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Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: Nutritional Differences and Recipe

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My passions are food, tennis, and travel. I love to write about cooking, gluten-free recipes, tennis technique, and tennis strategies.

A roasted sweet potato. You can tell it's a sweet potato because of the orange interior flesh. This is one of two types of sweet potatoes sold in US markets.

A roasted sweet potato. You can tell it's a sweet potato because of the orange interior flesh. This is one of two types of sweet potatoes sold in US markets.

What's the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?

Although the terms are often used interchangeably in America, sweet potatoes and yams are two different vegetables:

  • Sweet potatoes are a starchy tuber native to the Americas that is distantly related to a potato. Sweet potatoes in the US come in two varieties: one with a creamy, white interior and the other with an orange interior.
  • Yams, on the other hand, are a tuber native to the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. They generally have darker, bark-like skin on the outside and vary in color on the inside from creamy white to purple. They contain no starch.

Simple, right? So why the confusion?

Going back to Colonial times, African slaves called the sweet potato a yam after the familiar tuber in Africa. This confusion was institutionalized by the USDA who started labeling the darker variety of sweet potato 'yam' to distinguish is from its paler cousin. Thus, the orange sweet potatoes are often sold as 'yams,' but the USDA requires them to also contain 'sweet potato' (which is what they really are) in the labeling.

Nutritional Data

Inflammation Factor: The IF (Inflammation Factor) Rating™ estimates the inflammatory or anti-inflammatory potential of foods by calculating the net effect of different nutritional factors, such as fatty acids, antioxidants, and glycemic impact. Sourc

 Sweet PotatoYamRusset Potato

Calories

90

116

97

Total Fat

0g

0g

0g

Total Omega-3 fatty acids

4.0mg

9.0mg

10.0mg

Total Omega-6 fatty acids

60.0mg

50.0mg

32.0mg

Total Carbohydrates

21g

27g

21g

Dietary Fiber

3g

4g

2g

Sugars

6g

0g

1g

Starch

7g

0g

17.4g

Protein

2g

1g

3g

Inflammation Factor*

+189 (Moderately Anti-inflammatory

-76 (mildly inflammatory)

-59 (mildly inflammatory)

Glycemic Load

9

12

10

Good Source of

Dietary fiber, Vitamin B6, Potassium

Dietary fiber, Vitamin C, Potassium, and Manganese

Vitamin B6, Potassium, and Maganese

Very Good Source of

Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Manganese

 

Vitamin C

Serving Amount

100g, baked with skin, no salt

100g, baked with skin, no salt

100g, baked with skin, no salt

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Nutritional Analysis

As you can see from the nutrition data above, sweet potatoes, yams, and potatoes have a very similar nutritional profile. This is not surprising given, that they are all tubers of one kind or another. Where sweet potatoes do have an edge, however, is that they are moderately anti-inflammatory, given the higher amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids and manganese (an essential trace mineral to maintain the integrity of skin and bone). This is particularly important for people who may be managing chronic illness or high-level athletes.

Both Are Great Alternatives to Potatoes

Whether you opt for a sweet potato or a yam, either make a great alternative to potatoes. Because both have more natural (albeit different) flavor than a russet potato, they are less likely to require additives such as butter, sour cream, or excess salt to make them taste good. However, because they usually require a longer cooking time (in excess of an hour), they are not the quickest thing to make for a late evening meal. However, my recipe below makes it a bit more manageable.

A sweet potato before cooking: the interior flesh has been scored in order to expose more of its surface area to heat while roasting.

A sweet potato before cooking: the interior flesh has been scored in order to expose more of its surface area to heat while roasting.

Simple Roasted Sweet Potato (or Yam) Recipe

This recipe reduces the cooking time by halving the sweet potato or yam and scoring it to expose the interior flesh. Combined with roasting it at a higher temperature, the result is a recipe that takes only 45 minutes rather than the usual 1 1/2 hours.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

2 min

45 min

47 min

Serves 4 people 1/2 sweet potato or yam, ~90 grams

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes or yams
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Half the yams lengthwise. Cut slits cross-wise into the interior flesh to expose it.
  3. Drizzle the yam with olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  4. Roast for 45 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the interior.

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