Yams vs Sweet Potatoes – what are the differences?


Yams and sweet potatoes are both nutritiously dense and good for you. Have you noticed how more restaurants are serving sweet potato fries?  Those are particularly good but not so sure they’re good for you. Being a huge potato loving person I wanted to find out more about sweet potatoes and the same for yams.  So many of us get yams and sweet potatoes mixed up buying one thinking it’s the other.  The yams vs potatoes dialogue have begun to re-shape how folks look at these awesome tubers.

Are they the same?

No, they are not!Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

So why is there so much confusion between these two tuberous root vegetables?

A big reason for such confusion is the U.S government perpetuating this mistake inside our supermarkets.

Sweet potatoes are labeled as yams, and other times you will see yams labeled as sweet potatoes.

With more people looking at their health and asking questions regarding their glycemic index and other health related concerns, people are beginning to look into the yams vs sweet potatoes question more seriously.

So, why all the confusion?

It begins with the U.S chain supermarkets mislabeling sweet potatoes as yams.
In my personal observation, most sweet potatoes are labeled both as yams and as sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes come in two types.
One is with an orange flesh and the other is a creamy whitish flesh.

The USDA is labeling the orange type sweet potato as a yam to help distinguish it from the white creamy type potato.

Why is the USDA doing this?
All I can think of is it’s their lack of understanding this tuber, leaving us to ‘dig’ a little deeper to have a better understanding.

If we relied on the USDA for all our nutritional needs we would be in a whole lot of trouble, so always check other sources to help you better understand where and what the food you are feeding yourself and your family are all about.

Let’s look at the Yam:      Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

The Yam is native to Asia and Africa as well as other tropical regions on the globe.

They are known as ‘tubers’ and have a very dark bark-like skin.

The flesh of a yam is either purple, orange or red and they come in many different varieties.Yams can grow up to 4-5 feet long but can also come in the size of a small potato.

An African word, “yam” literally means “to eat.”

Keeping yams in storage is valuable as they are very durable during the wet, rainy season, making this tuber a great source of nutrition while food may be scarce.

Typically, yams are peeled, mashed and boiled or, baked.

 What is the different glycemic index for yams vs sweet potatoes?

Many people are looking at how food affects their glycemic index.

With diabetes in many family homes, people are taking a closer look at how food is contributing to ill health.

Glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how quickly or how slowly a food can cause increases in one’s blood glucose levels, typically known as “blood sugar.”

When your blood sugar is above what is normal, toxicity can occur, causing kidney failure, blindness as well as cardiovascular problems creating a higher risk for stroke. (1)

We want our “blood sugar’ maintained so not to be either too high or too low.

Those who suffer from diabetes want to know what is in their foods so they may adjust their food intake accordingly.

Check the glycemic index for yams vs sweet potatoes here:

Glycemic Index for Yams

Glycemic Index for Yams

  • People who have diabetes want to know this information so they can plan their meals accordingly.

Compared to the sweet potato, yams are drier and starchier.

Yams look different on their inside:

  • The coloring inside a yam is deeper and richer than the sweet potato.
  • Vivid deep orange or purple is the typical color of a yam, some are white.
  • The orange yam can easily be confused with the sweet potato as sweet potatoes are orange.


Yam vs Sweet Potatoes

The yam is actually a ‘sweet potato’ in taste which is how and why information for the ‘ yams vs sweet potatoes’ came to be in the first place.

One cup of yam, (150 grams):

  • 177 calories
  • fat 0
  • sodium 14 mg
  • cholesterol 0
  • potassium 1,224 mg
  • 0 saturated fat
  • 0 trans fat
  • total carbohydrate 42 g
  • dietary fiber 6 g
  • sugar 0.8 g
  • protein 2.3 g
  • vitamin A 4%
  • calcium 2%
  • vitamin C 42%
  • Iron 4%
  • vitamin B6 20%
  • magnesium 7%


Where can I find yams?

Most international markets such as ones that specialize in Caribbean foods will have them,
but if you’re like me and want to buy online here is a great source for buying these great tubers.

