How Healthy Are Potatoes, Exactly?
What we have to tell you about the nutritional value of potatoes might surprise you.
Few things will make you mistrust someone more than hearing that they don’t like potatoes. They say bland, we say blank slate—ready to be tossing in herbs and olive oil before getting roasted, baked, grilled, or fried to perfection. They’re so easy to eat that we occasionally find ourselves polishing off a few extra servings of our beloved starchy vegetable. Which made us wonder: extra ingredients (cheese, butter, heavy cream… to name a few of our favorites) and cooking method (ahem, frying) set aside, are potatoes good for you?
To get a good answer to this question, we checked in with Peggy Kotsopolous, RHN and Certified Health Educator that serves as the nutritionist for The Little Potato Company. If you’re a potato lover, we lots of good news for you.
Are potatoes healthy?
Final answer: yes. One of the most important things to remember is that potatoes are a nutritious vegetable packed with essential vitamins and minerals that help support a body, boost the immune system and improve energy levels.
Potatoes are considered a heart healthy food, too, because they are rich in potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Potassium’s role when it comes to heart health is huge: it helps trigger the bear-hug squeeze of the heart that results in a heartbeat. Getting enough potassium through your diet and reducing sodium intake helps to ease and lower systolic blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The vitamin C and fiber help lower blood pressure and while also lowering bad cholesterol. The fiber in potatoes also helps satiate hunger and supports gut health.
Finally, potatoes also contain Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and iron and are gluten, fat, sodium, and cholesterol free, helping to support a healthy body, boost the immune system and improve energy levels.
The color of the potato can also impact antioxidants. Choose colored potatoes over white if you’d like to fully reap the antioxidant benefits of potatoes: dark blue and red varietals contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that slow down the aging process—not only physically, but mentally, by keeping the brain sharp and preventing neurological decline. Plus, they boast amazing anti-cancer properties and protect against diabetes. These antioxidants are found in both the potato’s skin and flesh.
Resistant starch is a type of starch that isn’t digested in the small intestine—they resist being broken down and digested in the small intestine. Instead, these starches act more like a prebiotic fiber that feeds good bacteria in the large intestine, improving gut health. Potatoes are a good source of resistant starch, and it’s particularly increased when potatoes are cooled after they have been cooked (think potato salad). They have also been shown to help control blood sugar levels and reduce the likelihood of insulin resistance.
Clearly, potatoes are packed with health benefits. It’s important to be mindful, however, of the way you’re preparing them and how much you’re consuming. Studies have found a positive association between eating certain types of potatoes and potato products and an increase in waist circumference and weight gain.
So instead of eating fried potatoes or potato chips, opt for healthier ways to cook potatoes to retain their nutritional profile, like roasted, boiled, grilled, or steamed in the microwave. If you love fried potatoes, try crisping them up in an air fryer. You can also add cooked, then chilled potatoes into a green salad, sliced up on a roasted veggie sandwich, or a better-for-you potato salad for added health benefits.
If you want an extra healthy potato option, stock up on creamer potatoes. They’re the smallest breed of potato, bite-sized and meant to be eaten with their naturally nutritious skins on—no cleaning or peeling required. One serving of creamer potatoes (about 5 to 6 potatoes) contains 20% of the Daily Recommended Intake for potassium (around 650 to 680 mg). In addition to heart health, potassium aids in muscle function and fluid balance helping to sustain a workout and daily activities. Creamer potatoes also have a natural buttery taste and creamy texture to them, so they don’t need to be loaded with sour cream, cheese and bacon in order to taste delicious.