Is yam a low carb food?

Yam is a staple food in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and parts of Asia. It is an important source of carbohydrates and calories for millions of people. However, with the rise in popularity of low-carb diets in recent years, many people wonder whether yams can be part of a low-carb eating plan.

In the opening paragraphs, it is important to provide quick answers to key questions readers may have:

Is yam low in carbs? Compared to grains like rice and wheat, yam is relatively low in carbs and can be included as part of a low-carb diet. However, it does contain a moderate amount of carbs and is not as low-carb as foods like meat, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables.

How many carbs are in yam? One cup of cooked yam contains about 36 grams of total carbohydrates, including 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar. The net carb count is around 32 grams per cup.

Is yam keto-friendly? Yam would not be considered a keto-friendly food because of the carb content. However, it can potentially fit into a more moderate low-carb diet of around 50-100 grams of carbs per day. Small portions could work for some low-carb eaters.

Providing clear, concise answers to these questions allows readers to gain key information about the carb content of yams right away. The rest of the article will expand on these topics in more detail.

Nutrition Facts for Yam

To determine if yam is a low carb food, we first need to look at its nutrition profile and carbohydrate content.

Here are some key facts about the carb and calorie content in yam (based on 1 cup cooked slices):

  • Total carbs: 36 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sugars: 2 grams
  • Net carbs: 32 grams (total carbs minus fiber)
  • Calories: 158

As we can see, one cup of cooked yam contains over 30 grams of net digestible carbs.

This is lower than carb counts in high-carb foods like rice (45g net carbs per cup), bread (25g net carbs per slice), and pasta (40g net carbs per cup).

However, it is significantly higher in carbs compared to low-carb vegetables like leafy greens, asparagus, bell peppers, and others that contain just 5-10g net carbs per cup cooked.

So while yam is lower in carbs than many starchy plant foods, it is still considered a moderate-high carb food.

Glycemic Index of Yam

In addition to total carb content, the glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food causes blood sugar to rise after eating.

Foods are ranked on a scale of 0-100 based on how they compare to pure glucose.

  • High GI = 70-100
  • Moderate GI = 56-69
  • Low GI = 55 or less

The GI of yam ranges from 35-77 depending on the variety. So some types of yam would be considered low GI while others are moderate GI.

This means yam generally does not spike blood sugar levels too dramatically compared to refined grains and starchy foods.

But for people following a very low carb ketogenic diet, even low GI carbs need to be restricted. So GI alone does not determine if yam is keto-friendly or not.

Yam Nutrition Benefits

While yam may not be very low in carbs, it does provide some valuable nutrition:

  • Fiber – One cup of yam contains 4g of fiber, which is important for digestion and heart health.
  • Vitamin C – Yams provide over 20% of the RDI for vitamin C, an essential antioxidant.
  • Potassium – They are high in potassium, which supports healthy blood pressure.
  • Manganese – Provides manganese, a mineral that aids bone health and metabolism.
  • Antioxidants – Orange yams are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives them their color.

For people who can tolerate moderate carbs, yam can be an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

However, individuals restricting carbs to 20g net carbs or less per day will likely need to limit yam portions to fit within their carb budget.

Comparing Yam to Other Starchy Carbs

To get a better understanding of where yam falls on the carb spectrum, let’s compare it to some other higher-carb starchy foods.

Yam vs. Potato

Food Total Carbs Net Carbs
1 cup yam 36g 32g
1 medium baked potato 37g 26g

Yam and potato contain similar amounts of total carbs. However, potato has more fiber, so the net carbs in potato are a little lower than yam when comparing equal portion sizes.

Both yam and potato cannot be considered low carb options. But they can potentially fit into a more moderate low-carb diet.

Yam vs. Sweet Potato

Food Total Carbs Net Carbs
1 cup yam 36g 32g
1 cup sweet potato 23g 17g

Sweet potato contains significantly fewer carbs than yam when comparing equal portions. It has around half the net carbs of yam.

Both foods are relatively high in carbs and cannot be considered keto. But sweet potato would be a better choice if restricting carbs.

