These are the sweet potatoes that you roast for meal prep, use for Thanksgiving sweet potato pie or marshmallow-topped mashed potatoes, and snack on as fries and chips. They’re versatile, easy to find, and the varietals within the orange-fleshed potatoes are all “pretty much interchangeable,” says Heck. She notes there will be “subtle differences in flavor, sweetness, and moisture” between Beauregard (brown skin, more deeply sweet, grown in Louisiana), Garnet (red skin, more like pumpkin flavor), and Jewel (coppery-orange skin, mildly sweet and earthy, California-grown).

Heck argues that sweet potatoes should be your new vegetarian meat replacement because they “can carry spices in a way that other vegetables can’t.” Standard white potatoes’ flavor would be obliterated by a heavy seasoning from Spanish paprika, black pepper, and garlic, but it works perfectly as a bacon-ish flavor in her Cobb salad recipe (pictured above) or with cumin and coriander for tacos.


White Sweet Potatoes

Treat white sweet potatoes like russets and fry ’em. These ones are served with ricotta and scallions.

Gentl & Hyers

White sweet potatoes may look like russets, but they’re loaded with some of the same fiber and vitamins that orange sweet potatoes have—though not as much beta-carotene. Since they’re a little drier in texture, Heck suggests using them for gnocchi so you can control the amount of moisture in the dough. For non-pasta applications, Heck says they go really well with bright, acidic sauces like chimichurri. The texture is more toothsome than mushy when roasted, but if you braise them low and slow, they end up being silky yet still hold their shape.

Purple Sweet Potatoes

Sambal-buttered purple sweet potatoes.

Kristin Teig

Purple sweet potatoes have super amped-up anthocyanins like blueberries, which are great for both color and antioxidants. The North Carolina-grown Stokes varietal are the most popular (with a sweet chestnut flavor), but you can sometimes find Hawaiian Okinawan potatoes with purple-speckled flesh that are best boiled whole. To prevent the color from bleeding out when cooking, Heck suggests roasting, sautéeing, or frying purple sweet potatoes. One of Heck’s favorite ways to eat them is topped with sambal butter. You can either make your own sambal paste with chiles, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime zest, and salt, or just mix 1 Tsbp. sambal oelek with a stick of butter. As it melts into your potato, all your problems may melt away too.

Related: 25 Sweet Potato Recipes to Try

Kristin Teig

Reprinted from Sweet Potatoes. Copyright © 2017 by Mary-Frances Heck. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Kristin Teig. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Sweet potato vs yam, what is the difference between the two? Sweet Potatoes and Yams might be some of the most commonly confused root vegetables of all time. Keep reading to find out the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.

Are Yams Sweet Potatoes?

No they aren’t. Yams and sweet potatoes grow similarly, look alike and the words “yams” and “sweet potatoes” are often interchanged as a description to fit the cook’s preference. There are times when I visit the produce aisle of the grocery store to find they offer bins of both sweet potatoes and yams but both bins contain the same vegetable! Aside from the shape, these are two very different veggies.

In North America there are mainly two varieties of sweet potatoes; a soft, copper skinned potato with a dark orange flesh and a firm , golden skinned potato with a lighter flesh. There are also purple sweet potatoes and other varieties. At the grocer, the copper skinned sweet potato is labeled as a yam, but is it really a yam?

Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes

Yams are native to Asia and Africa, they are related to lilies and grow as roots of a flowering plant. Yams grow from a regular potato size to gigantic proportions of nearly 5 feet long! The skin of a true yam is tougher and bark like and the flesh is white, red or purplish in color. A true yam is not as common in North America, but you can find them in specialty or international stores.

Sweet Potatoes are a member of the morning glory family. They have a firmer skin and can be an assortment of colors including copper, purple, white, orange or red. The color of the flesh varies as well to include orange, yellow, purple and white! As the copper skinned sweet potato most resembles a yam, the name was applied to the tuber to differentiate it from it’s lighter counterpart. This explains why we (mistakenly) label one as a sweet potato and one as a yam.

