What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

Holistic Nutrition

You hear this a lot, people refer to sweet potatoes when they mean yams, and other way around. Let’s face it, it’s confusing and a bit annoying. Therefore, that’s what this article is all about – to explain the difference (and they are actually very different), from their nutrients to other health benefits they can offer you.

These tuber vegetables that are healed from underneath the ground are from different plant families. The confusion between the two names might have started when slaves from Africa started calling sweet potatoes ‘nyami’, which means yam and name yam got stuck in the American vocabulary. Nonetheless, there are big difference between these two root vegetables. Let me explain…

Sweet potatoes

Ipomoea batatas, or commonly known as sweet potatoes are a starchy root vegetable. These root vegetables originate from South and Central America.

Sweet potatoes are related to potatoes. Both, sweet potatoes and potatoes, have tuberous roots and their shoots and leaves can be eaten as greens. The only this is that sweet potatoes have a distinctive looking tuber.

Sweet potatoes have a tapered, long shape with a smooth skin. Their skin color can range from red, brown, yellow, orange to even purple or beige. The flesh inside, that too can range in colors from purple to orange, depending in the variety.

There are two main varieties of sweet potatoes, namely the dark skinned orange fleshed sweet potatoes and the golden skinned pale fleshed sweet potatoes. The latter variety is a bit more firmer in texture and less sweet than the dark skinned variety, which is much more fluffy and moist and the most popular type in the United States. Either way, sweet potatoes are must sweeter and moister than normal potatoes.

The nutrients of sweet potatoes:

A raw sweet potato contains 77% water, 20.1% carbohydrates, 1.6% protein, 3% fiber and almost no fat.
100 grams of baked sweet potato with the skin on contains:

• Calories: 90
• Carbohydrates: 20.7 grams
• Dietary fiber: 3.3 grams
• Fat: 0.2 grams
• Protein: 2 grams
• Vitamin A: 384% DV
• Vitamin C: 33% DV
• Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): 7% DV
• Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 6% DV
• Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 7% DV
• Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): 9% DV
• Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 14% DV
• Iron: 4% DV
• Magnesium: 7% DV
• Phosphorus: 5% DV
• Potassium: 14% DV
• Copper: 8% DV
• Manganese: 25% DV

Sweet potatoes are also rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which are thought to help guard against heart illness and reducing the risk of cancer.


These tuber vegetables, Dioscorea or yams, comes from Asia and Africa, but are commonly found in Latin America and the Caribbean as well. There are over 600 types of yams; however, the majority are in Africa.

Yams are much bigger than potatoes, as their size can reach up to 1.5 meters and weigh up to a massive 60 kilograms. More so, yams have a cylindrical shape and a brown, bark-like skin that can be difficult to peel. But once heated the skin softens a lot. The flesh can range from a white to a pink color, depending on the age of the yam.

Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and dry, but also less sweet.

In terms of nutrients, raw yam contains water, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and almost no fat.
100 grams of boiled or baked yam contains:

• Calories: 116
• Carbohydrates: 27.5 grams
• Dietary fiber: 3.9 grams
• Fat: 0.1 grams
• Protein: 1.5 grams
• Vitamin A: 2% DV
• Vitamin C: 20% DV
• Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): 6% DV
• Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 2% DV
• Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 3% DV
• Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): 3% DV
• Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 11% DV
• Iron: 3% DV
• Magnesium: 5% DV
• Phosphorus: 5% DV
• Potassium: 19% DV
• Copper: 8% DV
• Manganese: 19% DV

Sweet potatoes and yams

Sweet potatoes have less calories, more vitamin C, and three times more beta-carotene than yams. But yams are richer in B vitamins, which is needed to creating DNA and producing energy. Also, yams have more potassium and manganese. These are good for bone health, metabolism and a strong heart.

But sweet potatoes have fairly high levels of oxalates. These naturally occurring substances are usually harmless. Though, when they mount up in the body, they can cause problems for people at risk of kidney stone.

Naturally occurring plant proteins found in yams can be toxic and cause illness if consumed raw. Peeling and cooking yams thoroughly will remove any harmful substances.

The concluding remarks

Yams and sweet potatoes are different types of vegetables.

In terms of which is best, then the simple answer will be either. That is since both are nutrients, versatile and tasty. The only thing is that sweet potatoes are more accessible compared to yams. That said, in terms of nutrients, sweet potatoes are slightly better, slightly sweeter, and slightly fluffier and have a moister texture as compared to yams. Then again, yams are starchier, drier in texture and can be much harder to find as compared to sweet potatoes.