Let’s look at the sweet potato: yams vs sweet potatoes

One large sweet potato contains more than 100% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin A.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant which is linked to cancer prevention, anti-aging benefits and maintaining good eye health. (2)

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin B6, B5, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and because of their rich orange color, they are loaded with carotenoid.Sweet potatoes are easier to find as most grocery stores and chain supermarkets carry them.

Eating organic is the way to go so look out for sweet potatoes marked ‘organic’

Because of where we live we tend to buy our sweet potatoes online, and we have never been disappointed in them, whatsoever.

Here is the link to shop for your sweet potatoes should you want to buy online for yourself or your family.

One cup of sweet potato, (133 grams):

  • 114 calories
  • fat 0
  • cholesterol 0
  • sodium 73 mg
  • potassium 448 g
  • 0 trans fat
  • 0 saturated fat
  • total carbohydrate 27 g
  • dietary fiber 4 g
  • sugar 6 g
  • protein 2.1 g
  • vitamin A 377%
  • calcium 4%
  • vitamin C 5%
  • Iron 4%
  • vitamin B6 15%
  • magnesium 8%


To sum up the yams vs sweet potatoes question:

Sweet potatoes and yams are both sweet, only one is richer in certain vitamins than the other.

Sweet potatoes have a huge percentage of vitamin A ( 377% per cup) vs yams which have only 4%.

For as sweet as they are, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, which means they release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar.

Yams, on the other hand, have a low percentage of sugar.

Since sweet potatoes contain magnesium, known as the mineral for destressing your nervous system, they are a great source for promoting relaxation and a general sense of well-being.

Magnesium is also a great mineral for bone, blood, artery, muscle and nerve health.

Yams are rich in vitamin C, 27% of the daily value. Due to this, yams are great for fighting off infections leading to colds and flu-like symptoms.  Also, yams are known to promote strong bones and a healthy immune function.

Yams are rich in fiber, potassium, metabolic B vitamins and potassium.

Switch it up and eat both, this way you get the best of both.

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7 Replies to “Yams vs Sweet Potatoes – what are the differences?”

  1. Hello Meherbani,

    I am always on the lookout for great food mother earth is providing us in such a generous way. Sweet potatoes are not really popular in the Netherlands but we can buy them and yams are practically unknown. I understand from you that both sweet potatoes and yams are rich in vitamins and minerals and a very healthy food to keep the doctor away. Thank you for widening my horizon. You might find some interesting food for you on my website too. It’s in Dutch, but there is a Google translate button.

    Kind regards, Loes

    1. Hi Loes,

      So happy to know the Netherlands were on my post! Mother earth indeed provides all we need for all our nutritional needs.
      Yams vs sweet potatoes is a big thing here in the States due to misrepresentation by the USDA, however, more people are questioning these tubers and becoming more educated. I will head over to your site and check out the food there with the google translation button 🙂


  2. Thank You Much!!

    You have answered a question I have been confused about for a long time, I am not supposed to eat any type of potato other than a sweet potato because I have issues with too much starch in my diet.
    I could never tell for sure if I was eating a yam or sweet potato, thanks to your article I know now how to tell the difference. I’m happy to know sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A as I have eye issues as well.

  3. Well, I have been educated. Just like everyone else, I always thought of yams and sweet potatoes interchangeably, as the same thing.

    My wife has been telling me for years that they are two entirely different vegetables but, I did not believe her until I read your article.

    It looks like sweet potatoes are lower in calories but, they both have their place in a healthy diet. The problem is, when most people I know prepare them, they are usually combined with additional sweeteners. Boiled in brown sugar and water for one of the courses at Thanksgiving dinner or, made into my favorite: sweet potato pie!

    I am glad to have learned something from your detailed article that I did not know before.


    1. Yes, the old Thanksgiving ritual with sweet potato pie or candied potatoes. It’s very tasty, however, sweet potatoes really don’t need anything added to help them taste so delicious. Baked sweet potatoes are amazing and I highly recommend trying it. Yams too! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  4. Hello, great work! Your post is well detailed and very informative. Thanks for showing the differences between yams vs sweet potatoes. I am sure that your readers will love what you are sharing and showing in full detail, the differences between these two. Your post is and easy read and very easy to follow. I’ll be coming back to this site as there is much information I would love to learn more about.

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