Most likely, all yams and sweet potatoes that you use from the grocery store are sweet potatoes. Often, the copper skinned sweet potato is referred to as yam, or sweet potato yam, and these are a firmer version of sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes with the lighter skin and yellow insides are softer. They cook very differently.

To know what you want to buy when faced with a sweet potato and a sweet potato yam in the grocery store, it is important to know what you want to prepare. If you are looking for a classic Thanksgiving dish of Sweet Potato Casserole or Sweet Potato Pie, purchase a copper skinned sweet potato yam. They will give you the texture that you want!

To easily identify which of these tuberous root vegetables you want to buy, take note of the skin. You want to buy the darker skinned potato for a firm potato that has a firmer texture after cooking (but can easily be made into Mashed Sweet Potatoes), and a lighter skinned potato for.a fluffy and creamy flesh.

Sweet Potato Recipes You’ll Love

  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Sweet Potato Pie
  • Baked Sweet Potato
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Chicken Stew

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

California Sweet Potatoes

There is no mistaking the sweet potato casserole, no matter what sort of magic (marshmallows, candied pecans, streusel, etc.) you sprinkle on top.

There is, however, plenty of mistaking the sweet potato itself: it’s often referred to as a yam, and vice versa.

So let’s get things straight: A sweet potato is not a yam. A yam is not a sweet potato. And by the way, a sweet potato isn’t even a potato—nor is a yam.

What exactly is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? It starts with where they come from.

Where Yams and Sweet Potatoes Are Grown

Yams and sweet potatoes are two different plants. The sweet potato is in the morning glory family, while yams are related to palms and grasses.

And they grow in different parts of the world: yams in Africa, where they originated, and also Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Central America. Sweet potatoes are grown in the United States, with North Carolina leading the way in production.

So at a typical supermarket, what you’re buying is an American-grown sweet potato. True yams are imported and a rare find outside of specialty grocery stores.

How to tell sweet potatoes and yams apart

A sweet potato has tapered ends and thin, smooth skin and flesh that can range from light beige to burnished orange to purplish, even.

A yam is cylindrical, typically white-fleshed—there is a purple variety, too—and has rough, dark, almost hairy skin.

“They are just… ugly,” said Kelly McIver, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

They taste very different, too. Yams are starchy and dry. Sweet potatoes are, well, sweet and moist, some more than others.

So why do we mix them up?

The prevailing theory seems to date to the slave-era South, where sweet potatoes were established as a crop and dubbed yams, a shortened form of the African word nyami, which means “to eat,” McIver said.

According to the Louisiana State University AgCenter, “yam” as a marketing term for sweet potatoes really took hold in the 1930s after Louisiana scientists developed a particularly sweet orange-fleshed variety, the one we’re accustomed to these days.

Labels on produce bins at the supermarket don’t help much. You might still find “yam” and “sweet potato” used interchangeably or in tandem. The FDA, which regulates food labeling, doesn’t have a so-called standard of identity for either sweet potatoes or yams, so either term works.

“‘Yam’ has just kind of stuck,” said McIver.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Speck and ChimichurriHirsheimer & Hamilton

When is sweet potato season?

In North Carolina, home to more than half of the U.S. crop, the sweet potato harvest starts in mid- to late-August, said third-generation organic farmer Stanley Hughes of Pine Knot Farms in Hurdle Mills, N.C.

Peak season runs until December. “That’s when they’re at the best, when all the flavors are saturated throughout,” he said.

How should sweet potatoes be chosen and stored?

The shape and size of sweet potatoes makes no difference in flavor. Just look out for any obvious dings or rotting spots when buying them.

At home, take them out of the plastic bag and keep them in a well-ventilated container in a cool, dry spot. The basement is good; the refrigerator, never. McIver stores hers in the garage. They’ll keep for up to a month under ideal conditions, she said.

