Sweet potato vs. Potato — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison
Sweet potatoes and potatoes are root vegetables that are only very distantly related to each other.
While these vegetables contain the same amount of carbohydrates, potatoes are 2.5 higher in starch, whereas sweet potatoes are richer in dietary fiber and simple sugars.
Cooked sweet potatoes are the ultimate winner in the vitamin category, containing 1921 times more vitamin A, 18 times more vitamin E, and 2 times more vitamins C, B2, and B5.
Conversely, potatoes are overall richer in minerals, being higher in iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Potatoes are also lower in sodium.
When it comes to the health effects, research is overall inconclusive. Sweet potatoes have lower glycemic and insulin index values. White and purple sweet potatoes may have a positive effect on diabetes and cancer.
Table of contents
It is easy to assume that sweet potatoes and potatoes are different types of the same vegetable. However, despite the similarity of the names and looks, these vegetables are not even closely related.
In this article, we will talk about what similarities sweet potato and potato share and what sets them apart, with the main focus on health and nutrition.
Sweet potatoes and potatoes are tuberous roots of underground plants called root vegetables.
Botanically, plants of sweet potatoes and potatoes share the same order called Solanales. From that point on, these vegetables start to diverge.
The flowering plant of sweet potato belongs to the Convolvulaceae family, the Ipomoea genus, and the batatas species. The Convolvulaceae family is also often called morning glory, which is mostly used as the term for the ornamental flowers of this family.
The common potato plants, on the other hand, are a part of the Solanaceae family, the Solanum genus, and the tuberosum species. The Solanaceae family of flowering plants is commonly referred to as the nightshades, also including tomatoes, eggplants, chili, and bell peppers.
Sweet potatoes are often called “yams”; however, true yams are a separate and distinct species of vegetables.
Sweet potatoes are commonly perceived to have brown skin and orange or red flesh; however, they can also be white-skinned and white, gold, or purple-fleshed.
Common potatoes can also appear in white, yellow, red, purple, and other cultivars.
Taste and Use
Sweet potato and white potato taste quite similar. As the name suggests, sweet potatoes are naturally sweeter. However, different varieties of sweet potato have different levels of sweetness. Varieties with pale yellow or white flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink, or orange flesh (1).
These two vegetables are also often used in the same ways: boiled, baked, roasted, grilled, fried, and so on.
There are hundreds of varieties of both sweet potatoes and potatoes. Different varieties and types of these vegetables have different appearances, tastes, and nutritional values.
The most common varieties of sweet potatoes are Beauregard, Jewel, Garnet, Covington, White, and Japanese.
Most potato varieties fit into seven types: russet, red, white, yellow, blue or purple, fingerling, and petite (2).
Sweet potatoes are often considered to be healthier and more nutritious than white potatoes.
In this section, we will look into the specific difference between their nutrients and see how that statement holds up.
The infographics below are presented for sweet potato and potato, both baked in skin, without salt.
Macronutrients and Calories
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes have very similar macronutrient compositions. Cooked potatoes consist of 76% water and 24% nutrients, and cooked sweet potatoes contain 75% water.
One average serving size of a potato is half a cup of potatoes, diced, weighing around 75g. One average serving size of sweet potatoes is double that amount, equalling one cup of sweet potatoes in cubes that weigh 133g.
Potatoes are only a little higher in calories, with 93 calories per 100g, whereas sweet potatoes contain 90 calories in the same amount.
Sweet potatoes and potatoes contain are nearly identical in their carbohydrate content, providing around 21g of carbs per 100g serving.
However, white potatoes are about 2.5 times higher in starch than sweet potatoes. In fact, starch makes up for the 95 percent of carbohydrates found in white potatoes. This starch later breaks down into glucose in the gastrointestinal system.
Sweet potatoes are richer in dietary fiber, providing 1.1g more fiber per 100g serving. Potatoes are higher in net carbs.
Sweet potatoes are rich in maltose and sucrose, unlike potatoes. Both vegetables also contain low amounts of glucose and fructose.
Protein and Fats
White potatoes are slightly richer in protein; however, both these vegetables are overall low in this macronutrient.
Both sweet potatoes and potatoes contain some level of all essential amino acids. Sweet potato is a little richer in those essential amino acids, like tryptophan and threonine.
Sweet potatoes and potatoes contain insignificant amounts of fats.
Cooked sweet potatoes are the ultimate winner in the vitamin category.
Sweet potatoes contain 1921 times more vitamin A, 18 times more vitamin E, and 2 times more vitamins C, B2, and B5. They are also richer in vitamin B1 and vitamin K.
On the other hand, white potato provides 4 times more folate or vitamin B9.
The two vegetables contain a similar amount of vitamins B3 and B6.
Both sweet potato and white potato are entirely absent in vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Conversely, potatoes are overall richer in minerals, being higher in iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. White potatoes are also lower in sodium than sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are higher in copper and contain 2 times more calcium.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes contain similar amounts of magnesium.
Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index compared to potatoes. The glycemic index of potatoes and sweet potatoes can range from moderate to high levels.
