Sweet potatoes are the superior potato, in my not-so-humble opinion. Unless you're making old-fashioned mashed potatoes on Turkey Day, then sweet potatoes taste better, give you more options, and have more nutrients.
If you're wondering if sweet potatoes fit into your paleo diet, you can rest assured — they definitely have their place.
Sweet potatoes are healthy, nutritious, and paleo-friendly, and I always like to have a bag around the house to whip into delicious paleo dinners or to have as a snack when I'm feeling just motivated enough to put something in the microwave but not motivated enough to make an actual lunch.
In this article, we'll dive into:
- What are sweet potatoes, anyway?
- Are sweet potatoes paleo?
- Sweet potato nutrition facts
- The best ways to use sweet potatoes
- Our favorite paleo sweet potato recipes
What are sweet potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a type of root vegetable. They are actually only distantly related to true potatoes and are not considered part of the nightshade family! These (usually orange) roots of deliciousness are thought to have originated in Central or South America thousands of years ago[*]. People have been eating them for a long, long, time, which is why paleo dieters love eating them!
The orange variety we are most associated with is softer and sweeter than other sweet potato varieties like purple Japanese Sweet Potatoes, but I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone. Japanese sweet potatoes are starchier and closer to what yucca root feels like, and goodness are they delicious.
Are sweet potatoes paleo?
Yes — sweet potatoes are generally considered a paleo-approved food, however, some paleo dieters prefer to limit their consumption to avoid consuming too many carbohydrates that spike their blood sugar levels.
At its essence, the Paleo diet is about returning to humans' culinary roots... (see what I did there?) Since root vegetables are completely natural and unprocessed, they are paleo-approved.
Both root vegetables and potatoes are high in carbs, but it's worth noting that sweet potatoes score significantly lower on the glycemic index (GI) than white potatoes — especially when boiled. A boiled sweet potato has a GI of 46, which is considered low, but a boiled white potato has a GI of 82, which is considered high [*].
Also, baking potatoes or sweet potatoes spikes the GI for both groups — taking a sweet potato's GI all the way from 46 to 94[*]! So if your dietary needs require you to keep an eye on the GI of foods, definitely opt for boiling your root vegetables and potatoes.
Unless you have a dietary need to avoid tubers like potatoes, beets, radishes, etc., then you can eat as many sweet potatoes as you like on paleo!
What about yams? Are yams paleo too?
So here's the funny thing about American grocery store yams: yams is sort of a misnomer.
In other words, even though we call orange sweet potatoes yams, they really aren't! Yams are a different kind of root vegetable popular in Africa that can grow up to multiple feet in length! That's quite the root!
The difference is pretty obvious whether you're getting an actual sweet potato or a real yam, but you won't find real yams inside a normal grocery chain, so unless you're at a specialty shop or a foreign market you'll almost always be eating sweet potatoes regardless of what they're called.
And if you do end up with some actual yams, they're paleo too!
Sweet potato nutrition facts
Sweet potatoes are delicious, high in fiber, and jam-packed with useful nutrients like potassium & beta carotenes (a type of antioxidant). They also help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, manage diabetes, and contain stress-relieving magnesium [*].
Here is a common nutrient breakdown for sweet potatoes. This will vary slightly depending on the size and type of sweet potato you buy.
- Calories: 86
- Protein: 1.6g
- Carbs: 20.1g
- Fat: 0.1g
- Sugar: 4.2g
- Fiber: 3g
Like anything, you should eat sweet potatoes as part of a balanced diet, but there is no doubt that sweet potatoes are generally a healthy and nutritious choice in most diets!
The best ways to cook sweet potatoes
There are so many ways to make sweet potatoes on paleo. From whipping up some baked fries to go along with a no-bun burger to splitting one open and topping it with some salt, pepper, and meat, you’ve got options.
Here are just a few of the ways you can cook up potatoes!
- Boil them. Cut them into large chunks and toss them into a pot of salted boiling water. You don’t want the water to be as salty as you have it for pasta, but you should be able to taste it clearly.
- Sauté them. I like to dice my potatoes and start them on medium-low heat. As soon as I drop them in, I add some salt and a bit of water to create steam. Then, I cover them and let them steam cook for 5-10 minutes until soft. Once they're almost done, take the lid off, crank up the heat, and cook them until you get some delicious browning! It's essentially a reverse-sear on a potato, and I love it.
- Bake them. Preheat the oven to 425, prick them all over with a knife, and then bake them for 45-50 minutes or until soft!
- Microwave them. Just poke a few holes and toss it in for a few minutes. This isn't ideal, but it's better than you think for when you need a quick fix!
- Steam them. This is an easy way to get super soft potatoes: throw them on top of your rice cooker when you're making rice! Just like you would with broccoli or other veggies.
- Grill them. If the weather is warm, it's hard to beat grilled potatoes. Just slice them into large wedges, toss them in salt and pepper and whatever fat or oil you prefer, and throw them on for a few minutes on each side!
No matter what paleo food you're cooking up, sweet potatoes can fit in. That goes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! And we didn't even get to mashing them, boiling them, scalloping them, pureeing them, and stuffing them!
The point is, the world is your sweet potato. Now, let's get specific with a few paleo sweet potato recipes!
7 amazing paleo sweet potato recipes
Okay! So you're convinced that you should have sweet potatoes around the house while on paleo, but how should you cook them?
Here are 7 of our favorites paleo sweet potato recipes!
These quasi-scalloped sweet potatoes are deliciously simple and rely on fresh herbs and classic spices to make a wonderful side to any protein-based dinner. These would go great next to a New York Strip Steak or baked chicken.
Just because you're on paleo doesn't mean you can't treat yourself every once in a while! This spiced gluten-free and paleo sweet potato bread gets you in the realm of banana bread, and the cinnamon in this is super tasty. Check it out!
I've always been on team sweet potato fries, and is it just me, or are sweet potato hash browns underrepresented in today's breakfast world? Why should we restrict the joy of sweet potatoes to french-fry format!?
It's time for a change, and it's up to us to make delicious sweet potato hash browns more of a staple. Let's all do our part by... well, eating delicious paleo food.
I cook sweet potato casserole every year for my family's Thanksgiving dinner. It's one of my favorite things. Granted, that recipe is definitely not paleo-approved, but I have to admit that this version from A Saucy Kitchen is pretty amazing. It's a more savory spin on the classic Meat + 3 sides, and you should definitely give it a shot!
Scalloped potatoes are the bee's knees. They are so thin yet the sides crisp up just a tad to create one of my favorite textures. This recipe cleverly stays paleo by opting for natural sweeteners and is a really nice addition to a fancy but still paleo meal!
I have to admit, the only time I opt for white potatoes over sweet is for mashed potatoes, but this recipe is making me reconsider that decision. These won't be your classic, creamy, white mashed potatoes, but they will give you a really nice, cinnamony-twist to this family staple. Put this alongside some fresh asparagus and white fish like Tilapia for an amazing, paleo-friendly meal.
How good do these little savory cakes look? They are kind of like little meat pies, and I Heart Umami has really done something special here. If you've made an oven-roasted chicken or turkey and are looking for ways to stretch it, then these are the perfect lunch or snack option. Heck, you could take them on a hike, too!
Those are our favorites, but the list is far from over. Fortunately, it's hard to mess up sweet potatoes, and most regular potato recipes can be made paleo by just eliminating any dairy or sugar.
The bottom line on sweet potatoes and the paleo diet
Sweet potatoes are a bonafide paleo staple. We eat them all the time! As long as you eat them within a balanced paleo diet, then they are a healthy addition that can deliver a bunch of healthy nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, and more.