Cooked purée—perfect for pie or that inevitable, unmistakable, don’t-call-it-yam casserole—will keep frozen in airtight bags for at least a year.

Baking With Sweet Potatoes: Beyond Sweet Potato Pie

These Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Are a Vegetarian’s Weeknight Dream

41 of Our Best Sweet Potato Recipes

Sweet Potato Side Dishes That Aren’t Your Average Casserole

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) truly match the description “delicious and nutritious.” These tasty veggies are packed with vitamins and nutrients and are sweet to eat.

Despite their name, sweet potatoes are not closely related to white potatoes. White potatoes are part of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers, according to the University of Wisconsin. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are part of the morning glory family of flowering plants. Sweet potatoes are root vegetables — meaning that the part you eat is the root — while white potatoes are considered tubers, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH).

Although the orange variety is the most common in the United States, sweet potatoes also come in white, yellow, pink and purple varieties, according to the Library of Congress. While the orange and yellow types contain the most vitamin A, the purple variety contains high levels of antioxidants, the Cleveland Clinic reports.

Nutrient profile

Here are the nutrition facts for sweet potatoes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:

Nutrition Facts Serving size: 1 medium (4.6 oz / 130 g) Calories 100 Calories from Fat 0 *Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Amt per Serving %DV* Amt per Serving %DV*
Total Fat0g 0% Total Carbohydrate23g 8%
Cholesterol0mg 0% Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Sodium70mg 3% Sugars 7g
Potassium440mg 13% Protein 2g
Vitamin A 120% Calcium 4%
Vitamin C 30% Iron 4%

Sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of vitamin A; a medium one contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake, according to the USDA.

Boiling sweet potatoes retains more beta-carotene, and makes this nutrient easier for the body to absorb, HSPS says. Cooking sweet potatoes with the skin on also helps prevent the loss of nutrients, including vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Health effects of sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins: They “are high in vitamin A , vitamin B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and, due to their orange color, are high in carotenoids,” said San Diego-based nutritionist Laura Flores.

They also contain no fat, are relatively low in sodium and have fewer calories than white potatoes — although they do contain sugar. Sweet potatoes are also high in vitamin C, potassium and fiber, according to HSPH.

Two “phytochemicals” in sweet potatoes are responsible for their bright color: Beta-carotene (a pre-cursor to vitamin A) gives orange sweet potatoes their orange flesh, and anthocyanins give purple sweet potatoes their purple hue, according to HSPH. Scientists are studying both of these compounds for their role in human health and disease preventions, HSPH says.

Sweet potatoes are considered a medium glycemic index food, according to HSPH, with a glycemic index of 63. (The glycemic index (GI) refers to how quickly and how much a food raises a person’s blood sugar after eating.) White potatoes, on the other hand, are a high-GI food, with a GI of 78. Previous research has shown a link between a high-GI diet and type 2 diabetes.

They may also cause some skin-related side effects.

“While there aren’t any severe health problems associated with sweet potatoes, they are high in vitamin A, which the body stores,” Flores said. “When levels get too high, you may notice your skin and nails looking a little orange.”

This side effect should decrease if you cut down on sweet potato consumption.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with a history of kidney stones may want to avoid eating too many sweet potatoes, as the vegetable contains oxalate, which contributes to the forming of calcium-oxalate kidney stones.

Yams vs. sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably in recipes, but in fact the two vegetables are not even related. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family, while yams are closely related to lilies and grasses, according the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH). Yams are native to Africa and Asia, and there are more than 600 varieties. They are also starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.

Why the confusion? According to the Library of Congress website Everyday Mysteries, sweet potato varieties are classified as either “firm” or “soft.” In the United States, the firm varieties came first. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate the two kinds. African slaves began calling the soft sweet potatoes “yams” because they resembled the yams they knew in Africa. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term “yam” to be accompanied by the term “sweet potato.” Unless you are specifically searching for yams, which can be found in international markets, you are probably eating sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than yams. Sweet potatoes and yams are both healthy foods, and they look similar. Sweet potatoes, however, have higher concentrations of most nutrients and more fiber.

