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Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

Louise Hendon | May 25

Are you tempted by the many mouth-watering recipes calling for sweet potato?

Maybe you’re just getting started with the Ketogenic diet, or you’re switching from Paleo to Keto and you’re not sure if sweet potatoes are fair game?

The short answer is that sweet potatoes are not Keto due to their high carbohydrate content (1), which is unfortunate because this appetizing tuber is extremely nutritious.


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Nutritional Breakdown of Sweet Potato

One medium-sized baked sweet potato contains just 103 calories (2), most of which comes from carbohydrate.

Considering they also have a very low-fat content, they don’t mesh well with the Keto diet if you want to keep hitting those macros.

We’ll take a look now at some of the nutrients in this starchy vegetable.

  • Vitamin A: Your body harnesses the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes and turns it into vitamin A. A single baked sweet potato is enough to exceed your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) in one shot.
  • Vitamins B5 and B6: Vitamin B5 and B6 help with the conversion of food into energy (3).
  • Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant can help prevent chronic disease (4) as well as lessening your susceptibility to colds (5).
  • Manganese: This vital mineral supports a healthy metabolism and strong bones (6).
  • Potassium: Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium which can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease (7).

According to Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D. “Sweet potatoes are the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth who are also known for maintaining mental clarity into old age. Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.”

But…

With over 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than a half-gram of fat and 3 grams of fiber, you’ll struggle to stay in ketosis if you overindulge on these orange beauties, even if they are packed with vitamins and minerals.

Health coach and personal trainer Alex Fergus says that root vegetables need to be avoided on Keto. “These may not cause the same blood sugar spike that pure glucose does, but the blood sugar increase will knock you out of ketosis, especially if these foods are consumed on an empty stomach and or without fats.”

It’s not just the carbs – it’s also the ultra-low-fat content that rules the sweet potato out of the game for anyone following Keto.

Even if you’re just dipping your toes into the Ketogenic diet, you’re aware that it’s important to consume plenty of healthy fats, in addition to dialing back the carbs.

When you need to consume anywhere from 20 to 40 grams of fat per meal (8), you’ll want to fill up on foods that contain healthy natural fats. Alongside plenty of fatty cuts of meat and fish, add some avocado to your plate. A single 1-cup serving has a whopping 22 grams of fat (9).

Now you’ve seen why sweet potatoes don’t work well with Keto, you might be asking yourself if it’s OK to reserve some for treat days or to eat very limited quantities…

Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

What If I Just Have a Few Sweet Potato Fries?

Moderation is usually the key to most things in life and if you snack on a handful of sweet potato fries, you’re unlikely to be kicked out of ketosis.

That said, it’s difficult to moderate the consumption of a food that just doesn’t align with your macros.

Be honest with yourself about whether you really can limit your intake, or if perhaps you should just leave those sweet potato fries alone.

Setting all else aside, the carb content alone renders these tubers unsuitable. If you’re wondering what vegetables to use instead, we’ll look later at some healthy, low-carb alternatives.

Next, though, how do sweet potatoes fit into the Paleo diet?

Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

While sweet potatoes are off-limits on Keto, if you’re starting out down the Paleo path, this starchy vegetable works very well.

As we mentioned, these tubers boast a range of vitamins and minerals. They also contain the prebiotics (10) needed for proper gut functioning.

The delicious taste, versatility, and high nutrient value of sweet potatoes make them a smart addition to any Paleo shopping list.

How about other more general health benefits, though?

Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants are crucial to ward off the free radicals that can ravage your system. The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes can even have a positive effect on respiratory health (11).
  • Blood Sugar: Sweet potatoes can help stabilize your blood sugar levels (12).
  • Cognitive Function: The beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes can support brain function as you age (13), while a substance found in purple sweet potatoes may enhance brain power and memory (14).
  • Overall Health and Immunity: Providing over 400% of your RDA of vitamin A, it’s no wonder sweet potatoes support your immune system (15) and give your overall health such a positive jolt.

As you can see, while sweet potatoes are no good with Keto, they do serve up a shower of benefits if you’re following a Paleo diet or you want to treat the rest of your family.