Yam vs. Plantain

Food Total Carbs Net Carbs
1 cup yam 36g 32g
1 cup plantain 39g 32g

Surprisingly, plantain contains slightly more carbs than yam per cup when cooked. The net carbs end up being almost identical.

So while plantain does have more fiber than yam, the usable carb content is very close between these two starchy foods. Neither can be considered low carb.

Is Yam Keto-Friendly?

The ketogenic diet restricts net carbs to 20-50g per day to induce a state of ketosis for fat burning.

With 32g net carbs per cup, yam would exceed the daily carb limit on its own. Therefore, it would not be keto-friendly if eaten in typical serving sizes.

However, some people following a keto diet may be able to incorporate small portions of yam. For example, 0.5 cups of yam could potentially fit into a 50g/day low-carb keto diet.

But most people would likely need to avoid yam altogether on keto because of the high carb count.

There are lower-carb alternatives that can replace yam for keto dieters, including:

  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Rutabagas
  • Daikon radish
  • Jicama

These provide the same creamy, starchy texture and taste as yams while being significantly lower in carbs.

Is Yam Paleo?

The Paleo diet avoids modern processed foods and focuses on hunter-gatherer foods like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.

Paleo does not strictly limit carbs, but does tend to cut out most processed grains and sugars.

Yam would generally be considered Paleo-friendly because it is a whole, unmodified starchy vegetable. It fits within Paleo guidelines as a natural tuber food.

However, some people may opt to limit higher carb foods like yams on Paleo to help manage blood sugar levels, weight and other health goals. But yam can be incorporated on Paleo in moderation by those who tolerate carbs well.

Tips for Adding Yam to a Low Carb Diet

Here are some tips for including yam on a low carb diet:

  • Stick to a 0.5-1 cup serving max to limit carb intake.
  • Swap higher carb sides for lower carb options like non-starchy veggies.
  • Combine yam with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado to help moderate blood sugar response.
  • Try using yam to replace higher carb alternatives in recipes.
  • Opt for orange yams which are lower in carbs than white yams.
  • Enjoy yams only occasionally as a smarter starchy carb side.

Moderating portions and pairing with healthy fats and proteins can allow you to incorporate yam into an otherwise low carb eating pattern.

Recipes with Yam for Low Carb Diets

Here are some tasty low carb recipe ideas using yam:

Roasted Rosemary Yam Wedges

Make oven roasted yam wedges seasoned with fresh rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Enjoy as a side to chicken or steak.

Yam Avocado Salad

Dice yam and combine with mixed greens, avocado, onion, chicken or chickpeas. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Yam Egg Scramble

Add diced yam to a scramble with eggs, onions, mushrooms, spinach and feta or cheese.

Curried Yam Soup

Make a soothing soup with yam, carrots, onions, coconut milk, curry seasoning and fresh herbs.

Yam Tuna Cakes

Grate yam and mix with canned tuna, eggs, onion and spices. Form into patties and pan fry.

Yam Chickpea Stew

Simmer chunked yam with chickpeas, tomatoes, and Middle Eastern spices for a hearty stew.

Potential Health Risks of Yam

Yams contain oxalates, a naturally-occurring compound that can crystalize in the body and contribute to kidney stones in those prone to them. People with kidney problems may want to limit intake of high-oxalate foods like yam.

Also, purple yam varieties contain more anthocyanins and antioxidants that give them their color. However, there is some controversy about potential thyroid effects from foods high in anthocyanins for people with thyroid issues. Consult your healthcare provider for guidance about yam.

And as with any starchy higher carb food, those with diabetes need to be mindful of portion sizes and incorporate yam into their individualized eating plan to manage blood sugar response. Checking with a registered dietitian can ensure yam fits into your diet appropriately.

The Bottom Line

Is yam low carb? While yam contains fewer net carbs than grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes, and processed carbs, it is still considered a high glycemic, moderate-high carb food.

Yam would not fit into keto diets limited to 20-50g daily net carbs or very low carb diets. But smaller portions of yam may be able to be incorporated into more moderate low carb diets of around 50-150g carbs if carbs are accounted for.

Yam can be a source of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, fiber and antioxidants. But it is best consumed in moderation, paired with protein and healthy fats and incorporated into an otherwise low carb eating pattern for the carb conscious.

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