Additional resources:

This article was updated on Oct. 23, 2018 by Live Science Health Editor, Sara G. Miller.

Sweet potatoes vs. potatoes: Which are really healthier? [Infographic] Let’s get to the bottom of this never-ending debate.

Sweet potatoes vs. potatoes: A nutritional debate fueled by misinformation, baseless ‘superfood’ obsessions, and carbohydrate phobias. Here’s how these tubers compare — and why both deserve a place in your diet.


A few years back, some crazy nutrition enthusiasts decided to figure out whether white or sweet potatoes were “healthier”.

One group compared the glycemic index and load of sweet potatoes vs. potatoes. They suggested that since white potatoes tend to be higher, they should be avoided.

Another group suggested that sweet potatoes are a vitamin A ‘superfood’, putting them way ahead of their white potato competitors.

And, of course, the carbophobes had their own take: All potatoes should be avoided because they’re too high in carbs and all those carbs will mess with your insulin regulation and cause fat gain.

Nonsense, all of it.

Both white and sweet potatoes, when eaten as part of a balanced and intentional diet, provide a fantastic array of nutrients while contributing to the satiety and deliciousness of any meal.

Check out this infographic to learn more about white and sweet potatoes, and why you should consider including both in your diet. (You can even ).

Want to share this with family, friends, and clients? .

For an even more comprehensive take on this topic, check out our accompanying article, “Sweet vs. regular potatoes: Which are really healthier?”.

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Whether you like ’em baked and topped with butter, popped in the toaster and served with avocado on top, or in a big bowl of chili, sweet potatoes have become quite the trendy veggie. (Watch your back, cauliflower.) You’d think buying the tuber would be pretty straight forward. But if you’ve sought them out at the grocery store, you’ve likely come in contact with a common conundrum: seeing them right next to their cousin, the yam. You might not have even noticed the difference. After all, they do look very similar. Which raises an interesting question: what is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, anyways?

Registered dietitian Jessica Cording, RD sees people mixing the two up a lot. “Often what people think are yams are actually sweet potatoes,” she says. Visually, she explains that yams are lighter in color and have a light brown, scaly outside. “The flesh is actually whiter,” she says.

As for sweet potatoes, Cording points out that there many different types of sweet potatoes and they can range from the brown on the outside, orange on the inside tubers that are most popular, brown on the outside and purple on the inside, and even red on the outside and white on the inside, also known as Japanese sweet potatoes.

How they compare nutritionally

Nutritionally, Cording says yams and sweet potatoes—in all their various types—are pretty similar. “Both are starchy vegetables that are good sources of potassium and fiber,” she says. Sweet potatoes and yams also both have zinc (vital for cell growth and immune function), magnesium (important for muscle function, heart health, and immunity), iron (essential for blood production), and selenium (which protects cells from being damaged).

There are some slight differences in the nutrition department, however. Cording says the big one is that sweet potatoes are higher in beta carotene. “You can see this in sweet potatoes’ vibrant pigments,” she says. “Foods that are orange or purple tend to be very high in beta carotene, unlike paler foods, like yams.” She explains that the major reason why beta carotene is a positive is because the body converts it into vitamin A, which is good for eye health, and the immune system.

Cording says the bright colors of sweet potatoes are also a sign that they are high in antioxidants, something yams are lower in. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation by helping the body fight free radicals, making them another major health perk.

This all doesn’t mean that yams are unhealthy by any standards—they typically have more potassium and fiber than their sweet potato cousins. “When you look at the nutritional data, the differences aren’t huge,” Cording says.

How to use yams and sweet potatoes

Given that their nutritional profiles are both pretty impressive, choosing between sweet potatoes and yams all comes down to your personal taste preferences and how you’re going to use them. Yams, Cording explains, are a bit more savory than sweet potatoes, so it’s important to think about the type of flavor profile you’re going for. “Yams are a little drier and starchier, which might work better for dishes where you’re looking for that texture, like an oven-baked yam pie,” she says. “But if you’re looking for something fleshy and creamy, a baked sweet potato might be a better way to go.”