Sweet potato and yam are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference so we’ll glance at that distinction now before rounding out with 15 of the best alternatives to sweet potatoes if you’re on the Ketogenic diet.

Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams

Sweet potatoes and yams are both underground tubers, though they’re not actually related to one another. There’s a good chance you’ve seen both for sale at the supermarket. What’s the difference?

Sweet Potatoes

Indigenous to Central and South America, sweet potatoes are members of the Morning Glory family. North Carolina currently leads the U.S. production, producing about 60% of the nation’s supply (16).

Long and tapering, colors vary widely from white or beige, red, yellow, orange – even purple. Sweet potatoes come in two main varieties in the U.S.

  • Dark Sweet Potatoes: This variety of sweet potato is soft and sweet. Inside the dark skin is a bright orange flesh. This type is most commonly found in the US.
  • Pale Sweet Potatoes: With a much paler flesh and skin, this kind of sweet potato is usually drier.

Yams

Yams are related to lilies and grasses. Prevalent in Africa and Asia, these tubers have now also spread to the Caribbean and South America.

A distinguishing feature of yams is that they grow significantly larger than sweet potatoes. Yams can grow up to 150 pounds (17).

The skin of yams is rough and pale while the flesh ranges from white to purple. They are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes, and actually quite rare in the U.S. outside of a specialty store.

When you see yams at the supermarket, they’re most likely sweet potatoes. Why are they sometimes called yams? This dates back many years and was essentially a way to distinguish between dark sweet potatoes and their pale counterparts.

OK, now you’ve got the quick lowdown on the differences between yams and sweet potatoes. Let’s take a quick detour via legumes before tailing off with 15 fantastic, versatile and low-carb veggies that are great for staying in ketosis.

Are Sweet Potatoes Keto?

Are Legumes Keto?

Legumes – beans, chickpeas, indeed any kind of lentil – are all packed with carbs and starch-laden.

These veggies might well be tasty and add a nice texture to some dishes but they’ll wreak havoc with your macros and potentially sabotage ketosis, so give legumes a pass if you’re serious about Keto.

You might be wondering just what you can actually have on Keto in terms of veggies, so before wrapping up we’ll give you 15 great ideas.

Best Low Carb Vegetables For A Keto Diet

If you’re looking for a complete alphabetical breakdown of veg suited to Keto, check out our guide right here.

We’ll list 15 of these here for your immediate consideration.

  1. Artichokes
  2. Asparagus
  3. Cabbage
  4. Carrots
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Celery
  7. Cucumber
  8. Eggplant
  9. Kale
  10. Leeks
  11. Onions
  12. Radishes
  13. Shallots
  14. Spinach
  15. Watercress

According to Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, M.D., there’s a simple rule to follow when choosing keto-friendly produce. “Above ground vegetables are generally lower carb and therefore the best keto options. Below ground vegetables, a.k.a. root vegetables, contain more carbs and should be consumed with care, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes.”

If you’re all clear on your veggies now, here’s our comprehensive list of the best foods for Keto.

To Sweet Potato or Not To Sweet Potato?

When you’re considering whether or to eat sweet potatoes, it depends on what eating plan you’re following.

We’ll summarize our findings across 3 broad categories.

  • Keto: Avoid sweet potatoes due to their high carb content and minimal fat.
  • Paleo: Sweet potatoes serve as a nutritious source of clean carbs. If you’re eating a Paleo diet, this gels well with your needs so break out these tubers any time you like.
  • Regular Meal Plan: Given their array of general health benefits, if you’re not following a carb-restricted diet, sweet potatoes are well worth throwing into the mix.

So, depending on what your eating requirements are, you should either embrace the many virtues of sweet potatoes or reserve them for the occasional handful of fries.

Bottom Line:

With keto, sweet potatoes are a no-no.

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Louise Hendon

Louise holds a Bachelors and Masters in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University (UK). She attended Columbia University for her JD and practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton before co-founding Louise's Foods, Paleo Living Magazine, Nourishing Brands, & CoBionic. Louise has considerable research experience but enjoys creating products and articles that help move people just a little bit closer toward a healthy life they love. You can find her on Facebook or LinkedIn.