There is no doubt that sweet potatoes have loads of health benefits. This tasty tuber is consistently ranked on lists of ‘superfoods,’ and with good reason. So how do its benefits extend to pregnancy and fetal health?
Sweet potatoes make a delicious base for your meal or tasty side dish. Combined with their starches and fiber to keep you full and satisfied, and essential vitamins and minerals to keep you feeling your best and baby growing strong it is hard to argue against sweet potatoes as a nutrient-packed addition to your pregnancy diet.
Keep reading to learn how it can help you meet your nutrient needs and one surprising potential benefit!
Is Sweet Potato Good During Pregnancy? The Benefits
It should come as no surprise that sweet potatoes are incredibly nutritious. Not to mention that they pack a host of nutrition benefits for both mom and her growing baby during pregnancy!
I’ll run through all of their beneficial key nutrients one by one to provide you a thorough look at all of the ways enjoying it can benefit both you and your baby.
- A single cup of cooked sweet potato provides 4 grams of fiber, meeting 16% of your daily fiber needs during pregnancy. Getting adequate fiber in your daily diet contributes to a myriad of benefits, from controlling blood sugar spikes (important if you have gestational or other types of diabetes), helping to keep you full and satisfied, and preventing pesky pregnancy-related constipation.
- Typically, we think of vitamin C in citrus fruits such as oranges and limes. While potatoes of all varieties don’t have nearly as much vitamin C as citrus fruits, they are another good source of this immune-boosting vitamin! The same 1 cup serving of sweet potato meets 4% of your increased daily vitamin C needs during pregnancy (source: NIH).
- Potassium is a necessary mineral and helps keep the body’s muscles, blood pressure, and heart pumping and functioning properly. During pregnancy, low potassium levels have even been associated with increased risk for gestational diabetes and severe pre-eclampsia (source: Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine).
Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, with 1 cup meeting 15% of your daily needs to help keep your muscles functioning in tip-top shape and baby safe.
Many women wonder whether the color of sweet potato flesh makes a difference in the veggie’s health benefits. The main difference between the two is their phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are substances in plants that are known to be anti-inflammatory.
Orange sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, purple contain anthocyanins, and white contain anthoxanthins.
All of these substances are beneficial in their own ways and no color is ‘healthier’ than another. One of the most important parts of a balanced, healthy diet is to eat a variety of different colored fresh fruits and veggies.
Similarly, there is also a lot of confusion between yams and sweet potatoes. Many folks use both terms interchangeably, however, they are actually two different plants. You can tell the difference between the two veggies by their skin.
Sweet potatoes have smooth skins, while the outside of yams is rougher and bark-like. Overall the two tubers are very similar in nutrition, though yams do tend to be starchier and less sweet with higher contents of potassium and vitamin C (source: North Carolina Sweet Potatoes).
Are Sweet Potatoes Safe During Pregnancy?
Just about any way you slice them, sweet potatoes are safe for you and your baby during pregnancy.
Any color can be eaten both with or without skin. Regardless of whether you eat leave the skin on or not, be sure to give the tubers a thorough washing before preparing.
Not washing them before preparing can leave you at risk of foodborne illness. Even if you plan to peel them, bacteria from the outside of the potato can be transferred to the potato flesh during peeling.
For more info on how to wash them (and any other veggies in your fridge) head over to our guide to properly washing produce.
Aside from keeping up with food safety when cooking, they have very little safety concerns and are totally safe to enjoy throughout pregnancy.
Vitamin A in Sweet Potatoes When You’re Pregnant
Vitamin A is a hot topic during pregnancy, as too much can lead to toxicity of this still-essential nutrient. It’s a fine balance and many women worry that eating sweet potatoes can cause them to ‘go over’ the daily limit of vitamin A.
The vitamin A in them actually comes in the form of beta-carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A. While vitamin A supplements or additional vitamin A should be limited to a maximum of 10,000 IU (international units) daily or 25,000 IU weekly during pregnancy, there is no limit on beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene has not been shown to contribute to any negative complications of birth/pregnancy or birth defects (source: Nutrients).