If you’re looking for some specific recipes to try (because why not?), why not use them both together as in this Thai yam and sweet potato curry? And maybe we’re biased, but this sweet potato gnocchi from The Well+Good Cookbook is to die for.

When it comes down to cooking with sweet potatoes and yams, Cording says her best advice is to experiment to see what you like best. “Mixing it up is good, and trying different flavor combinations is a good way to eat healthy but not feel like you’re stuck in rut or a clean eating box,” she says. So next time you’re in the produce section, why not pick up both?

While we’re comparing healthy foods, here’s the verdict on if brown rice is really healthier than white rice. And here’s some recipe inspo just for your bag of sweet potatoes.

The question: What’s the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? Is one healthier for you?

The answer: The terms yam and sweet potato are often used interchangeably in grocery stores. But they are two different starchy vegetables that deliver different nutrient profiles. In most cases, the “yams” sold in grocery stores are actually orange-coloured sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato is related to the morning glory family; it has orange flesh and its skin can be white, yellow, orange or purple. Sometimes it’s shaped like a potato and sometimes it’s longer and tapered at both ends.

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Yams belong to the lily family. The colour of their flesh varies from ivory to yellow to purple. They’re long and cylindrical, and their skin has a rough and scaly texture. While sweet potatoes are readily available in grocery stores, yams aren’t. If you’re looking for yams and your grocery store doesn’t carry them, try an international food market that carries Caribbean or African foods.

But when it comes to nutrition, sweet potatoes score much higher. Compared with yams, sweet potatoes are lower in calories and have far more beta-carotene (11.5 compared with 0.07 milligrams for each one-half cup), an antioxidant nutrient thought to guard against certain cancers.

There is no official recommended intake for beta-carotene but experts contend that consuming three to six milligrams daily will maintain blood levels in the range that’s associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases. One-half cup of sweet potato supplies double that amount.

Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index number than yams, meaning their carbohydrate is released more slowly into the bloodstream.

This doesn’t mean yams aren’t nutritious –they are a good source of fibre and potassium. Here’s how sweet potatoes and yams compare nutritionally:

Sweet potato, 1/2 cup (100 grams), baked with skin:

90 calories, 0 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, 3.3 grams fibre, 2 grams protein, 475 milligrams potassium, 20 milligrams vitamin C, 0.28 milligrams vitamin B6, 11.5 milligrams beta-carotene.

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Yam, 1/2 cup (100 grams), baked with skin:

116 calories, 0 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fibre, 1.5 grams protein, 670 mg potassium, 12 milligrams vitamin C, 0.23 milligrams vitamin B6, .07 milligrams beta-carotene.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at [email protected] . She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

What’s to know about sweet potatoes?

Sweet potato may offer a variety of health benefits. Here are some of the ways in which they may benefit a person’s health:

Improving insulin sensitivity in diabetes

Share on PinterestSweet potatoes may help improve insulin sensitivity.

In one 2008 study, researchers found that an extract of white skinned sweet potato improved insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

Earlier, in 2000, laboratory rats consumed either white skinned sweet potato or an insulin sensitizer, called troglitazone, for 8 weeks. The levels of insulin resistance improved in those that consumed the sweet potato.

However, more studies in humans are necessary to confirm these benefits.

The fiber in sweet potatoes is also important. Studies have found that people who consume more fiber appear to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A 124 gram (g) serving of mashed sweet potato, or around half a cup, will provide about 2.5 g of fiber.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aged 19 years and above consume 22.4 g to 33.6 g of fiber each day, depending on their age and sex.

Learn about the best foods for diabetes here.

Maintaining healthful blood pressure levels

The American Heart Association (AHA) encourage people to avoid eating foods that contain high amounts of added salt, and to instead consume more potassium-rich foods to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

A 124 g serving of mashed sweet potato provides 259 milligrams (mg) of potassium, or around 5% of the daily requirements for an adult. Current guidelines recommend that adults consume 4,700 mg of potassium per day.

