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Are Sweet Potatoes Really Supreme?

Spoiler alert: There’s a place for white, yellow, red, purple, and orange spuds at your table.

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If you’ve heard that sweet potatoes reign supreme when trying to eat nutritionally-dense foods, think again. Sweet potatoes may get all the attention thanks to their vitamin- and mineral-filled nature, but they aren’t necessarily the “best” spud for everyone.

There are a plethora of different colors, shapes, and sizes of potatoes available, and each has a unique purpose in the kitchen. And all can certainly fit in a healthy, balanced diet. 

A Brief Potato History Lesson

Fun fact: There are over 4,000 potato varieties across the globe, and that’s just from the Solanaceae family! Those familiar spuds you see at the market are actually from three different plant families. Your “classic” potato, is from the nightshade family (Solanaceae), whereas your sweet potato is from the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) – and yams are a variety of vine species from the Dioscoreaceae family. 

Ironically, a classic white potato is actually more similar to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant than a sweet potato when it comes to “genetics!” 

While all potatoes are grown for their various edible tubers (or below-ground plant structures, which are what you see sold at the market), they aren’t interchangeable in the kitchen if you want to yield a familiar end result. This is largely due to their various flavor and nutrition profiles. 

Nutrition of Potatoes

While white and sweet potatoes are both starchy vegetables that provide about the same grams of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates per serving, their differences shine in the nutrients each variety contains. 

For instance, sweet potatoes are packed with beta carotene, which gives their flesh that beautiful orange hue. Traditional white potatoes do not contain any vitamin A. On the flipside, white potatoes are a better source of vitamin C, an important antioxidant that you need to help fight off free radicals and keep your immune health in tip top shape.

Almost all varieties of your traditional potatoes are a better source of potassium than an equivalent serving of banana, which is recognized by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a nutrient of public health concern due to significant under-consumption – less than 3% of us are getting enough. Even sweet potatoes are just a few milligrams shy of equaling the amount of potassium in a banana!

Now, there are a plethora of varieties of potatoes, both white and sweet, popping up at the market and on restaurant menus. So, the best advice is to choose the ones that excite you and consume them in moderation. Research shows that potatoes contain important polyphenols that help in numerous areas of health, exhibiting antioxidant, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, and anticancer activities.

So, the next time you question if you can eat any kind of potato, regardless of color, you can feel good about saying yes! 

Nutrition Facts Based on 100-gram Serving Size

Variety Sweet Potato White Potato Blue/Purple Potato Red Potato
Calories 90 kcals 70 kcals 80 kcals 70 kcals
Carbohydrates 20 gm 16 gm 17 gm 16 gm
Sugar 4 gm 1 gm 1 gm 1 gm
Fiber 3 gm 2 gm 2 gm 2 gm
Protein 2 gm 2 gm 2 gm 2 gm
Vitamin A, RAE 709 mcG 0 mcg - 0 mcg
Vitamin B6 0.2 mg 0.2 mg - 0.2 mg
Vitamin C 2.5 mg 9 mg - 8.6 mg
Folate 11 mcg 18 mcg - 18 mcg
Potassium 337 mcg 407 mcg 419 mcg 455 mcg

Source: USDA Food Data Central

How to Use Each Potato Variety in the Kitchen

Just like you wouldn’t swap a bell pepper in for a white potato in your classic Thanksgiving mashed potato recipe, you wouldn’t want to swap a sweet potato in for a russet in your Grandma’s special scalloped potato recipe! 

While all potatoes can add variety and important nutrients to your meal plan, they do not offer the same flavor profiles, especially given the higher sugar content of the sweet potato versus the traditional white varieties. When cooking, consider the application and other ingredients if you find yourself faced with both varieties to choose from.

Take a look at some of our favorite recipes using potatoes and try them out for yourself! 

Featured recipe: Vanilla-Glazed Sweet Potato Wedges with Candied Pecans