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11 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Yams

Health + Wellness
kozicki / iStock / Getty Images

By Cheri Bantilan MS, RD, CD

Yams (Dioscorea) are a type of tuber vegetable that originated in Asia, Africa, and the Carribean (1Trusted Source).


They're often mistaken for sweet potatoes. However, yams are less sweet and more starchy.

They have a distinct brown, bark-like exterior. The flesh can be white, yellow, purple, or pink depending on the maturity of the yam.

These tubers are highly nutritious, versatile, and may benefit your health in many ways.

Here are 11 health and nutrition benefits of yams.

1. Packed With Nutrition

Yams are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

One cup (136 grams) of baked yams provides (2):

  • Calories: 158
  • Carbs: 37 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Vitamin C: 18% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B5: 9% of the DV
  • Manganese: 22% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 6% of the DV
  • Potassium: 19% of the DV
  • Thiamine: 11% of the DV
  • Copper: 23% of the DV
  • Folate: 6% of the DV

Yams are not only an excellent source of fiber but also high in potassium and manganese, which are important for supporting bone health, growth, metabolism, and heart function (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).

These tubers also provide decent amounts of other micronutrients, such as copper and vitamin C.

Copper is vital for red blood cell production and iron absorption, while vitamin C is a strong antioxidant that can boost your immune system (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).

Summary

Yams are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They're particularly rich in potassium, manganese, copper, and vitamin C.

2. May Enhance Brain Function

Eating yams may boost your brain.

In one 12-week study, people who took a yam extract supplement scored higher on a brain function test than those in the placebo group (9Trusted Source).

Yams contain a unique compound called diosgenin, which has been found to promote neuron growth and enhance brain function (9Trusted Source).

Diosgenin has also improved memory and learning abilities in mice in various maze tests (10Trusted Source).

However, more research in this area is needed to fully understand how yams may benefit brain health.

Summary

Yams contain a unique compound called diosgenin, which may enhance memory and brain function.

3. May Ease Symptoms of Menopause

Yams may help alleviate some symptoms of menopause.

In one 30-day study, 24 postmenopausal women switched from their staple food of rice to eating yams in 2 out of 3 meals (390 grams total) per day. Their blood levels of estrone and estradiol increased by 26% and 27%, respectively (11Trusted Source).

Blood levels of estrone and estradiol — two estrogen hormones — typically decrease during menopause. Improving estrogen levels may ease menopause symptoms (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

Yet, another six-month study found that topically applied wild yam cream had very little effect on menopause symptoms, such as flushing and night sweats, compared with a placebo (14Trusted Source).

Further research is needed to investigate the role that yams may have in relieving menopause symptoms.

Summary

Yams may help alleviate symptoms of menopause. Still, the evidence is mixed, and more studies are needed to support these claims.

4. May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties

Yams provide several antioxidants that may have anticancer properties (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).

In an animal study, a yam-rich diet significantly reduced colon tumor growth. These effects were associated with the antioxidants present in yams, suggesting that these tubers may protect against cancer (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).

What's more, a test-tube study found that extracts from Chinese yam, specifically the peel, inhibited liver tumor growth and offered antioxidant properties (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).

However, research is limited, and studies have yet to test these effects in humans.

Summary

Animal and test-tube studies suggest that the antioxidants in yams may have anticancer effects. Still, human studies are lacking.

5. May Reduce Inflammation

The antioxidants in yams may help reduce inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of various conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).

Eating anti-inflammatory foods, such as yams, can help manage chronic inflammation (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).

Several rat studies have observed that yam powder reduced inflammation related to several illnesses, including colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and stomach ulcers (16Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).

Still, more studies are needed to determine whether eating yams has the same anti-inflammatory effects in humans.

Summary

The rich antioxidant content of yams helps reduce inflammation related to various diseases. However, more human research is needed to confirm these results.

6. May Improve Blood Sugar Control

Yams may improve your blood sugar levels.

In one study, rats given yam powder or yam water extract experienced decreased fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels, compared with the control groups. HbA1c is a measure of long-term blood sugar control (27Trusted Source).

Another study found that rats given higher amounts of purple yam extract showed reduced appetites, greater weight loss, and improved blood sugar control, compared with a control group (28).

Furthermore, another study in rats found that supplementing with yam flour reduced the rate of blood sugar absorption, which led to improved blood sugar control. These effects are attributed to the resistant starch and fiber in yams (29).

Resistant starch passes through your gut undigested. This type of starch is linked to various health benefits, including decreased appetite, as well as improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (30Trusted Source).

Summary

Several animal studies have found that yams improve blood sugar control. The effects are thought to be due to their rich resistant starch and dietary fiber contents.

7–10. Other Potential Benefits

Yams are associated with a number of other health benefits, including:

7. Improved digestive health. Studies indicate that the resistant starch in yams may increase digestive enzymes that help break down food and increase the number of good bacteria in your gut (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source).

8. Weight loss. One animal study found that yam extract reduced food intake, suggesting that these tubers may help reduce appetite and improve weight loss. The fiber in yams may promote weight loss as well (28).

9. Antimicrobial effects. Though the exact mechanism is unknown, several studies observe that yam extract may protect against certain drug-resistant bacteria (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).

10. Improved cholesterol levels. In one study, women who ate 18 ounces (390 grams) of yams per day for 30 days experienced a 6% decrease in blood cholesterol levels (11Trusted Source).

Though yams' rich nutritional content appears to provide numerous benefits, more human research is needed to study these effects in detail.

Summary

Due to the nutrient density of yams, eating them is associated with a number of health benefits, including weight loss, antimicrobial effects, and improved digestive health and cholesterol levels.

11. Easy to Add to Your Diet

Due to their versatility, it's easy to add yams to your diet. They can be bought whole or as a powder, flour, and even supplement.

These delicious tubers can be baked, boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, and pan-cooked.

Yams can be enjoyed with or without the skin and used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Here are some common ways to enjoy yams:

  • Yam fries. Cut yams into wedges, add seasonings, and bake or fry them.
  • Purée. Boil the tubers until soft, place in a blender, purée, and season them.
  • Yam chips. Thinly slice peeled yams and bake or fry them.
  • Mashed yams. Peel, boil, and mash your yams, then add milk and seasonings.
  • Baked yams. Bake cubed yams until tender.
  • Cheesy yam gratin. Thinly slice peeled yams and bake them with cheese and seasonings.
  • Yam hash. Peel, dice, season, and then cook your yams in a pan.
  • Add into baked goods. Use yam purée to add moisture to breads and muffins.

Adding different seasonings to your yam dishes, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, or thyme, can diversify sweet and savory dishes.

Summary

Yams are nutritious, versatile, and easy to prepare, making them a great ingredient to cook with.

The Bottom Line

Yams are nutrient-dense tuber vegetables that come in many colors.

They're a great source of fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, and antioxidants.

Yams are linked to various health benefits and may boost brain health, reduce inflammation, and improve blood sugar control.

They're versatile, easy to prepare, and a great vegetable to include in your diet in both sweet and savory dishes.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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