Get more tips on foods to lower blood pressure here.

Reducing the risk of cancer

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene. This is a plant pigment that acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body. Beta-carotene is also a provitamin. The body converts it into the active form of vitamin A.

Antioxidants may help reduce the risk of various types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer.

Antioxidants such as beta-carotene can help prevent cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. If levels of free radicals in the body get too high, cellular damage can occur, increasing the risk of some conditions.

Obtaining antioxidants from dietary sources may help prevent conditions such as cancer.

Can some foods help prevent cancer? Find out here.

Improving digestion and regularity

The fiber content in sweet potatoes can help prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Also, multiple studies have linked high dietary fiber intake with a reduced risk of colorectal cancers.

Why is dietary fiber important? Learn more here.

Protecting eye health

As mentioned above, sweet potatoes are a good source of provitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. After the age of 18, the Dietary Guidelines recommend an intake of 700 mg of vitamin A per day for women and 900 mg per day for men. Vitamin A is important for protecting eye health.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), a baked sweet potato in its skin will provide around 1,403 mcg of vitamin A, or 561% of a person’s daily requirement.

Vitamin A also acts as an antioxidant. Together with other antioxidants, it can help protect the body from a variety of health conditions.

Learn more here about vitamin A.

Boosting immunity

One 124 g serving of sweet potato provides 12.8 mg of vitamin C. Current guidelines recommend a daily intake of 75 mg of vitamin C for adult women and 90 mg for adult men.

A person who consumes little or no vitamin C can develop scurvy. Many of the symptoms of scurvy result from tissue problems due to impaired collagen production.

Vitamin C also supports the immune system and enhances iron absorption. A low vitamin C intake may increase a person’s risk of iron deficiency anemia.

Find out more about vitamin C and why we need it here.

Reducing inflammation

A rodent study from 2017 suggests that an extract of purple sweet potato color may help reduce the risk of inflammation and obesity.

Sweet potatoes contain choline, a nutrient that helps with muscle movement, learning, and memory. It also supports the nervous system.

A 2010 study found that taking high dose choline supplements helped manage inflammation in people with asthma. However, this does not necessarily mean that choline from sweet potatoes will have the same impact.

What Is The Difference Between A Sweetpotato And A Yam?

What’s in a name? When it comes to the yam, a bit of confusion. The truth is what you’ve been calling a yam is most likely a sweetpotato. Even more, it’s possible that you’ve never even tasted a yam!

That sweet, orange-colored root vegetable that you love so dearly is actually a sweetpotato. Yes, all so-called “yams” are in fact sweetpotatoes. Most people think that long, red-skinned sweetpotatoes are yams, but they really are just one of many varieties of sweetpotatoes. So where did all of the confusion come from? Let’s break down the main differences between yams and sweetpotatoes!

Yam vs. Sweetpotato:

A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.

Depending on the variety, sweetpotato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple. The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.”

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweetpotato.’ Despite the label regulations, most people still think of sweetpotatoes as yams regardless of their true identity.

Think you know the differences between yams and sweetpotatoes? Take our quiz and test your root knowledge!




Sweetpotatoes are almost always sweeter than yams. They have versatile flavor easily altered by cooking methods.

Starchier and more potato-like, usually not very sweet. Versatile; flavor easily altered by cooking methods.


In the U.S. the majority of Sweetpotatoes sold are one of four appearances;

  1. Rose color skin with orange flesh
  2. Pale copper/tan skin with white flesh
  3. Red skin, dry white flesh
  4. Purple skin and flesh

All are more slender in appearance than a potato and have tapered ends; however each of these does have a different flavor profile.

Varies considerably. Some yams are the size and shape of small potatoes; others can grow up to 1.5m (5ft) in length and weigh over 100lbs (70kg). Skins may be dark brown or light pink; insides white, yellow, purple, or pink.


