4 health benefits of sweet potatoes: How they can support eyesight and boost immunity
- Sweet potatoes have many
healthbenefits because they are packed with antioxidants and Vitamin A — which help support eyesight, boost immunity, and may improve brain function.
- Sweet potatoes are also a healthy choice for people with diabetes since they are slightly lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD,
nutritionand wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
Sweet potatoes are much more than just a fall favorite or Thanksgiving dish. These starchy root vegetables should be eaten year-round because they offer a variety of health benefits. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, making them a great addition to any diet.
Here are four benefits that sweet potatoes may provide.
Sweet potatoes support eyesight
Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants that are responsible for many of the food's benefits, including supporting eyesight.
Beta carotene, in particular, is responsible for the orange color of sweet potatoes, and is useful for eyesight since it is converted to vitamin A.
"Vitamin A is part of a compound called rhodopsin needed for essential adaptation to light and dark. Proper eyesight is therefore dependent on vitamin A," says Roberta Anding, a registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine.
All you need to eat is one
Sweet potatoes may improve your immune system
The antioxidants in sweet potatoes can also protect the immune system from free radicals, says Vijaya Surampudi, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Human Nutrition at UCLA.
Free radicals are produced as a result of normal cell cycling as a byproduct of life, or they may be caused by environmental pollutants or UV radiation. Free radicals can damage the DNA of healthy cells, including immune system cells that are necessary to fight off infections. Antioxidants can combat this damage and keep the immune system strong.
Furthermore, the presence of vitamin A in sweet potatoes helps support the immune system. A 2008 report stated that vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients for immune support. Specifically, the study says vitamin A may help support T-cells, a type of white blood cell that's crucial for immune function.
Sweet potatoes are a healthy choice for people with diabetes
People with diabetes are often told to limit their intake of regular potatoes because they are high on the glycemic index, meaning they can cause blood sugar to spike too much. However, sweet potatoes are a little lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes, Surampudi says, which makes them a healthier choice for people with diabetes.
"Sweet potatoes have a little more fiber and are slightly lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. This can result in a slower rise in the blood glucose value," says Surampudi.
According to Harvard Medical School, regular potatoes have a glycemic index of about 78, whereas sweet potatoes have a glycemic index of around 63.
Sweet potatoes may boost brain function
Evidence is insufficient to say whether sweet potatoes improve brain function in humans. However, there have been promising animal studies.
For example, a 2010 study showed that the anthocyanins, compounds that have antioxidant effects, in purple sweet potatoes can inhibit inflammation in the brains of mice, and another 2010 study showed that memory was improved in old mice who were given anthocyanins. If the same principles apply in humans, then we can infer that sweet potatoes may boost brain function in humans, but for now, we do not know for sure.
The bottom line
Sweet potatoes are great for your health, but in order to be healthy and improve multiple aspects of your life, it's important to have a varied, balanced diet. Anding suggests adding more color into your diet, in general, to stay healthy and prevent chronic disease as well as to ensure that you are getting a wide array of vitamins and minerals – and sweet potatoes are a great place to start.
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