It seems like sweet potato fries are popping up on menus everywhere, and that begs the question, "Are they healthier than regular fries?" First off, it's not the ingredient that you should be worried about, but the cooking method. Both white and sweet potatoes can be part of a healthy diet, but when you fry them you take a low fat, relatively low calorie food and change it into a food that provides a lot of unnecessary fat and calories. So if you were to bake or grill your sweet potato "fries," they would definitely be a healthy option and here's why.
Low Glycemic Index
Even though sweet potatoes are naturally sweet due to their sugar content, they have a relatively low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a way to rate how fast sugars are released into the blood stream. A low number means it is released at a slower rate so blood sugar levels stay more consistent, giving you a steady flow of energy. It is this regular source of energy that prevents the sugar spikes that often lead to fatigue, cravings, bingeing and weight gain.
Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, an indigestible component food in fruits, vegetables and grains, which provides "bulk" to food and helps keep things moving in your digestive tract. Fiber takes up space in your stomach so it makes you feel full, and it is slow to leave, which keeps you full between meals. This helps regulate blood sugar levels and prevents snacking. Fiber is a dieter's best friend.
Vitamins and Minerals
Sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses. Not only does their rich orange color indicate that they are high in carotenoids, which help our bodies fight off cancer, enhance our eyesight and boost our immune systems, but they are also packed with the following important vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin C which is important for collagen development, fighting off viruses, bone and tooth development, blood cell formation and stress relief.
- Vitamin D, a hormone that is made in bodies when we get enough sunlight, helps with our energy levels, moods and thyroid function.
- Vitamin B6 reduces homocysteine, a chemical floating floating throughout the body, which may play a role in degenerative diseases.
- Iron is essential for both red and white blood cell production, stress management, proper immune function and protein metabolism.
- Potassium not only regulates the beating of the heart, but also helps with the regulation of the nervous system. In addition, it reduces swelling, prevents random muscle contractions and helps with kidney function.
- Magnesium is known as "no stress" mineral. It helps keep blood, bones, muscles and nerves healthy.
Remember it all comes down to the cooking method, not only with sweet potatoes, but all foods. How you cook an ingredient affects the nutritional profile, flavor and texture. Baking, roasting and grilling are great ways to enhance the flavor of your "fries" without added fat and calories.
Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD is a Savannah-based dietitian who, after 20 years of food service and clinical dietetics, made the switch to nutrition communications and all things tech. She doesn't believe in diets and thinks that life is too short to be anything but happy and healthy at any weight. Read her blog, Real Bite Nutrition, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.