Based on the mean of nine studies, the glycemic index of cooked sweet potato is 70±6. However, based on cooking methods and the variety of sweet potatoes, the GI can range from 44 to 94.
Baked potatoes can have a glycemic index ranging from 60 to 98. The average GI of four types of baked potatoes is 86±6 (3).
Another study puts the glycemic index of boiled sweet potatoes at 63±6 and the GI of boiled potatoes at 78±4 (4).
The insulin index measures how much the insulin levels rise in the blood after the consumption of a given food.
The insulin index of white potatoes has been calculated to be 121, a very high insulin index value. While this value for sweet potatoes is 96, it still falls in the high insulin index category.
The pH value for sweet potatoes falls between 5.3 to 5.6, making them slightly acidic (5).
The acidity of potatoes is similar, also slightly acidic, with a pH value ranging from 5.4 to 5.9 (5).
Another value that shows the acidity of foods is the potential renal acid load. The PRAL shows the capacity of the food to produce bases or acids in the body.
The PRAL of sweet potatoes has been calculated to be -5.6, alkaline-forming, with the PRAL value for potatoes being -6.6, more alkaline-producing.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes both contain moderate levels of calories per serving. This can change depending on the cooking methods of these vegetables. For example, a hundred grams of boiled potatoes contain 87 calories, whereas the same amount of French fries contains 312 calories. Leaving the skin on makes these vegetables more nutritious, providing more fiber.
Meal replacements with white sweet potato may aid individual weight loss (6).
Some studies have found a correlation between the intake of French fries, baked or mashed potatoes, and weight gain: an added 1.5 and 0.6 kg (3.4 and 1.3 pounds), respectively, for every four years (7).
However, another research suggests that there is no need to exclude potatoes from weight management diets (8).
Overall, these vegetables aren’t ideal for low-carb or low-calorie diets; however, they can be included in all diets when prepared with the correct methods and in moderation.
The Sweet Potato and Potato Diets
Both of these diets are restrictive and promise weight loss if you eat nothing but sweet potatoes or potatoes for multiple days. There are variations to these diets, but all require you to eat cooked, not fried or highly processed, sweet potatoes or potatoes for every meal of the day.
Since these are low-calorie diets, they are likely to lead to weight loss. However, there are a few problems with these diets. As nutritious as these vegetables are, they do not provide all the essential nutrients the organism needs. There is also a likelihood of easily regaining the rapidly lost weight.
We learned that sweet potatoes and potatoes are both very nutritious, but what exact effects do they have on the human organism?
Potatoes, being much lower in sodium than sweet potatoes, may be a better choice for people with high blood pressure. However, one study has found an association between a higher intake of baked, boiled, mashed, or fried potatoes and an increased risk of hypertension (9). This effect may be explained by weight gain and potatoes’ high glycemic load. Overall, higher consumption of potatoes has been shown to be adversely correlated with cardiovascular risk factors (10).
In contrast, some studies suggest that potatoes may have a positive effect on high blood pressure (11).
There is not enough research to conclude about sweet potato’s effect on cardiovascular health. However, one research found a purple sweet potato beverage to have the inclination to lower systolic blood pressure (12).
There is some evidence of an association between high glycemic index foods, such as some types of potatoes and sweet potatoes, and diabetes.
Studies about potatoes and diabetes are also inconclusive․ Some studies suggest that potato consumption leads to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (12). However, more research on humans is needed in order to have a final result.
A study has suggested that the supplementation of white sweet potato may improve nutritional status and glycemic control in elderly diabetic patients (13). However, there is insufficient evidence about the use of sweet potatoes for type 2 diabetes mellitus as well (14).
There are strong suggestions that purple sweet potatoes can be used as a preventive factor for colorectal cancer due to their high anthocyanin levels (15). Anthocyanins are flavonoids that give vegetables, such as purple sweet potatoes, their dark color.
Studies about the association between potatoes and cancer have been inconclusive and, at times, contradictory. Some research shows no link between potato consumption and pancreatic cancer, while others associate it with an increased risk. Some studies found potato intake to have correlations with a higher risk of rectal, colon, and colorectal cancers (16).
At the same time, there has been a study showing an inverse association between potato consumption and rectal cancer. More research is needed on this topic.
Downsides and Risks
Vegetables in the nightshade family that potatoes belong to produce a toxic compound called solanine, a glycoalkaloid. Naturally, potatoes produce such low amounts of this compound that it does not affect human health. However, under certain unfavorable conditions, such as pests, potato plants can increase the production of solanine, especially when kept in sunlight. Solanine gives potatoes a bitter taste and a green color.
Solanine poisoning symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pains (18).
As sweet potatoes do not belong to the same family, they do not produce this compound.
- Glycemic index for 60+ foods
Fat Type Comparison
Carbohydrate type comparison
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Glycemic Index|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in price||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Vitamin A RAE||961µg||1µg|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Glycemic Index diet|
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Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.
- Sweet potato - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168483/nutrients
- Potato - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170093/nutrients
All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.