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Sweet Potatoes (Shakarkandi): Uses, Benefits, Side effects By Dr. Smita Barode

By Dr Smita Barode +2 more

Introduction: 

Since ancient times, sweet potatoes have been a staple food worldwide. Sweet potato or Ipomoea batatas is an edible root of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), whereas potatoes are edible tubers of the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Sweet potatoes originated in South America, from where they spread to warm-temperate regions worldwide. In India, sweet potatoes were introduced by the Spanish. They are locally known as ‘shakarkandi’ and are growing at a large scale in Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The most common variety of sweet potatoes has copper-coloured skin and vibrant orange flesh. Other varieties are yellow, white, deep purple and cream. True to their name, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet in flavour. These are cooked, roasted or diced into soups and salads. Apart from culinary uses, the health benefits of sweet potatoes are innumerable. Let us learn more about sweet potatoes benefits and side effects and why you should add sweet potatoes to your diet for a sweet and healthy life.1-3 

Nutritional Value of sweet potatoes: 

Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. The most important ones include beta-carotene, vitamins B2, C and E, and antioxidants like beta-carotene, etc.  The nutrients in sweet potatoes are mentioned in the table below.  

sweet potato benefits

Nutritional components Value per 100 g 
Energy 360 kJ 
Sugar 4.2g 
Dietary fibre 3.0 g 
Protein 1.6 g 
Fat 0.1 g 
Potassium 337 mg 
Sodium 55 mg 
Phosphorus 47.0 mg 
Calcium 30.0 mg 
Vitamin C 2.4 mg 
Vitamin A 709 μg 
Folate 11 μg 

Table 1: Nutritional value of sweet potato4 

Properties of sweet potatoes: 

Scientifically proven properties of Ipomoea batatas include: 

  • It may play a role in avoiding unnecessary blood clots. 
  • It may act as an antioxidant. 
  • It may have anti-diabetic properties. 
  • It may have an antibacterial action. 
  • It might be beneficial against ulcer formation. 
  • It may show a protective action towards the heart. 
  • It may have the ability to benefit the liver. 
  • It may have a role in reducing night blindness.4,5 

Potential Uses of Sweet Potatoes for Overall Health: 

Some of the potential benefits of sweet potatoes are described as under: 

Potential uses of sweet potatoes in colorectal cancer  

Colorectal cancer is a commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. Peng-Gao et al. conducted a study in 2013 to assess the impact of sweet potatoes on colorectal cancer. The study results show that sweet potatoes may have the potential to suppress cell growth (anti-proliferative effect) and inhibit the spread of cancer to other parts of the body (anti-metastatic effect). The anti-cancer mechanism is attributed to the presence of sweet potato protein (SPP). This indicates that consuming sweet potatoes may help with colorectal cancer. However, as scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited, there is a need for conducting further research.6 

Potential uses of sweet potatoes for abnormal lipid levels  

Abnormal lipid levels are characterised by an elevation in plasma cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein and a reduction in high-density lipoprotein. A review done by Naomi et al. in 2021 suggests that the flavonoids in sweet potatoes reduce fat absorption by regulating enzymes that are involved in the metabolism of lipids. Through this mechanism, flavonoids decrease the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels and increase the high-density lipoprotein levels. This indicates that the consumption of sweet potatoes can help normalize lipid levels. However, we need more studies to support these claims.7 

Potential uses of sweet potatoes in neurodegenerative diseases  

Neurodegenerative diseases are diseases characterised by the gradual degeneration of neurons, which are the functional units of the nervous system. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy are a few examples of neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress is the main cause of the development of these diseases. Shan et al. conducted a review in 2009, mentioning that anthocyanins in sweet potatoes have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can exert neuroprotective effects. This suggests that consuming sweet potatoes may help manage neurodegenerative diseases. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is limited, and this warrants the need for more clinical studies to support these claims. 

