Today we are going to look at the differences between the nutritional content of regular potatoes compared to sweet potatoes. And then take a look at the individual eating it. The importance of the person is all too often neglected. Personalized nutrition looks at the individual, the food, and more.
Take a look at my infographic comparing the percentage of our daily recommended intake that a serving of potatoes or sweet potatoes provides for their key nutrients.
Potato versus Sweet Potato
This infographic shows us that nutritionally, sweet potatoes beat or match regular potatoes in all these categories. There are more sugars in a sweet potato compared to a regular potato, however. But because of the higher fiber in the sweet potato, the glycemic index for sweet potatoes is better than regular potatoes.
A key nutrient difference is the carotenoids, i.e., beta carotene in the sweet potatoes. Regular potatoes have very low carotenoid content while just one serving of sweet potatoes (1 cup) provides more than we need in a day (>200%). So if we have enough carotenoids, does that also mean we will have enough Vitamin A?
There are two basic forms of Vitamin A: retinoids (found in animal foods) and carotenoids (found in plants). Do we need both forms? If we are vegetarian, can we make retinoids from our plant carotenoids? Are we all good at converting carotenoids to retinoids?
Conversion of carotenoids into retinoids
Some individuals easily convert carotenoids into the retinoids in the body. However, not everyone can do this, or do it efficiently. Several different factors contribute to problems with this conversion. These factors include:
- genetic polymorphisms
- the presence of digestive issues
- gut microbiota imbalances
- the level of alcohol consumption
- toxic exposures
- imbalances in other vitamin intakes e.g. vitamin D
- use of certain prescription medications
Vitamin A deficiency with Carotenoid sufficiency
You’ll often read that Vitamin A deficiency is extremely rare, but I regularly see deficiency and insufficiency – and in people who are not deficient in carotenoids. This is because, for one or more of the reasons listed above, the individual is not converting carotenoids into retinoids very well. So if you avoid animal foods, it might be worth testing your vitamin A levels with a test like Spectracell Micronutrient assay and, if necessary, supplementing with preformed Vitamin A, not carotenoids which are in many multivitamins. Additionally, if you have polymorphisms in the genes that convert carotenoids to retinoids, or any of the other factors listed above, you may also benefit from supplementing with preformed Vitamin A. It’s worth checking.
Take home message
Sweet potatoes provide improved nutritional content over regular potatoes. But while a food may provide a good level of nutrients, we also need to be able to utilize them efficiently. This illustrates the importance of personalized nutrition that takes into account not just what you eat but also your genetic polymorphisms, environment (including toxins, medications, other supplements), microbiota, inflammation, digestion, stress, etc.
A popular phrase we hear is “you are what you eat” but I believe it should read:
“you are who you host, and what you can digest and absorb.”