If you’re like me, at first glance you can’t tell the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. They both are orange on the inside and both taste great in a pie or mashed or in a casserole. Even though they may look the same, technically, they’re two different vegetables — especially when it come to how your body digests them.
Sweet potatoes originated in South America and are grown in the United States. True yams are native to Africa and are seldom sold in your local grocery store. Yams sold in the United States are actually a type of sweet potato. The two potatoes also do not share similar carbohydrate profiles. As a result, sweet potatoes boost blood sugar, while yams help keep it balanced.
After you eat sweet potatoes and yams, their carbohydrates are digested into simple sugars that enter your bloodstream, causing a post-meal boost in blood sugar. For most people, this isn’t a problem because insulin escorts sugar into cells, which returns blood levels to normal.
However, if you have health conditions that interfere with normal secretion or use of insulin — insulin resistance, prediabetes or diabetes — your body struggles to remove the extra sugar and blood levels remain high.
Over time, high blood sugar may cause kidney disease and heart attacks, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you only look at total carbohydrates you might think the glycemic scores are wrong.
But in spite of their higher carb content, yams have a smaller impact on blood sugar thanks to containing more fiber and less sugar. Sweet potatoes have 12 times more sugar and 3.8 grams of fiber, compared to 5.8 grams of fiber in yams. Soluble fiber slows down the rate of carbohydrate digestion, which helps prevent spikes in blood sugar.
You’ll get 26.58 grams of total carbohydrates from a 150-gram serving of sweet potatoes. The same portion of yams has 41.22 grams of total carbohydrates — nearly double the amount!
So what does this all mean? Try eating a smaller serving of sweet potato.
You’ll get fewer total carbs and sugar. Eating three regular meals daily and including about the same amount of carbs at every meal also helps keep blood sugar balanced. The American Diabetes Association recommends getting about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal. Depending on your health and activity level, you may require a different amount, so talk to your health care provider just to be sure.
Either way you go, I’m sure it will taste great! Just remember to limit the amount of butter you add to your yams or sweet potatoes and be sure to use real brown sugar and real honey.