Yams are similar to sweet potatoes, although here in the United States, the tubers marketed as yams are more commonly just another variety of sweet potatoes. True yams tend to have pale flesh and, although they’re not commonly eaten in the U.S. or Europe, they are one of the most widely cultivated crops in Africa.
Yam v. Sweet Potato
The tubers that the grocery stores tend to label as yams are usually just a variety of sweet potato with more brightly-colored flesh. This is good because, in addition to all the nutritional content of normal sweet potatoes (vitamin A, B vitamins, manganese, phosphorous, and potassium) the bright orange color means a higher level of beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.
Purple yams are a variety of yam that tend to have be lavender, but they can sometimes be white. They’re a starchy tuber, just like yams and sweet potatoes, and they are commonly used to make desserts, including ice cream and a variety of pastries. If you come across a purple yam and are looking to try something new, it’s absolutely Paleo-approved.
Carbohydrates and Fiber
Yams and sweet potatoes are both very starchy, but they’re also high in fiber, which slows the digestion of carbohydrates and prevents a spike in blood sugar. Most of us living a Paleo lifestyle prefer to avoid a spike in blood sugar because a spike leads to a crash, leaving us tired, cranky, and craving more carbs to get our blood sugar back up. Chronically high blood sugar levels also has a tendency to lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
The fiber found in yams and sweet potatoes is also excellent for our gut health as it provides resistant starch, a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in our guts (the guys we want to stick around). Research on gut biome is still in its infancy, but the health of our gut bacteria has already been linked to everything from your likelihood of getting the flu, to skin rashes, to more serious diseases.
If you can find true yams (usually found in African or Caribbean markets), feel free to give them a try, because they are definitely Paleo. If you can only find the sweet potatoes masquerading as yams in your typical grocery store, go for it, because those are Paleo, too.