Very nutritious. Has more sugar, protein, calcium, iron, sodium, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and water than yams do.

Very nutritious. Has more fat, carbs, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin E than sweetpotatoes do.


In the U.S., over 50% of the country’s sweetpotatoes are grown in North Carolina.

Today, yams are grown around the world, but West Africa is still where most yam crops — nearly 95% — are grown.

Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?

By Keri Glassman, MS, RD

Ask Keri: Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?

Keri Says: Sweet potatoes are a great source of powerful antioxidants like beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients. They’re also lower on the Glycemic Index than white potatoes, which means they’re less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.

Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are similar, however, in terms of calories, fiber, and macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content.

So, are sweet potatoes good for you in way that means you should ditch white potatoes for good? Here’s what you need to know.

RELATED: 17 Surprising, Tasty Ways to Eat Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Basics

One cup of raw sweet potato contains about 114 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat. One cup of white potato has 116 calories, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat.

Aside from the sugar content (responsible for the sweet taste), the macronutrients are pretty similar, right? This is why many people wonder why sweet potatoes are known for being uber healthy while old school taters get a bad rap. Well, it’s all about the micronutrients.

Why Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?

All potatoes contain vitamins and minerals, many of which act as antioxidants or have anti-inflammatory properties, like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and other nutrients. But a sweet potato’s characteristic orange hue is a hint at its leg up.

That color is the result of a super high concentration of a phytonutrient called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant, and we know antioxidants help protect the body from many diseases (like reducing the risk of heart disease). It’s also a precursor to to vitamin A, meaning your body uses it to make the vitamin. Vitamin A is important for immune system function, vision, cellular communication, and more.

RECIPE: How to Make Sweet Potato Nachos

And speaking of colors, have you ever tried purple sweet potatoes? Those pretty tubers also contain cyanidin, a phytochemical that acts as a strong antioxidant and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Okay, so you might be thinking, “What about all of the sugar in sweet potatoes?” Though sweet potatoes do have more sugar, they’re actually considered “low” on the Glycemic Index (GI) compared to regular white potatoes, which are considered “high.” This means your blood sugar will rise more slowly, preventing a sharp spike (and subsequent crash).

Take note: The GI value changes based on the cooking method. When you bake a sweet potato, you end up with much more sugar, which raises the GI score. Boiling the same sweet potato results in less of an increase.

RELATED: The Most Unexpected Way to Serve Sweet Potatoes (Hint: It Involves Chocolate!)

Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes: The Bottom Line

By now the fact that sweet potatoes are good for you is pretty clear, but why are regular potatoes still so frowned upon? French fries, tater tots, potato chips…these fatty, high-sodium, often processed forms are the most most common choices, which is a big reason why the tubers end up with a bad rap.

However, while a sweet potato provides additional nutrients, a real, whole potato of any kind is a good choice and will help you meet your nutrient needs. Eat them as the starchy portion of your meal (I usually recommend one or two starchy servings a day), make sure to prep them right (yep, that means no fried or au gratin), and mix up the variety to reap all of the varied benefits. One important tip: Try not to peel them! Many of the powerful phytonutrients in both sweet potatoes and white potatoes are in the skin.

I’ll leave you with my personal favorite: A baked sweet potato with a teaspoon of coconut oil, a dash of cinnamon, and sprinkle of sea salt. Delicious!

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What’s the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

This Thanksgiving, families across the country will enjoy a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes … or are they yams? Discussions on the proper name for the orange starchy stuff on your table can get more heated than arguments about topping them with marshmallows. But there’s an easy way to tell the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: If you picked up the tuber from a typical American grocery store, it’s probably a sweet potato.

So what’s a sweet potato?

Sweet potato and yam aren’t just different names for the same thing: The two produce items belong to their own separate botanical categories. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Regular potatoes like russets, meanwhile, are considered part of the nightshade family, which means that sweet potatoes aren’t actually potatoes at all.

