One’s kind of orange. The other is more of a light yellow. They both have thick peels, taste sweet, and are sold in the potato section of the market. And one is better for that Thanksgiving dish with the marshmallows on top, but you can never remember — is that for sweet potatoes or yams?
Though the names are often used interchangeably in America, there is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams. It’s not a huge difference, but when it comes to counting carbs to manage your diabetes, or packing nutrition into your diet if you have a malabsorption condition like celiac disease, making informed choices matters.
So, once and for all, what’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?
First of all, the tubers are not related to each other, nor to potatoes. Sweet potatoes are from sub-tropical American climes and are actually related to morning glories. Yams, meanwhile, are originally from Africa and Asia and are related to lilies. The Library of Congress suggests that yams could have been brought to the Americas by African slaves.
Sweet potato: 76, Yam: 116
Winner? Sweet potatoes. Just don’t add butter, sugar, and marshmallows! Nutritional analysis often starts off with calories, but you should consider that measurement in terms of the rest of the food’s nutritional offering. Yams have more calories per serving, but they are much lower in natural sugars, for example.
Sweet potato: 17.72 grams, Yam: 27.48 grams
Winner? Sweet potatoes. If you’re counting carbs, count on sweet potatoes. The Mayo Clinic advises that carbohydrates should make up between 45 and 65 percent of your daily calorie consumption.
Sweet potato: 5.74 grams, Yam: 0.49 grams
Winner? Yams. To sweeten yams without adding any refined sugars, try blending them with some applesauce.
Sweet potato: 2.5 grams, Yam: 3.9 grams
Winner? Yams. Yams boast more fiber, even without the peel. Dietary fiber reduces the amount of cholesterol that enters your bloodstream, something to track if you’re reducing your cholesterol levels. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting around 30 grams of dietary fiber a day (a little less for women, a little more for men).
Sweet potato: 27 mg, Yam: 8 mg
Winner? Yams. Though the yam wins by a margin of 3:1, both foods are very low in sodium. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Sweet potato: 1.37 grams, Yam: 1.49 grams
Winner? Tie. Although they are nearly neck-and-neck in the protein category, neither yams nor sweet potatoes contain much. A 45-year-old, 150-pound woman needs about 55 grams of protein per day. Use this calculator to determine how much protein is best for you.
Sweet potatoes: 230 mg, Yams: 670 mg
Winner? Yams. Yams and sweet potatoes are fairly equal in most minerals, except potassium. Potassium is essential to cardiovascular health, especially in keeping blood pressure low. A serving of yams provides more than 10 percent of this essential mineral. Your daily recommended intake for potassium is 4700 mg.
Sweet potatoes: 15,740 IU, Yams: 122 IU
Winner? Sweet potatoes. Both yams and sweet potatoes are comparable in vitamin content, with one large exception: vitamin A. And if you’re out for A, sweet potatoes are for you. Vitamin A supports eye and skin health. The body converts the bright orange of sweet potatoes into beta carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.
The Winner Takes All?
The winner is not quite clear-cut. Yams take the, uh, cake in potassium content while sweet potatoes win with vitamin A. So depending on your health goals, either one can be an excellent nutrition choice. You’ll find more recipes for sweet potatoes, but yams could be substituted in almost every case. Either food can be mashed and secretly added to cake and cookie recipes to replace some of the refined sweeteners, and to add fiber. Neither food contains cholesterol, and they have virtually no dietary fat.