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What's the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes?

Food
Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sweet and regular potatoes are both tuberous root vegetables, but they differ in appearance and taste.

They come from separate plant families, offer different nutrients, and affect your blood sugar differently.


This article describes the main differences between sweet potatoes and other potato varieties, plus how to prepare them in healthy ways.

Different Plant Families

Sweet and regular potatoes are both considered root vegetables but are only distantly related.

Sweet potatoes are from the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae, and white potatoes are nightshades or Solanaceae. The edible part of these plants are the tubers that grow on the roots.

Both varieties are native to parts of Central and South America but now eaten all over the world.

Sweet potatoes typically have brown skin and orange flesh but also come in purple, yellow, and red varieties. Regular potatoes come in shades of brown, yellow, and red and have white or yellow flesh.

In the United States and some other countries, sweet potatoes are often called yams, even though they're different species.

Summary: Sweet and regular potatoes are both root vegetables. They're distantly related but come from different families.

Both Are Nutritious

Sweet potatoes are often touted as being healthier than white potatoes, but in reality, both types can be highly nutritious.

Here's a nutrient comparison of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of white and sweet potato with skin, respectively (1, 2):

While regular and sweet potatoes are comparable in their calorie, protein, and carb content, white potatoes provide more potassium, whereas sweet potatoes are incredibly high in vitamin A.

Both types of potatoes also contain other beneficial plant compounds.

Sweet potatoes, including red and purple varieties, are rich in antioxidants that help fight cell damage in your body caused by free radicals (3, 4).

Regular potatoes contain compounds called glycoalkaloids, which have been shown to have anticancer and other beneficial effects in test-tube studies (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).

Summary: Both types of potatoes are rich in fiber, carbs, and vitamins B6 and C. White potatoes are higher in potassium, whereas sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A.

Different Glycemic Indexes 

Different types of potatoes also differ in their glycemic index (GI), a measure of how a certain food affects your blood sugar (7Trusted Source).

Foods with a GI of 70 or higher cause a more rapid increase in blood sugar compared with foods with a medium GI of 56–69 or a low GI of 55 or less.

Depending on the type and cooking process, sweet potatoes may have a GI of 44–94. Baked sweet potatoes tend to have a much higher GI than boiled ones because of how the starches gelatinize during cooking (8).

The GI of regular potatoes also varies. For example, boiled red potatoes have a GI of 89 while baked Russet potatoes have a GI of 111 (8).

People who have diabetes or other blood sugar issues may benefit from limiting high-GI foods. Thus, it's often recommended to choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, as the sweet variety generally has a lower GI.

However, how eating potato affects your blood sugar largely depends on the type of potato, portion size, and cooking method. While some varieties of sweet potatoes may have a lower GI than regular potatoes, others do not.

Summary: The effect that eating potato has on your blood sugar, known as the GI, varies among different types of both sweet and regular potatoes.

Both Can Fit Into a Balanced Diet

Both sweet and regular potatoes provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and energizing carbs and can fit into a balanced diet that includes a variety of other healthy foods.

How to prepare them in healthy ways

Though potatoes are highly nutritious, they're often prepared in unhealthy ways.

For example, white potatoes can be turned into French fries, mashed with butter and cream, or baked and topped with high-calorie ingredients.

What's more, sweet potatoes may be combined with sugar, marshmallows, or other less healthy ingredients.

To prepare sweet or regular potatoes in a healthy way, try boiling or baking them, keep the skin on for more fiber, and serve with fresh herbs or spices instead of cheese, butter, and salt.

If you're concerned about the impact of these root vegetables on your blood sugar, opt for boiled over baked potatoes.

Pairing potatoes with foods that have fewer carbs, like lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables, can also limit their effect on blood sugar.

Summary: Both sweet and regular potatoes can be part of a balanced diet. Bake or boil potatoes instead of frying them, and stick to nutritious toppings.

The Bottom Line

Sweet potatoes differ from other potato varieties in appearance, taste, and nutrition.

Both sweet and regular potatoes provide a variety of nutrients, including carbs, fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. While white potatoes are higher in potassium, sweet potatoes provide much more vitamin A.

Potatoes may also affect your blood sugar differently, though this depends on the type, serving size, and other factors.

Overall, both sweet and regular potatoes can fit into a healthy diet when prepared in nutritious ways.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.