Almost all of the foods most Americans think of as yams are really sweet potatoes. The root vegetable typically has brown or reddish skin with a starchy inside that’s orange (though it can also be white or purple). It’s sold in most supermarkets in the country and used to make sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie, and the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving.

Then what’s a yam?

Yams. bonchan/iStock via Getty Images

Yams are a different beast altogether. They are more closely related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments. The skin is more rough and bark-like than what you’d see on a sweet potato, and the inside is usually white or yellowish—not orange.

They’re a common ingredient in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Because the inside of a yam is less moist than the inside of a sweet potato, they require more fat to make them soft and creamy. They’re also less sweet than their orange-hued counterparts. In many regions in the U.S., yams aren’t sold outside of international grocery stores.

Where did the mix-up come from?

Also sweet potatoes. Kateryna Bibro/iStock via Getty Images

So if yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different vegetables that don’t look or taste that similar, why are their names used interchangeably in the U.S.? You can blame the food industry. For years, “firm” sweet potatoes, which have brown skin and whitish flesh, were the only sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. In the early 20th century, “soft” sweet potatoes, which have reddish skin and deep-orange flesh, entered the scene. Farmers needed a way to distinguish the two varieties, so soft sweet potatoes became yams.

Nearly a century later, the misnomer shows no signs of disappearing. Many American supermarkets still call their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes yams and their white-fleshed ones sweet potatoes, even though both items are sweet potatoes. But this isn’t a strict rule, and stores often swap the names and make things even more confusing for shoppers. So the next time you’re shopping for a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, learn to identify them by sight rather than the name on the label.

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Sweet potatoes are a surprisingly versatile breakfast ingredient. They can be cooked into a hash, turned into toast, even stuffed into dumplings. But what do you do if you’re making a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes but only have yams in your pantry. What, exactly, is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, anyway? And can you use yams as a sweet potato substitute in your recipes? The short answer is no, you can’t always substitute yams for sweet potatoes. That’s because yams and sweet potatoes are different vegetables with totally different origins, even though they often get lumped together in the same category in the United States.

Sweet potatoes generally have an orange flesh and a maroon or copper skin. There’s also a version of sweet potato that has a thin yellow skin and yellow flesh, though those are less common. Yams, however, are a totally different vegetable that either type of sweet potato, with a white inside and a dark, nearly black skin. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, according to the Library of Congress, and these days, they’re most often imported to the United States from the Caribbean. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are grown in the United States.

The main reason you can’t substitute sweet potatoes for yams, or vice versa, is because the two root vegetables taste entirely differently and have very different nutritional compositions. A yam is starchy and dry, but a sweet potato is, as the name suggests, sweet and moister. For some context, according to the US Department of Agriculture, a sweet potato has 5.56 grams of sugar per 100 grams, and a yam has only 0.50 grams of sugar for the same amount. Sweet potatoes are also packed with vitamin A, according to experts at the University of California, Davis, while yams have very little.

So if yams and sweet potatoes are so different, in taste and texture and even nutritional value, then why do we confuse them? Well, that’s mainly because sweet potatoes are regularly mislabeled as yams in American grocery stores. That can of yams you buy for Thanksgiving? They’re actually sweet potatoes that are just labeled as yams. The USDA actually requires that softer sweet potatoes are labeled with both the phrases “yam” and “sweet potato,” not just yam, in order to clear up some of the confusion.

The mislabeling dates back to the 1920s, if not even earlier than that. As Joss Fong explains in a video for Vox about the difference between a yam and a sweet potato, the word “yam” is likely derived from west African languages, brought over the the United States as a result of the slave trade. “When west African people were forcibly moved to the new world,” she posits, “they probably used the word ‘yam’ to refer to the root vegetable they found there: the sweet potato.”

So, you can stop freaking out about accidentally using sweet potatoes instead of yams, because if you live in the United States, chances are good that those yams in your pantry are actually sweet potatoes after all.

Yams or sweet potatoes healthier

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