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Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

By Fitoru | 08 November 2019
french fried sweet potatoes in a bowl

Developing a good understanding of which foods are high carb and which are low carb is one of the first tasks to take on when starting a keto diet. Even foods you know to be healthy may be too high in net carbs to consume regularly, including veggies. So, are sweet potatoes keto? The answer is yes and no, depending. We have the full details here.

The Ketogenic Diet

Since its invention in the 1920s, the ketogenic diet has been effectively utilizing a secondary metabolism in the body to help people quickly and safely lose body fat. By denying the body easy energy from sugar, you force it to burn fat for fuel in the form of ketone bodies. Not only can ketogenic energy replace glucose energy, but it’s also the brain’s preferred energy source, so it can improve your body composition and your mental focus and acuity too. 

To achieve a state of ketosis, you have to limit your carbohydrate intake to around 5% of your total calories per day while simultaneously increasing your healthy fat intake. Keto is not a no-carb diet (there’s no such thing as a healthy no-carb diet), so you are allowed some grams of carbs each day. The question that remains is which carbs are the best to consume, both in terms of carb count and nutritional worth, and where do sweet potatoes fall on that spectrum?

Sweet Potatoes: Nutrition Information

Sweet potatoes are generally considered healthy thanks to their nutritional density. A one-serving helping of this tuber (about 114 grams) offers up the following nutrients:

  • 103 calories
  • 23.6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2.3 grams of protein
  • 0.2 grams of fat
  • 3.8 grams of dietary fiber
  • 21,907 international units of vitamin A (438% Daily Value)
  • 22.3 milligrams of vitamin C (37% DV)
  • 0.6 milligrams of manganese (28% DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 (16% DV)
  • 541 milligrams of potassium (15% DV)
  • 1 milligram of pantothenic acid (10% DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams of copper (9% DV)
  • 1.7 milligrams of niacin (8% DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams of thiamine (8% DV)
  • 30.8 milligrams of magnesium (8% DV)

The sweet potato is indeed a starchy vegetable, but the vitamin A content is considerable (important for eye health), the B-complex vitamins are well-represented (and needed for converting food into energy), and the vitamin C it delivers is a natural antioxidant that can help you avoid cold and flu infections. With minerals like manganese and potassium for bone and heart health (including the prevention of heart disease), sweet potato calories are at least worth their weight in vitamin content, but are they good for keto recipes?

Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

Though they look similar and are both classified as tubers, yams and sweet potatoes aren’t related at all. Here are the quick distinctions.

  • Sweet potatoes: Native to South and Central America, sweet potatoes are part of the Morning Glory family and are currently grown predominantly in North Carolina (which supplies 60% of the sweet potato demand in the U.S.). They come in many colors, from pale white to bright orange to deep purple.
  • Yams: A closer cousin to grasses and lilies, yams are cultivated mostly in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. They grow much larger than sweet potatoes (up to 150 pounds), are starchier, and often drier.
Are sweet potatoes keto? Find out.

Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

When you’re talking about sweet potatoes, you’re talking about more than 20 grams of carbs, less than 1 gram of fat, and only 3 grams of fiber. That’s almost the opposite of a ketogenic ratio, but that doesn’t mean these root vegetables don’t have a certain, special place in a low-carb diet.

Moderation Is Key

When choosing carb foods on keto, the cost has to be worth it. The carbs in sweet potatoes may increase your blood sugar levels enough to knock you out of ketosis if you eat too much. For some, that means sweet potatoes aren’t worth the trouble, but sweet potatoes are complex carbs that hit your bloodstream much slower than unhealthy refined sugars do. 

Sweet potatoes aren’t too carb-heavy to ever eat again, and when you prepare them with healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil and eat them in moderation, you’re still able to enjoy them as a once-in-a-while treat on the keto diet. 

Cook to Perfection

Simple sweet potato fries that you bake at home with a little olive oil can add more healthy fat to your intake and carry more nutritive content than white potatoes, especially if you leave the skins on. And if you just can’t imagine Thanksgiving without a sweet potato side dish of some sort, we understand, and so does Kelly from Life Made Sweeter who has this Low-Carb Sweet Potato Casserole recipe with pumpkin, riced cauliflower, ghee and eggs, spices like nutmeg and ground cinnamon, and a crumbly pecan topping. 

Using sugar-free natural sweeteners like stevia or Swerve (erythritol), you can still consider sweet potatoes for your keto meal plans so long as you’re either keeping track of your ketones using ketone test strips or are enough of a veteran at keeping keto that you know when you’ve had your fill.

The Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

When considering the total carb content of sweet potatoes, also keep in mind its other health benefits, including:

  • Boosted cognitive function: Thanks to the beta-carotene, sweet potatoes support your brain function and (in the case of purple sweet potatoes) may help improve your memory.
  • Blood sugar stability: Because sweet potatoes are a complex carb they can help stabilize the blood sugar levels even of diabetics.
  • Antioxidants and immune support: The antioxidants in sweet potatoes, like beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C, help improve your health by fighting off free radical damage and strengthening your immune system.

Sweet Potato Keto-Friendly Vegetable Alternatives

If you’re not confident about eating sweet potatoes on keto, there are other tubers and veggies that are less starchy, but still perfect for healthy eating. 

Turnips, carrots, and radishes are more keto-friendly vegetables, as is summer squash, eggplant, and zucchini. Green beans and asparagus have fewer carbs and an abundance of green nutrients, as does any member of the dark, leafy green category like spinach or kale

There are definitely lower-carb vegetables out there, but the takeaway is this: if you love sweet potatoes, they can still be part of your keto diet, but if you’re only so-so when it comes to sweet potatoes, you can leave them behind for veggies with lower carb counts.

Should You Select Sweet Potato on Keto?

On the high-fat, low-carb keto diet designed for weight loss, you have to be very selective when it comes to the carbs you consume. Sweet potatoes, though they have very little fat content, are still healthy enough that they can be part of your keto meal plan, but only in moderation. They’re much better suited to the paleo diet, but at the end of the day, it’s your diet and your call: sweet potatoes provide quality nutrition for their carb content and won’t kick you out of ketosis so long as you budget your macros wisely.

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