide the required amount necessary to maintain health.

Yams and The Menopause, Yams has been claimed to relieve some Menopausal and PMT symptoms, Mexican wild yam is available as a paste that can be applied to the fatty area of skin daily. However, the effectiveness of this treatment has not been proven.

Yam Soup with Cider and Spice

Yam Soup with Cider and Spice

 Purple or Violet Yams; try the  Ice Cream

Purple or Violet Yams; try the Ice Cream

Purple Yam Ice cream

Purple Yam Ice cream


Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on February 21, 2015:

Hi Michelle, sweet potatoes are very nutritious and a good source of omega-3, potassium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, vitamin A, B, C, K and E also beta-carotene to name a few. So I wasn't surprised to learn that your skin is glowing with health and vigour after eating sweet poratoes. :) Thank you so much for stopping by and for the lovely comment, my beat to you.

Michelle on February 20, 2015:

I agree~ sweet potato fries (baked of cousre ) are awesome! I even swear my skin looks better after eating sweet potatoes, most likely from all their vitamin A.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on October 28, 2013:

Hi Crafty, it is good to know that the food you love to eat is also good for you. :)

I ate a lot of sweet potatoes and yams as a child but not so much as an adult, however, after doing the research for this hub I'm making up for lost time.

Always a pleasure to see you, take care and my very best as always.

CraftytotheCore on October 27, 2013:

We love sweet potatoes and yams. My grandmother used to make candied yams every Christmas. I never made them so I don't know how. I love baked sweet potatoes and the casserole with marshmallows. I also love sweet potato pie and fries too! I didn't realize how many vitamins sweet potatoes have in them! Good to know. Thank you for the wonderful information.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 16, 2013:

Thanks Eddy, much appreciated.

Eiddwen from Wales on January 16, 2013:

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful hub.

Have a wonderful day.


Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 16, 2013:

Kirthikkash, you've proven that your instincts are right on the money. :)

I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, thank you for checking it out and my best to you.

Karthik Kashyap from India on January 15, 2013:

nice hub :) I was eating sweet potato a couple of days ago and was wondering about the nutritional value of that. And today I read this article. Nice one :)

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 15, 2013:

Marcy, just think how much warmer you'll be after that baked yam, go on....wrap up warm, the exercise will do you good also, it's a win, win situation :).

Thank you very much for stopping by, much appreciated

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on January 15, 2013:

You are making me hungry for a baked yam. And it's cold outside, so I am resisting going to the store. It's all your fault! Great and tempting hub!

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 15, 2013:

Hi Peggy, thank you for stopping by, I hope you enjoy your yam, I know it will be good for you.

My best to you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 15, 2013:

I just purchased a huge yam yesterday at the store. Will be a nice change from our more usual vegetables. I realized that they were healthy as are all vegetables, but now I am even better informed because of your hub. Thanks for writing this. Voted up, useful and interesting. Will also share.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 15, 2013:

Dilipchandra12, thank you for stopping by, and for the insightful comment, much appreciated.

My best to you.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 15, 2013:

Rumanasaiyed, nice to see you, thank you for the visit and comment. The benefits of these root vegs. was a pleasant surprise for me also, I'll eating a lot more sweet potatoes and I'll even give the yams a go.:) take care and my best to you.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 15, 2013:

Hi rajan, I have to thank you for the inspiration, your health benefits hubs are incredible. Thank you for the visit and generous comment, much appreciated.

My very best to you.

Dilip Chandra from India on January 14, 2013:

Useful hub. Informative and it was well written. Thanks for sharing.

Rumana from Sharjah, UAE on January 14, 2013:

I also do like sweet potatoes, but didn't knew that it was so much healthy. Thanks for sharing it with us...

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on January 14, 2013:

Excellent and useful info Jo! I love sweet potatoes quite a bit while yams to a lesser extent. Will try to eat a bit more of this too. Thanks for sharing such healthy info.

Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 13, 2013:

Hi phoebe, thank you, very much appreciated.

Phoebe Pike on January 12, 2013:

Another marvelous hub. Two-thumbs way up!

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

Lurana, thank you for checking this out, much appreciated.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

Hi Imogen, very nice to see you, the veggie cottage pie sounds yummy, and very healthy. I love sweet potatoes but I need to be a bit more imaginative with the yams, maybe I'll try the ice cream :). Thank you for the visit and my best to you.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

G-Ma Johnson, It's great when something that is good for you also taste good. Sounds like you are doing a great job with the blood pressure and the diabetes, keep up the good work and the best of health to you. Hugs right back at you.


