Sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, and vice versa, but these two tuber vegetables are very different. Let’s get things straight! Sweet potato vs. yam: What’s the difference?
Sweet potatoes are starchy tuber vegetables that originated in South America. The name can be misleading because it might make you think that potatoes and sweet potatoes are closely related—they are not, and they also have a very distinctive look. Sweet potatoes are longer than potatoes; they have a smooth skin that can vary in color, ranging from yellow, orange, red to brown and purple—the color of the flesh can also vary.
Sweet potatoes can be divided into two main types: dark-skinned orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and golden-skinned pale-fleshed sweet potatoes. The first variety is softer and sweeter than the second—and it is more common in the United States. Sweet potatoes contain important nutrients such as fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and several other vitamins and minerals.
Yams are also tuber vegetables, but they originated in Africa and Asia—the majority of the 600 types of yams are still grown in Africa. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams can grow larger—up to 5 feet. Yams have a cylindrical shape with brown, rough skin that becomes softer with heat. The flesh color varies from white to yellow to purple and pink.
Yams and sweet potatoes also taste different; yams are less sweet and more starchy. Yams can be harder to find in the United States, but international and ethnic food stores might have them, and it depends on the season. Yams also contain several vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin B, fiber, potassium, and manganese.
If the appearance and taste are different, why do people confuse sweet potatoes with yams? The confusion began when African slaves in the United States started to call the local sweet potato “nyami,” “yam” in English, because it reminded them of the true yams that they used to eat in Africa. When sweet potatoes were introduced to the U.S., producers started using the African term “yam” to distinguish between different varieties of sweet potatoes.
Sweet Potato vs. Yam Nutrition
Both sweet potatoes and yams can be boiled, steamed, roasted, mashed, and fried. The sweet potato is commonly used to make many Western side dishes such as sweet potato fries and baked and mashed potatoes. But sweet potatoes can also become the star of the dish, especially at Thanksgiving, when they are often served as a casserole.
Yams are not commonly used in the U.S. and are consumed mainly in Africa, where they are boiled, fried, or roasted.
Both yams and sweet potatoes have essential nutrients. Sweet potatoes contain carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and almost no fat. Yams contain similar nutrients, but amounts are different. Yams have more calories than sweet potatoes per serving, but the main difference between yams and sweet potatoes is the vitamin content. Sweet potatoes contain more vitamin C and much more beta-carotene, which the body transforms into vitamin A. One serving of sweet potato will provide you with almost all the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Yams have a good amount of vitamins, potassium, and manganese, but they contain less protein than sweet potatoes do.
Sweet Potato Benefits
Many studies have shown the health benefits of sweet potatoes.
Sweet Potatoes for Weight Loss
Adding sweet potatoes to your diet can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick because the high nutritional content of sweet potatoes and fiber promote satiety and cut cravings. A study conducted on mice fed a high-fat food and supplemented with purple sweet potatoes showed that purple sweet potato can reduce weight and fat accumulation. To achieve maximum weight loss, pair the consumption of sweet potatoes with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Our bodies digest sweet potatoes slowly, so you can use the long-lasting energy they provide during your fitness sessions.
Sweet Potatoes for Immunity
Sweet potatoes can boost your immune system thanks to the amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A they contain. Vitamin A plays a role in many aspects of health. Several studies have shown that vitamin A supplementation reduces mortality among children who have acute measles or have an immunodeficiency disorder. Choline, an essential nutrient present in sweet potatoes, helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory.
Sweet Potatoes for Diabetes
Studies have shown that high-fiber diets can improve blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels in people who have type 2 diabetes. Caiapo, an extract of white sweet potatoes, has been studied to evaluate tolerability and efficacy in the treatment of patients with type 2 diabetes. Austrian researchers showed that the group of participants who took a daily dose of sweet potato had lower blood sugar levels compared to the group that received the placebo. Fiber also slows the absorption of sugar to help prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
Sweet Potatoes for Vision
The cornea can become dry, leading to issues with vision. Foods high in beta-carotene can restore vision. Studies have demonstrated that antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamins C, and vitamin E support eye health and prevent damage. Eating three or more servings of foods that contain these vitamins may reduce the risk and progression of macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss. A deficiency of vitamin A can lead to dry eyes, night blindness, and vision loss in severe cases. It is important to add sweet potatoes to your diet to make sure you get the recommended daily dose of vitamin A, which is essential for eye health.
Sweet Potatoes as Powerful Antioxidants
Antioxidants can help our bodies in many ways by reducing the risk of chronic disease and preventing damage to the cells. Studies have shown that antioxidants may protect against diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In addition to these great benefits, a study, conducted in Korea, found that sweet potatoes could also enhance brain function and improve memory. The experiment treated rats with purple sweet potato extract and found that it helped to prevent oxidative damage in the brain.
Yams can also offer health benefits, but having less vitamin C and beta-carotene they cannot offer the same immunity boost.
Yams contain fiber, which can help maintain a healthy digestive system and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. They are low in fat, and they are an excellent source of vitamin C, even though sweet potatoes have them beat in the C department. Yams contain vitamin B6, which plays a role in the biochemical processes responsible for the synthesis of proteins and the synthesis of red blood cells. Yams are also rich in manganese, copper, and potassium. Manganese improves general health and helps detox the body. Copper supports the production of proteins such as hemoglobin, elastin, and collagen. And potassium plays a role in energy production, muscles contraction, and nerve impulses.