Few people can resist the starchy goodness of a potato. Whether baked, fried, mashed or broiled, these earthy treats seem to be a mainstay on many American tables. When paired with a succulent plate of meat, the potato emanates even greater attraction.
However, true potato enthusiasts recognize that two distinct species of this vegetable exist: white and sweet. Each brings to the table its own unique characteristics, including those of taste, nutrition value and appearance.
Two Different Potatoes
In truth, sweet potatoes are not the same vegetable as regular potatoes, and each belongs to its own botanical family. White potatoes are related to such vegetables as peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Conversely, the sweet potato is a relative of the Morning Glory flower. It has a sweet taste that should not be confused with the yam, which is another vegetable altogether.
Just as people can choose from over 100 white potatoes, sweet potatoes also come in many different varieties. As the external hues change, so too does the species. Red-skinned sweet potatoes, for example, are from Japanese cultivars.
What remains the same with these vegetables is their sweet flavor. This is commonly the result of a large presence of sugar, but sweet potatoes actually do not increase a person’s blood sugar. This is because they have approximately twice as much dietary fiber as their white counterparts. That fiber retards digestion and the release of sugar.
Although quite different in nature, sweet and white potatoes do share some nutritional qualities. These are as follows:
- Both are viable sources of vitamin B6 and C
- Both contain large amounts of copper and fiber
- Both supply minerals like copper and manganese
With regard to differences, one of the most notable is in the presence of antioxdants. Sweet potatoes provide these in much greater concentration. Sweet varieties also have the upper hand with vitamin A and beta-carotene. These help to purge free radicals, which are linked to such health complications as diabetic heart disease, atherosclerosis and colon cancer.
While the sweet potato offers greater content of calcium and fiber, the white potato holds more iron and potassium. Similarly, the white potato has more calories and carbohydrates, but the sweet potato offers more sodium with less phosphorous. However, white potatoes are part of the botanical family known as nightshade plants. Unlike the family of sweet potatoes, these contain alkaloids that occasionally cause allergy-like symptoms.
Sweet potatoes are also reportedly beneficial for persons with rheumatoid arthritis. This is because they contain anti-inflammatory nutrients that may also help with osteoarthritis and asthma. To this end, the vitamin B6 contained in sweet potatoes links it to decreased risk of stroke and heart disease. Studies from Kansas State University further suggest that the vitamin A in sweet potatoes may help to deter lung inflammation, which can lead to the onset of lung cancer and emphysema.
Sweet Potato Outranks Other Vegetables
The sweet potato not only bests its white counterpart in terms of nutrients, but nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also rank it number one when compared to all vegetables. Points were distributed based upon a number of factors. Following in second place behind the sweet potato was a baked white potato. Both outranked such traditional vegetables as broccoli, tomatoes and cauliflower.
The nutrients found in sweet potatoes have also made these vegetables strong contenders in weight-loss regimens. Despite their carbohydrate content, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index. Many nutritionists recommend substituting rice, pasta and white potatoes for sweet potatoes, as they cut calories but also offer essential nutrients.
Although sweet potatoes appear to have the advantage on white potatoes, food experts advise that both can be part of a healthy diet. They offer different benefits, and thus must be regarded differently. Persons with specific health needs should incorporate the potato variety that is most ideal for them.
Sweet and white potatoes alike are most beneficial when baked without the addition of butter, salt or high-fat toppings.
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