Because the vitamin A from them is made from beta-carotene and not the pre-formed version of the vitamin, they are completely safe to continue eating throughout pregnancy.
For a more detailed guide to vitamin A during pregnancy, check out our article on vitamin A limits, supplements, and other food sources.
Recipe Ideas for the Best Way to Eat Sweet Potato When Pregnant
Sweet potatoes are delicious in all forms- from baked to deep-fried fries. As yummy as fries are, many women feel concerned that the more indulgent dishes are not as ‘healthy’ as other recipes.
While it is true that fried sweet potato dishes are likely to be higher in fat content, the oil they are fried in doesn’t eliminate the vitamin and mineral benefits. In actuality, vitamin A is considered a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it is absorbed better when eaten with some dietary fat.
When enjoyed in moderation, all types of sweet potato, including more processed varieties, can be a part of a healthy pregnancy diet.
If you are in a rut, check out these recipe ideas:
- Jerk chicken stuffed baked sweet potato
- Sub sweet potatoes in place of traditional russets in your favorite mashed potato recipe
- Sweet potato fries, salad, and baked chicken (or fish)
- Sweet potato and bean chili
Can I Eat Sweet Potatoes During Every Trimester? (1st, 2nd or 3rd)
Knowing that sweet potatoes are safe from a vitamin A standpoint and that eating them offers numerous health and nutrition benefits, are there any guidelines or considerations when it comes to stages of pregnancy?
The short answer is no! They are safe and nutritious during all trimesters, as well as when trying to conceive and post-partum.
If you are struggling with pregnancy-related constipation, which is common during later periods of pregnancy, enjoying fiber-filled sweet potatoes more regularly can help.
Can Sweet Potato Make You Have Twins?
Interestingly, sweet potatoes have landed themselves on the list of foods that might increase your likelihood of having twins. Is this another food-related myth or is there any fact behind this theory?
The main link between them and multiple births is the Yoruba ethnic group in southwest Nigeria. The Yoruba people eat yams (which are different from sweet potatoes, but similar nutritionally) regularly, often multiple times daily. This same group of people also have a much higher rate of fraternal twin births.
While the international rate of twins is increasing, the Yoruba people’s twin rate has remained consistently higher. Around the globe, the current average rate of having twins is 12.1 per 1,000 liver births (or 1.21%). For the Yoruba people, this number has been around 41.6 per 1,000 liver births (or 4.16%) (sources: Human Reproduction, Yale).
It is likely that yams are not the only factor, and scientists are investigating other possibilities for the large number of twins in this area. Water, overall diet quality, and genetics are other possibilities. Still, if you are trying for a set of twins, eating yams often is certainly not harmful.
Is it Normal to Crave Sweet Potatoes When Pregnant?
Sweet potato seems to be a popular craving amongst pregnant women. As with all other food/drink cravings, there is limited concrete evidence as to why cravings happen in the first place.
They are a common traditional/holiday dish, and some women may feel nostalgic about eating them. For others, the sweet flavor combined with salty toppings such as butter and cheese can hit the taste buds for multiple cravings.
No matter the reason, it is perfectly safe (and normal) to crave them. You can even get some health benefits while satisfying your craving!
Are Sweet Potato Leaves (Kamote) Safe When Pregnant?
Not only is the flesh edible, but the leaves are as well. Sweet potato and yam leaves are popular dishes across some parts of Africa and Asia.
Their leaves can be used as an alternative leafy green and are typically sauteed in cooking oil or added to stews, curries, and salads. Like other leafy greens, their leaves are a good source of vitamin K, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 (source: American Society for Horticultural Science).
Similar to other leafy greens and salads, it is important to thoroughly wash their leaves before eating or preparing- even if they come packaged as ‘pre-washed.’ All fresh greens have the potential to carry bacteria, and thorough washing is important to protect against foodborne illness.
Between their fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes (and their leaves) are a nutrient powerhouse. Hopefully, this article has not only sparked some yummy ideas for your next run to the store, but also reassured you that sweet potatoes of all kinds are a safe and healthy addition to your pregnancy diet.