Merle Ann Johnson from NW in the land of the Free on January 12, 2013:

LOVE 'EM (BOTH) AND EAT THEM ALL THE TIME...Dr. Furhman is who I have been following and I feel so much better and have now lost 24 #....:O) Best part is my blood pressure is all better,my diabetes may be gone?, and several otherings are improving...He says Greens, onions, mushrooms, berries/beans and seeds you should eat everyday...then on to all these other great foods.

Great information here and Thanks because I really didn't know all this either...:O) Hugs G-Ma

Imogen French from Southwest England on January 12, 2013:

A very timely and informative hub thanks.

I am just getting into sweet potatoes and today made a veggie cottage pie with a sweet potato mash - it was very tasty, and it's good to know of the health benefits!

Lurana Brown on January 12, 2013:

What a great article! Very useful health information from a balanced perspective with interesting details. I just love sweet potatoes too :-).

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on January 12, 2013:

Great information. I have been on a sweet potato kick this week. Definitely one of my favorite foods. Voted up.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

Thank you Frank, much appreciated. Have a great aweekend.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 12, 2013:

very useful tobusiness thank you for the share :)

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

M'hatter, in that case you're already ahead. Thank you for stopping by always a pleasure.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 12, 2013:

Madison22, thank you very much for stopping by. I began the research because I'd recently tried some plantin and sweet potatoes over the holiday period. I remembered jut how much I loved them as a child. But I too was pleasently surprised at the health benefits of these vegetables. Glad you liked the hub, my best to you.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on January 11, 2013:

Thank you for this. I didn't know this, I just love em.

Madison from NYC on January 11, 2013:

I must say I never knew sweet potatoes and yams had all these benefits. Quite impressive hub, thank you for the information.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 11, 2013:

rasta1, so nice to see you, thank you for stopping by. Growing up in the UK, so many of us have turned away from this type of food in preference to the deadly fast food that are killing us, all the root vegs. you've mentioned are great sources of the nutrition the body needs. Who needs meat? Well...maybe some jerk chicken now and then. :). My best to you.

Marvin Parke from Jamaica on January 11, 2013:

I am from that rural part of Jamaica where the yams are dominant. I even went to the same high school as Usain Bolt. Yam is an every day food. Jamaicans call it "food". When Jamaicans say put some more food in my plate, they are refering to yams. Cassava, Dasheen, Sweet Potato and then potatoes follow in terms of popularity.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 11, 2013:

Gingerka, that was the plan but there were so much information I wanted to include, the hub would have gone on forever, but maybe the next hub. Thank you so much for stopping by, much appreciated.

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 11, 2013:

Hi Billy, I knew there was a reason why you and Bev looked so fit!!..yep, it's all in the sweet potatoes, :)). All you guys need now is a handsome portion of yellow yams and 'watch out Usain Bolt!'

Much appreciated as always, hope you are enjoying a great weekend also and my very best.

gingerka from Colorado on January 11, 2013:

This is a very interesting hub. How about adding some good recipes for yams and sweet potatoes?

Jo Alexis-Hagues (author) from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 11, 2013:

Irish, nice to see you, and many thanks for reading this. Your dad was a very wise man, as well as a great cook.

As a child I loved sweet potatoes but hated yams. Now seems a good time to give the yams another try, if it's good enough for Usain, it's certainly good enough for me :). Usain is a real character but boy he is fast!.... there are great recipes online for both Yams and Sweet Potatoes so Bon appetit!! Have a brilliant Weekend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2013:

We actually eat a lot of sweet the fries. Glad to hear they are so healthy. As for yams....not so much. :) Very informative, Jo; thanks for the education, and have a great weekend.

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on January 11, 2013:

My Dad was a HUGE yam fan. He was a great cook and often made the most delicious recipes including yams. He also used sweet potatoes. Some of his favorite recipes, spices and tastes originated from Jamaica. Although I knew both yams and sweet potatoes were good for you, I hadn't realized how many benefits they provided.

Jo - very well structured and chock full of helpful information.

I am also a HUGE fan of Usain Bolt. What a magnificent attitude combined with amazing physical power. The photo of Popeye gave me a giggle too!

Voting up and sharing

Related Articles