Sweet Potato vs. Russet Potato (vs. Red vs. Purple)

June 12, 2014

“Are potatoes as bad as they say?” is a question I am often asked on store tours.  Or, “Are sweet potatoes really much better than white potatoes?”  Let’s take a look.

When we compare the nutrients in different varieties of potatoes, we find some similarities.  Variety of Fingerling Potatoes in CollanderPotatoes are a starchy vegetable, which means that they are a high carbohydrate food and are quite similar in calorie content (purples are slightly lower).  They are all high in fiber and vitamin C, and have almost twice as much potassium as a banana!  They originated in South America.  Peru has been known to grow over 5,000 potato varieties, and still maintains 2,800 varieties today.  In the US, the vast majority of potatoes grown are the familiar Russet Burbank potato, which makes our beloved baked potato and French fry.

Carbohydrates & Fiber
Beyond calories, we start seeing some differences.  Sweet potatoes and Russets have the exact same number of carbohydrates, reds slightly fewer, and purples contain the fewest grams of carbohydrates.  Sweet potatoes are highest in fiber; purple potatoes are considerably lower than sweet potatoes or Russets. 

Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, packing almost 700% of the recommended daily value in one medium potato; all the others have none.  Sweet potatoes also have about twice the vitamin C of Russet Burbank and red potatoes.  They all are great sources of potassium, with red potatoes leading the pack.  Purple and red potatoes are unique in the fact that they are packed with antioxidants.  The purple potato is full of the antioxidant, anthocyanin, like most blue/purple foods.

So, which is best? 
With the most fiber and vitamin A & C and a healthy dose of potassium, sweet potatoes come out the winner!  Keep in mind all the potatoes are nutrient-dense and each has a unique nutritional strong-point, so mix it up next time you grab some potatoes.

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Lachman J, Hamouz K. Orsak M.  Red and purple potatoes – a significant antioxidant source in human nutrition.  International Food Information Service.  2005; 99 (7): 474–82.

Collyns D. Peru’s potato passion goes global. BBC News.  8 February 2008.  Accessed 9 Mar 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7231148.stm


4 Responses to “Sweet Potato vs. Russet Potato (vs. Red vs. Purple)”

  • Excellent! Thank you! We’ve been hearing for years that sweet potatoes are a better choice, but it’s nice to see an actual comparison with all the details. Also, what would you say is a good size? About a quarter pound or so? I’m not sure what medium means. Thanks.

    Posted by Erin R. | June 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm
  • Great question! According to the “medium potato” definition I used, it weighs 6 ounces, which is about 1 1/4 cups of sweet potato cubes, which is a a pretty large serving size. Half a medium potato (3 ounces) would even be a good help to get you to the recommended 2 1/2 cups of veggies a day.

    Posted by Laura | June 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm
  • Growing up we ate what I called sweet potatoes – only to find out they are actually yams. Are yams comparative to sweet potatoes in nutrients?

    Posted by Ann P. | June 23, 2014 at 5:00 pm
  • Ann, you are probably eating sweet potatoes. Most of the orange potatoes in the store are sweet potatoes, even though they are often thought to be yams. Our produce manager summed it up well in this post:

    Posted by Laura | June 24, 2014 at 11:29 am