Astronauts Prefer Sweet Potatoes but Why?

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Sometimes it's difficult to find out what foods are healthy.

Have you ever wondered if sweet potato is actually healthy?

Here's the truth:

Sweet potato has scientific backing proving they are something special.

In this article you are going to find out some of the special sweet potato benefits...

...and how they can even serve a bigger purpose.


Some images in this article show unnecessary violence against 'normal' potatoes.

Sweet potato vs. normal potato

Sweet Potato Origin

The sweet potato has been a staple food in many cultures for many indigenous populations for centuries.

Westernization in many of these countries has reduced the consumption of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam), which comes in a variety of colors:

White sweet potato, yellow sweet potato, orange sweet potato and even purple sweet potato. 1

A white sweet potato?

Yes, it's like an undercover white potato, but...

with more nutrition.

Sweet Potato Nutrition: Impressive

Sweet potato nutrition is far more impressive than regular potato nutrition.

Sweet potato is basically big brother.

In this article it may appear, graphically, that he is a mean bully...

but in reality he is a kind and gentle giant.

A bit down below you can see how conventional potato nutrition compares.

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Not only that, even compared to whole grain nutrition, sweet potato's nutrient density is superior. It is actually the most nutrient-dense carbohydrate-rich food there is.

Nutrient density?

That's the amount of nutrients something has per calorie.

For example:

Vegetables generally have a lot of nutrients, but few calories, so they generally score higher.

If we look at the nutrient density scores in the table below, we can see how much more nutrient dense a sweet potato actually is.

Although this index is not complete, it does give a clear indication of a wide spectrum of nutrients present in the listed foods:

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Over 30 markers were included:

  • Fiber and resistant starch

  • Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium

  • Vitamin A, C, E and K

  • B-vitamins

  • Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene

  • Lycopene

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin

  • Choline

  • Phytosterols

  • Glucosinolates and angiogenesis inhibitors

  • Aromatase inhibitors

  • Organosulfides

  • Resveratrol

  • ORAC (antioxidant) score

Vitamin A Deficiency

Sweet potatoes have high concentrations of health-promoting compounds such as anthocyanins and beta-carotene. 1

What does beta-carotene do?

Some of it gets converted into Vitamin A.

You might be wondering:

"Are carrots not one of the best sources of beta-carotene?"

Sweet potatoes, especially the orange kind, contain significantly more beta-carotene than carrots.

That's a big deal, because:

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids can, among others, improve lung function significantly in Asthma patients.

But wait, there's more...

They may even protect against radiation induced DNA damage 2, which we get exposed to through CT- scans, X-rays (like in hospitals and at the dentist’s office) and airline travel. 3, 4

How about vitamin A? How important is that?

In short, a lack of vitamin A causes:

  • Temporary and permanent eye impairments

  • Increased mortality, especially among children, pregnant, and lactating women.

You want to know the worst part?

230 million children on this earth are deficient in vitamin A.

That's an unbelievable, yet incredibly saddening amount. 1

Genetically Modified Foods or Food Science?

Bioengineering companies made sure to benefit from this and developed beta carotene containing rice, called ‘Golden rice’.

That means:

GMO companies that develop genetically modified food or genetically modified organisms, created 'Golden rice'.

That was shocking, because...

It was illegally tested on Chinese children from unknowing parents.

They were never informed properly of the procedure and potential risks.

But also:

They didn’t even know GMO crops were involved. 5

Apparently, nobody got the memo that some sweet potato cultivars contain 20–30 times more beta-carotene than Golden Rice. 1

The easily grown, cost-effective and natural sweet potato was neglected completely.

Science can be an amazing tool...

It can help us explore, discover and improve our lives’ circumstances.

But there's a catch:

Without common sense it can be an unguided projectile that can be used by the ill-intended or ignorant.

This is a current recurring theme in the food industry, where industry funded studies with their flawed designs, tend to have favorable outcomes for the industry itself. 6

Why is that harmful?

First of all, this creates confusion among non-health professionals.

Secondly, countless health professionals get fooled and influenced by these kinds of studies as well, because they haven’t analyzed them with enough eye for detail, or haven’t analyzed them at all.

Bottom line:

As a result, they can form false beliefs and transfer that knowledge to the common people.

To be fair, we’ve made that mistake on multiple occasions so we can relate to that all too well.

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Astronauts' Food

Ever wondered:

"What are astronauts eating in space?"

Thankfully, NASA kept an eye on our sweet little potato friend and selected it as a candidate to be grown and incorporated into the menus of astronauts on space missions.

NASA is aware of the science of the health benefits of sweet potatoes.

But that's not all...

Several scientific studies have come to the conclusion that sweet potatoes have more potential.

The Hidden Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Play a major role in human nutrition, food security and poverty alleviation. 1

To make our sweet potato even more reliable, the orange variety’s beta-carotene is significantly more bioavailable than some other vegetables, meaning your body can absorb and utilize it more efficiently. 1

Maybe you’ve come across other varieties of sweet potatoes as well.

Have you seen or eaten purple ones before?

The deep purple color indicates a high content of anthocyanins. This remarkable antioxidant and flavonoid adds deep red, blue and purple colors to some of our foods.

Not only does it look amazing...

It has protective effects on its own as well, like aiding in cognition and memory. 7, 8

Together with some of the other compounds found in the potato, they can even inhibit carcinogens generated during cooking. 1

So, next time if you decide you want yourself some French fries, why not use a darker colored sweet potato. Better yet, instead of frying them, bake them.

Baked sweet potato fries are the ultimate replacement for french fries.

And what's more fascinating:

All sweet potato benefits mentioned so far are not even all the benefits sweet potatoes have to offer!

Living Longer with Sweet Potatoes?

There's one more very interesting thing about the sweet potato you should know...

There is a group of people in Okinawa, Japan who have had sweet potato as their staple for generations.

What did sweet potato do for these people?

Well, Okinawa is one of the five places, also known as "blue zones."

What are blue zones?

Blue zones are places where longevity rates are the highest in the world.

In other words:

Blue zones are home to relatively more centenarians than any other place on earth. 9

Yes, that's right. You have a higher chance of reaching 100 years, if you are a "blue zone."


Okinawa has westernized greatly, which has greatly impacted health and longevity in the region.

Bottom line:

Sweet potatoes have been replaced more and more by fast food and junk food.

And since sweet potatoes made up most of their diet in terms of energy or calories, results have been catastrophic. 10

The incredible irony of it all:

A typical western diet, which is becoming more and more the norm, lacks the nutrients that sweet potatoes contain in abundance.

Namely potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, carotenoids and fiber. 11

What do you think?

Are you going to eat (more) sweet potatoes?

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