Are potatoes healthy? In the world of vegetables, potatoes truly represent the pinnacle of nutritional paradoxes. On one hand, they can provide your body with many essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals—including complex carbohydrates—all of which work together to benefit your overall health in various ways. At the same time, potatoes are also often the star ingredient of many (albeit beloved) unhealthy indulgences like French fries, tater tots, potato chips, latkes, and so on. Those who are also looking to limit or reduce their carb intake are also frequently advised to steer clear of most (if not all) varieties of starchy spuds.
The U.S. ate nearly 110 pounds of potatoes per capita in 2019, according to the most recent statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization. You might say that makes us a nation of Mr. and Mrs. Potatoheads. However, being such savants of the starchy tubers, it’s hard to imagine we don’t know everything about potatoes and health. For instance, when many think of “carbs,” potatoes are perhaps among the first foods that come to mind. Also, most people are probably aware of the fact that potato-forward dishes like French fries are not as healthy as—say, carrot sticks—and can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease if eaten in excess due to their high fat and salt content.
Ever curious, we wanted to find out whether or not potatoes are a healthy choice or if they are actually an unhealthy food that just so happens to be disguised as a vegetable. Keep reading to learn more about how eating potatoes can potentially affect your body—and for more healthy eating tips that can empower you to make smart eating choices, be sure to check out 8 Things Dietitians Wish You Knew About Carbs.
A look at the nutrition info for potatoes
Likewise, a medium, 213-gram potato with the skin on is also about 164 calories, providing 4.5 grams of fiber, over 20% of your daily potassium needs, 46% of your daily vitamin C needs, and 4.4 grams of plant-based protein. In addition to an abundance of other nutrients, it’s also a good source of vitamins, including vitamin B6 (37% DV).
“Many people think sweet potatoes are better for you, but that’s actually not true,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, and member of our expert medical board. “The nutrition lines up pretty closely with white potatoes being higher in potassium and sweet potatoes being higher in beta-carotene, giving them their orange color.”
So, what are the things you probably don’t know about tater tots and their lot? Here are some of the ways eating potatoes can affect your body.
Similar to apples, potatoes provide a double-whammy punch of fiber; soluble fiber comes from inside the potato, and insoluble fiber stems from the potato’s skin. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, foods containing soluble and insoluble fiber can be an excellent source of constipation relief. So, the next time you’re feeling a bit backed up, consider eating a simple baked potato—skin and all—as this should help mitigate some of these uncomfortable symptoms.
For those who are aware that they have a gluten intolerance or who were formally diagnosed with celiac disease, potatoes are a great way to avoid the adverse impact of gluten on your digestive system while still getting a hefty dose of satiating fiber and carbs into your diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, “gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).” So while most breads and other starches might be off the table when following a gluten-free diet, potatoes are a naturally gluten-free, filling starch that can help bring balance to your plate.
If you’re looking to improve your gut health, let your potatoes cool off before eating. When you eat potatoes that are hot, their starches are quickly digested into glucose, which raises your blood sugar. But when cooked potatoes are allowed to cool, their starches change into what’s known as a type 3 resistant starch, which acts as both soluble and insoluble fiber in that it can’t be digested—hence its name.
In resisting digestion, the sugars from this starch are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead, the resistant starch moves into the large intestine, where it is broken down by healthy bacteria, and as a prebiotic, it feeds your gut microbiota. Keeping your gut microbiome healthy can reduce your risk of developing a number of health conditions, including inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even colon cancer.
Low in calories, high in water content, and with moderate amounts of fiber and protein, when prepared with health and wellness in mind, a serving of potatoes can be good for weight loss, especially when you consider how filling they are.
Boiled potatoes scored a 323 rating on the Satiety Index of Common Foods, the highest for the satiety of the 38 foods tested, which is higher than other satisfying foods like eggs, beans, steak, and fish. In a 2018 study titled “Subjective Satiety Following Meals Incorporating Rice, Pasta and Potato,” researchers compared participants’ feelings of fullness after eating meals that included these foods and found that people felt less hungry as well as more full and satisfied after eating meals with potatoes.