A common nutrition myth is that regular, white potatoes are unhealthy, to be avoided at all costs, simply vehicles for deep-frying and gluts of sour cream, while sweet potatoes are a superfood and should make regular appearances in your diet. In fact, both potatoes deserve a good reputation. So after setting aside the demonizing myths of white potatoes, what is the angelic truth?
It may surprise you that potatoes and sweet potatoes are not even genetically related. Regular potatoes are related to tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers; this family of plants produce solanine (which is poisonous) so make sure that when you are preparing and eating these plants you don’t eat the leaves or stems. Sweet potatoes have no part of their plant poisonous and are relatives of flowering morning glory vines. Yams are even yet another plant family and are not the same thing as sweet potatoes despite being similar in taste, color, and usage!
Both regular potatoes and sweet potatoes have over 4000 varieties, an entire rainbow of colors, sizes, and textures. Most grocery stores only carry a few of the more popular varieties that are typically used in restaurants. Farmers’ Markets and smaller grocers are more likely to have the heirloom and unique varieties.
Different Vital Nutrients?
There are many important nutrients in both regular and sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes typically get a gold star by nutrition experts because they are sources of vitamin A. Both tubers are great sources of antioxidants as well as phytonutrients (nutrients produced by plants) and some precursors to the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin! Potatoes can help fight depression! Spuds help regulate your immune system, fight viruses, lower inflammation, and inhibit tumors growing.
One inaccurate “potato fact” is that they are high in anti-nutrients—substances that either prevent your body from absorbing nutrients or are toxic. But almost all foods have some anti-nutrients, sweet potatoes included, and cooking tubers is usually enough to remove them.
The tubers are great sources of starchy carbohydrates, yet another important macronutrient that has a bad reputation because of the way it is usually served. But when not drenched in oil, starchy carbohydrates are some of the most satiating foods to eat. A single serving can keep you feeling full for a very long time.
The starch in tubers is a special kind: resistant starch. Your body can’t digest resistant starch—hence the name—so the molecules are instead broken down in the intestines. This breakdown process takes time and energy, so you feel fuller longer. And you actually end up absorbing less calories from the starches than you do with highly processed foods!
Different Cooking Methods?
If what makes regular potatoes and sweet potatoes unhealthy is the method by which you cook them, what are the methods that give you the healthiest spuds? All kinds of potatoes should be cooked to kill of any toxins (remember that solanine?) and deactivate anti-nutrients. Boiling, baking, or roasting either type of potato is a deliciously healthy cooking option. Served alongside lean protein and a green vegetable, cooked potatoes become a powerhouse of satiety and nutrients. Avoid deep-frying or turning sweet potatoes into a pie and there is no reason both potatoes and sweet potatoes can’t be a regular part of your healthy diet.