It seems like no one wants to admit that they eat white potatoes, yet potatoes are the #1 vegetable crop in the world. While French fries and potatoes smothered in cheese, sour cream, and bacon certainly don’t qualify as healthy foods, the humble white potato is packed with important nutrients.
Potatoes originated approximately 7,000 years ago in the Andes in South America, and were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. It’s believed that Irish immigrants brought potatoes with them to the United States in the early 1700s, but potatoes didn’t become an important food source in the US until the 1800s.
According to an article published in 2013 in Advances in Nutrition, historically, fresh potatoes were consumed daily by most Americans. Over the past 50 years, fresh potato consumption has declined by almost 50%, while processed potato consumption increased by two-thirds. The change is due to the increased availability of French fries, other frozen potato products, potato chips, and dehydrated potatoes.
Potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and niacin and they contain the minerals potassium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. In fact, white potatoes contain more potassium per standard serving than any other vegetable. Include the skin when you prepare potatoes, and they’re also a good source of fiber. Potatoes even contain a variety of phytonutrients, nutrients produced by plants that help promote overall health. Potatoes are also low in saturated fat and sodium, two nutrients that, when consumed in large amounts, are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Eating potatoes causes obesity. The assumption that potatoes are an energy-dense food may be based on their high carbohydrate content, which contributes approximately 95% of the total calories, but that doesn’t mean that eating potatoes causes weight gain. In fact, a 3-oz serving of baked potato, including the skin, has only 94 calories compared to a 3-oz portion of cooked pasta with 158 calories or a 3-oz portion of cooked brown rice with 112 calories.
Potatoes aren’t a good source of protein. In fact, one medium-sized baked potato contains 4 gm of high quality protein. The quality of the potato protein, which reflects its digestibility and amino acid content, is between 90 and 100 and is higher than any other commonly consumed vegetable protein.
People with diabetes shouldn’t eat potatoes. According to the nutrition guidelines for people with diabetes, there is no one ideal eating pattern and each person needs to individualize his or her food choices. The recommendation is that carbohydrate from vegetables (including potatoes), fruit, whole grains, legumes, and dairy products is encouraged instead of carbohydrate from other foods, especially foods high in added fat, sugar, and sodium such as cookies, candy, sweet treats, and crispy snack foods. Potatoes can fit within carbohydrate recommendations for meals and snacks for people with diabetes.
Potatoes are empty calories with no nutritional value. One medium-sized baked potato with skin contains 28% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 27% for Vitamin B6, 26% for potassium, 19% for manganese, 15% for fiber, 12% for folate, 12% for niacin, 12% for magnesium, and 12% for phosphorus.
Tips to enjoy potatoes within a healthy diet:
- Prepare potatoes using less added fat, especially from foods high in saturated fat that is implicated in increasing risk of heart disease like sour cream, bacon and cheese. Add sour cream and bacon and you’ll triple the calories in a baked potato, from 100 to 385.
- Top baked potatoes with salsa or cooked vegetables to add flavor with very few calories.
- Avoid potatoes processed with fat, like potato chips and French fries. By weight, these fried potato products contain almost 6 times the calories as baked or boiled potatoes.
- Include the potato skin in recipes to gain more fiber and minerals.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
- King JC, Slavin JL. White Potatoes, Human Health, and Dietary Guidance. Advances in Nutrition. 2013;4(3):393S-401S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003525.
- Potatoes. The World’s Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48
- Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt. NutritionData.com http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2770/2 Accessed 12-15-17
- Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes Alison B. Evert, Jackie L. Boucher, Marjorie Cypress, Stephanie A. Dunbar, Marion J. Franz, Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, Joshua J. Neumiller, Robin Nwankwo, Cassandra L. Verdi, Patti Urbanski, William S. Yancy Diabetes Care Jan 2014, 37 (Supplement 1) S120-S143; DOI: 10.2337/dc14-S120
PDF Handout: Don't Fear the Potato Handout
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.