Potential uses of sweet potatoes in diabetes 

Sweet potatoes have been used in traditional medicine for managing Type II diabetes. However, Li et al., through animal studies done in 2009, demonstrated the blood-glucose-lowering effect of sweet potatoes. Additionally, they have a low glycemic index which causes a slow release of glucose into the blood; this steady phase helps control elevated blood glucose. A trial done by Cheow et al. in 2013 showed that 122 participants supplemented with sweet potatoes showed a moderate reduction in HbA1c, which is an indicator of glycemic control and shows average blood glucose level of the past two to three months. This indicates that sweet potatoes may have the potential to manage diabetes, but we need more scientific evidence to support these claims.9 

Potential uses of sweet potatoes for inflammation 

Caffeic acid, a polyphenolic compound, is abundant in many fruits and vegetables and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects in colitis. After reaching a relevant concentration in the colon, it comes in contact with the intestinal cells and exerts an anti-inflammatory effect. Sweet potatoes are also rich in caffeic acid and thus may have the potential to manage colitis. However, no scientific data is available for this, and thus more studies should be conducted to ascertain these claims.10, 11 

Also Read: Can You Freeze Potatoes? A Science-Based Guide to Safe Food Storage

Other sweet potato benefits: 12 

  • Sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body that is responsible for the formation of light-detecting receptors in the eyes. An increase in the quality and number of the light-detecting receptors helps in better vision. Thus, this may help in improving vision. 
  • The presence of dietary fibres in sweet potatoes can help manage constipation. Additionally, they contain a high amount of phytosterols which has a positive impact on the digestive system. 
  • The presence of vitamin A can help in boosting immunity and protect against infections. 
  • Sweet potatoes being a good source of vitamins A and C, can be good for the hair and skin. 

Though there are studies that show the benefits of sweet potatoes in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of sweet potatoes on human health.  

Sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is carotenoid and antioxidant which is highly useful for maintaining vision and overall eye health. Additionally, sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins like vitamins C and E. These vitamins might avoid or delay cataract development and macular degeneration.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Also Read: Unlocking The Health Benefits Of Purple Potatoes

How to Use Sweet Potatoes (Shakarkandi)? 

  • Sweet potatoes can be cooked whole or diced into salads or soups. 
  • Sweet potatoes can also be baked, roasted or boiled for consumption.1 

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.   

Side Effects of Sweet Potatoes: 

A few side effects related to the consumption of sweet potatoes include: 

  • Cheow et al. conducted a study in 2013 which showed that there have been few instances of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) after consumption of sweet potatoes.9 
  • Sweet potatoes are rich in oxalate content and can result in the formation of kidney stones.13 
  • Consuming sweet potatoes in excess can result in sweet potato side effects such as Vitamin A toxicity, which is manifested in skin rashes and headaches.13 
  • Due to high fibre content, excess intake of sweet potatoes can result in bloating, stomach pain and diarrhoea.13 

However, if you experience any adverse reactions to sweet potatoes, it is advised to discontinue its intake and immediately contact a doctor or your Ayurvedic physician who has prescribed it. They will be able to guide you appropriately for your symptoms. 

Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and often called a superfood. They are good sources of fibre and vitamins like A, C, B3, B5, and B6 which might be useful in maintaining digestive health, strengthening immunity and improving brain function. They might also contribute to better bone health because of the richness of minerals like manganese, copper, and potassium.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Also Read: The Lifespan of Potatoes: How Long Does Potatoes Last?

Precautions to take with sweet potatoes: 

Eating sweet potato is okay if taken in moderate amounts. However, general precautions must be taken in the following conditions: 

  • Like other fruits and vegetables, it is always advised to wash sweet potatoes before using them. 
  • It is advised to blanch (immersing in boiling water for a short interval) sweet potatoes to remove toxins probably present on the skin. Blanching also increases the absorption of nutrients.9 

Interactions with Other Drugs: 

There is no significant interaction of sweet potatoes with other drugs. However, you must always seek the advice of your Ayurvedic physician about the possible interaction of sweet potatoes with other drugs and follow the prescription thoroughly, as they will know your health condition and other medications you are taking. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1) What is the scientific name of sweet potato? 

