Food wars: yam vs sweet potato

Food wars is here again, and this time we are taking a look at yam and sweet potatoes. Two tuber crops that have wormed their way into the bellies and dinner tables of many Nigerians.

In fact, in many cultures, festivals are dedicated to the harvesting of new yams. And a good harvest is regarded as a harbinger of good things throughout the season.

Sweet potato is the less known and celebrated younger brother of yam. It is sweeter than it’s close cousin, smaller too. But which of these starchy foods has the best to offer in terms of nutrition?


Yam (credit: Kim Nguyen)

Yams are root vegetables with a deep brown almost bark-like skin. Around here, yams have several uses. They can be eaten as they are; boiled, roasted, or fried. They can also be processed into yam flour or pounded to make yam.

Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are much more starchy and less sweet. They can be drier too and more difficult to peel.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoe
Sweet potatoe

These are long and tapered, and much smaller than yams. There are two main types that are popular around the world. The dark skinned, orange fleshed potatoes. These are more common in the US and are sweeter and softer.

The light skinned, brownish potatoes are the ones common in Nigeria. They are sold at almost every street corner and can keep for a long time if stored properly.

Nutritional facts

Here, you have a couple of starchy foods that are similar in their nutritional values. Let’s take a deeper look at that

Raw sweet potato contains 77% water, 20.1% carbohydrate, 1.6% protein, and 3% fiber. You should note that it contains basically no fat.

In comparison, raw yam contains 70% water, 24% carbohydrates, 1.5% protein, and 4% fiber.

You can see the basic differences in the nutritional composition of these vegetable crops. For the calorie watchers, sweet potatoes could be a better alternative to yams.

Another important distinction is the fact that sweet potatoes contain a lot more beta carotene than yams. Betacarotene converts to much needed vitamin A in your body.

In fact, just a 100g serving of the tuber will give you your daily recommended amount of the vitamin. And we all know vitamin A is needed for good eyesight and also gives your immune system a boost.

Yams are not left out in this nutritional tug of war. They contain a bit more potassium and manganese than sweet potatoes. These are nutrients that help with bone growth, metabolism, and great heart function.

Yam vs sweet potatoes, the verdict

They both pack a big punch when it comes to their nutritional value. They both have lots of B vitamins and other micronutrients. So, in actual fact, they are both good for you.

Only a few differences could make you choose one over the other. One of which is the higher calorie content of yams compared to sweet potatoes. One more important distinction is the glycemic index.

The glycemic index (GI) shows how any food affects your blood sugar levels. Food with high GI makes your blood sugar rise rapidly. The converse is the case with food with low GI.

In this case, sweet potatoes have a medium to high glycemic index. Yams on the other hand have a low to high glycemic index. Basically, your blood sugar would rise more slowly when you eat yam than when you eat sweet potatoes.

As you can see, this is a close one. They both measure up quite closely, except for a few important differences. Now, based on your health status, and any underlying conditions that you might have like diabetes, and obesity. You can make an informed decision on which of these root vegetables you want to make your go to breakfast, lunch or diner option.

Segun is an ardent lover of fashion, reading and writing. When Segun isn't swimming baking or cooking he is punching away keys somewhere on the African continent. He is a creative with a penchant for finding (and in some cases creating) new and interesting ways of doing things. For more details, send an email to