Are potatoes healthy? In defense of the mighty spud, here’s our case for why you should be incorporating more potatoes into your diet.
Here’s a fun fact: a potato is a vegetable. But, somewhere along the way, it became demonized by diet culture as too high in carbohydrates and a surefire way to gain weight. When, in reality, potatoes—yes, even the white kind—are definitively good for you.
Yes, potatoes have a higher carbohydrate content than the cauliflower-substitute products you’re seeing pop up in grocery stores or a leafy green. (And we love cauli and greens, too.) But, there are many health benefits of potatoes. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates, which means they don’t spike your blood sugar and they keep you fuller for longer, says Kelly Johnston, RD a health coach and registered dietitian at Parsley Health New York.
“Potatoes have more potassium than the average banana.”
They also contain “an array of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and potassium and are a great source of fiber,” according to Johnston.
Just like all other vegetables, the nutritional value of potatoes changes based on the preparation. So while we at Parsley believe you should absolutely order fries or potato chips when you want them, it’s important to note that the physiological good-for-you benefits of potatoes that are fried or doused in oil will be different (though we can’t deny they may taste delicious.)
But if you’re looking to satiate that starchy, salt craving on a regular basis, regularly incorporating all types of potatoes into your diet can provide major nutritional benefits.
Potato nutrition explained
When it comes to russet potato nutrition, one potato has approximately 164 calories, 4.5 grams of protein, 37.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 3.98 grams of fiber, according to USDA statistics. They also have more potassium than the average banana and a host of other minerals and vitamins.
And they’ve been backed by science since the 1980s (at least) as a replacement for icky gels in endurance sports as a readily digestible and easily absorbed carbohydrate to sustain hard efforts for extended periods of time.
Sweet potatoes—which have maintained a better reputation and are pretty trendy as a healthy starch—are lower in calories and carbohydrates, about 112 and 26.2 respectively. They have about the same amount of fiber and are slightly higher in sugar. They also have more vitamin C than an orange, according to the USDA nutritional database, and, Johnston says “they’re rich in antioxidants that help fight cell damage in your body caused by free radicals.”
So are potatoes healthy? In short, both are healthy, Johnston says. She recommends using sweet potatoes more often if you have blood sugar issues or diabetes because they’re slightly lower glycemic than their white counterparts, which means they take longer to digest. Johnston suggests something like a russet potato for anyone with hypertension because of high potassium content, which has been found to decrease blood pressure. They’re also great for people with gut issues she says, because the resistant starch that takes our bodies longer to digest stimulates the growth of good bacteria in our intestines and generates helpful anti-inflammatory effects.
A major potato benefit: They keep your body and brain energized
Let’s remember that carbs are essential. They literally keep our body going, as they’re the preferred source of energy for the body and specifically the brain, says Johnston. This is one of the major benefits of potatoes. When we digest carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into glucose, which it then uses immediately for short-term needs or stores in molecules called glycogen to be used later.
Most confusion over carbs in the everyday eater stems from the difference between simple and complex carbs. Simple—things that are processed, refined and often found in high-sugar packaged products—are digested rapidly by the body. They can lead to blood sugar spikes and, when eaten in excess, could contribute to weight gain, heart disease, or diabetes. Plus, they don’t keep you full for long, leaving you wanting more of the same sugary thing shortly after, Johnston explains.
But complex carbs, like potatoes, take longer to digest, keep us full for longer and actually stabilize our blood sugar and hunger levels. They also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and make up what Johnston calls “an essential and nutritious part of a balanced diet.”
Make the most of potatoes’ nutritional value
White and sweet potatoes are both easy to work into your weekly meal plans. They’re versatile enough to use as a side dish or hearty enough to jazz and make the main event. But to get the most nutritional value out of your potatoes, use the skins in your recipe.
Johnston recommends roasting them at about 375 degrees for 40 minutes, drizzled with a little olive oil or avocado oil and spices or herbs of your choice. If you want a filling play on a traditionally “unhealthy” side, try making mashed potatoes but swapping coconut milk instead of cream or butter. We also love sweet potato toasts—slice them thinly, roast them, and then top with your favorite sweet or savory toppings. Possible topping combinations include nut butter and fruit, jam and chia seeds or avocado and olive oil.
Finally, be sure to keep the skins on, Johnston says. You miss out on many of the benefits of potatoes, including essential nutrients and most of the fiber content when you peel your spuds. Simply scrub well before cooking, and enjoy the color they bring to your dish.