The scientific name of sweet potato is Ipomoea batatas.1 

2) How is a sweet potato (Shakarkandi) different from a potato? 

Sweet potato or Ipomoea batatas is an edible root of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), whereas potatoes are edible tubers of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).1 

3)  Can sweet potatoes help in managing constipation?  

Yes, sweet potatoes may help manage constipation; this effect is attributed to the high content of dietary fibre in them. However, more studies are needed to support these claims. Therefore, it is advised to consult a doctor for proper treatment in case you have constipation.7 

4) What are the advantages of sweet potatoes for vision? 

Sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is responsible for the formation of light-detecting receptors in the eyes. An increase in the quality and number of the light-detecting receptors helps in better vision. Thus, sweet potatoes may help improve vision. However, scientific evidence in support of this is limited and we need more studies to ensure these claims. It is recommended to consult a doctor for proper treatment in case you have any vision-related issues. 

5) What are the side effects of the consumption of excess sweet potatoes?

There have been a few instances of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) after the consumption of sweet potatoes. Consumption in excess can also result in kidney stones, stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea, etc.13

References: 

  1. Sweet potatoes. Hsph.harvard.edu. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/sweet-potatoes/ (Accessed: December 6, 2022).  
  1. Katayama, Kenji et al. “Recent progress in sweet potato breeding and cultivars for diverse applications in Japan.” Breeding science vol. 67, 1 (2017): 3-14. doi:10.1270/jsbbs.16129. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5407919/ 
  1. Sweet potato cultivation income; profit; project report, Agri Farming. Available at: https://www.agrifarming.in/sweet-potato-cultivation-income-profit-project-report (Accessed: December 6, 2022).  
  1. Mohanraj, Remya, and Subha Sivasankar. “Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam) –a valuable medicinal food: a review.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 17,7 (2014): 733-41. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.2818. Available at: https://sci-hub.hkvisa.net/10.1089/jmf.2013.2818 
  1. Escobar-Puentes, Alberto A et al. “Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) Phenotypes: From Agroindustry to Health Effects.” Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 11,7 1058. 6 Apr. 2022, doi:10.3390/foods11071058. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8997864/ 
  1. Li, Peng-Gao et al. “Anticancer effects of sweet potato protein on human colorectal cancer cells.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 19,21 (2013): 3300-8. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i21.3300. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671082/ 
  1. Naomi, Ruth et al. “Potential Effects of Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) in Hyperglycemia and Dyslipidemia-A Systematic Review in Diabetic Retinopathy Context.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 22,19 10816. 6 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijms221910816. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8509747/ 
  1. Shan, Qun et al. “Purple sweet potato colour ameliorates cognition deficits and attenuates oxidative damage and inflammation in ageing mouse brain induced by d-galactose.” Journal of biomedicine & biotechnology vol. 2009 (2009): 564737. doi:10.1155/2009/564737. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19865488/ 
  1. Ooi, Cheow Peng, and Seng Cheong Loke. “Sweet potato for type 2 diabetes mellitus.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2013,9 CD009128. 3 Sep. 2013, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009128.pub3. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24000051/ 
  1. Nguyen, Hoang Chinh et al. “Bioactive Compounds, Antioxidants, and Health Benefits of Sweet Potato Leaves.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 26,7 1820. 24 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/molecules26071820. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8038024/ 
  1. Zielińska, Danuta et al. “Caffeic Acid Modulates Processes Associated with Intestinal Inflammation.” Nutrients vol. 13,2 554. 8 Feb. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13020554. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7914463/ 
  1. Parmar, R. (2022) 8 surprising health benefits of sweet potato, PharmEasy Blog. Available at: https://pharmeasy.in/blog/8-surprising-health-benefits-of-sweet-potato/ (Accessed: December 6, 2022).  
  1. Paul, S. (2022) Sweet Potato Benefits, nutrition value & side effects, Wellcurve Blog. Available at: https://www.wellcurve.in/blog/sweet-potato-benefits-and-nutrition-facts/ (Accessed: December 7, 2022).  

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