The difference between sweet potato and yam plus a healthy recipe!

The difference between sweet potatoes and yams and five reasons why you should eat more of the former
By Julie Daniluk
The difference between sweet potato and yam plus a healthy recipe! Julie Daniluk

Many of think of sweet potatoes and yams as one in the same, but while they may look similar, yams and sweet potatoes are from different plant families and are very diverse when more closely inspected. We generally find sweet potatoes at the farmers' market or grocery store, although they may be incorrectly labeled as yams. They have a smooth, thin, orange to reddish-purple skin and sweet, orange flesh.

A genuine yam has thicker skin that can be anywhere from yellow, brown, purple or black and is more like tree bark with starchy white to yellow flesh that can turn pink to purple when ripe. Yams are not sweet, but more like traditional baking potatoes. Yams do not have the beta-carotene found in a sweet potato’s orange flesh, but they are a rich source of potassium.

Both sweet potatoes and yams are high in vitamin C and fibre. Although sweet potatoes are dominant in North American diet, yams are common in other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia. Therefore, you probably won’t run into a yam too often, but the great health benefits of our delicious sweet potatoes are easy to enjoy.

Reasons why sweet potatoes should replace the standard taters at your holiday gathering:

1. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A.
The orange pigment, beta-carotene,  converts to vitamin A, which is important for healing the gastro-intestinal tract and skin. Beta-carotene gives sweet potatoes their famous color and is part of the carotenoid family, which provides antioxidant protection for our cells. Antioxidants protect us from cardiovascular disease, wrinkles, cancer, toxins and more by combating harmful free radicals.

2. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C.
Did you know that vitamin C is also an antioxidant? Vitamin C guards our cells and allows us to manage everyday stressors more effectively, lowers our risk of cold or flu, prevents digestive upset and negative moods.

3. Sweet potatoes are a good source of our daily dose of manganese.
Manganese is a mineral we need only in trace amounts. It is essential for the growth and maintenance of strong bones and cartilage. This nutrient is also necessary for the synthesis of synovial fluid, which lubricates our joints for pain-free movement.

4. Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 has more functions in the body than any other one vitamin or mineral. One job of B6 is to prevent the formation of a harmful chemical called homocysteine that damages heart muscle and allows cholesterol to deposit in the injured tissue.

5. Why are sweet potatoes touted as healthier than the regular old spud?
It turns out they have double the fibre! Four grams of fibre per serving holds the starches in suspension so they do not spike your blood sugar the way mashed potatoes would. The trick is to keep the skin on, which is where most of the fibre resides.

Sweet Potato Mash with Vanilla Bean Recipe

This recipe is by my favourite chef and co-host of Healthy Gourmet, Ezra Title. The flavour is sensational but I am tickled that it is also amazing for you! Sweet potatoes are loaded with fibre, which helps reduce their glycemic index (the speed in which a food raises our blood sugar). They also help to heal the tendons and ligaments in the body; they contain 50 percent of the daily value of manganese per one cup (250 mL) serving.

One of the great superfoods that has been recently rediscovered is mesquite pods. You may be familiar with mesquite wood for smoking and roasting, but the pods are packed with amazing nutrition. When ground they are sweet and have notes of chocolate, coffee and cinnamon. Mesquite is a good source of many essential minerals including manganese, selenium and zinc. It is also high in plant sterols, which are being studied for heart and immune health.

2.2 lbs (1 kg) sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
4 tbsp (60 mL) maple syrup
2 whole vanilla beans
1 tbsp (15 mL) mesquite powder
1 tbsp (15 mL) cumin
1 tbsp (15 mL) turmeric
1 tsp (5 mL) coriander
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
to taste- pink rock or grey sea salt

1. Preheat oven at 375°F (190°C).
2. Prick sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a sheet tray in the oven for about an hour.
3. Warm maple syrup in a pot. Once warm, scrape vanilla beans into syrup.
4. When sweet potatoes are tender scoop flesh from their skins into a food processor and add all the spices.
5. Blend until smooth, add vanilla syrup, and season with salt.
Makes 6 servings.


Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts the Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon to be published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.

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