Potatoes are one of the most popular foods in North America. Between French fries, potato chips, and mashed potatoes, many of us eat them almost daily. However, are potatoes actually healthy?
Although there are many different ways to use potatoes and even different types of potatoes to explore, most of us never think about their nutritional value.
Today, we’ll explore the nutritional content of potatoes in-depth, and explain a few different ways that you can turn this popular tuber into a healthy meal, side dish, or snack.
When It Comes to Nutrients, Are Potatoes Healthy?
To help explain where the nutrients in potatoes come from, let’s first explain what they are. Potatoes are tubers, which are classified as a starchy vegetable. However, simply being called a vegetable doesn’t automatically make them healthy. Potatoes have a lot of starch, which makes them higher in total carbohydrates than a vegetable like asparagus or peppers.
There are also many different types of potatoes available to the average consumer in North America. Some of the most popular types of potatoes include:
- Yellow (like Yukon Golds)
Each type and species of potato contain similar nutrients, but in different amounts.
One medium-sized Russet potato offers approximately 35% of your daily required Vitamin C. This water-soluble vitamin is essential to several processes in the body, including protein metabolism, collagen production, and wound healing. It can also help limit oxidative stress throughout the body, decreasing your risk for a myriad of diseases and chronic health conditions.
A potato contains just over 30% of your daily recommended value of Vitamin B6. This vitamin can’t be absorbed from anything other than your diet, so getting enough in the foods you eat every day is important.
Vitamin B6 plays a central role in mood regulation since it’s a component of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. It’s also been shown to help minimize the risk of heart disease, since it decreases homocysteine levels which contribute to clogged arteries.
Potassium is a vital mineral and a type of electrolyte that our bodies need to function effectively. Electrolytes help control the various electrical impulses throughout our bodies, which affect everything from blood pressure to digestion.
Our bodies don’t produce potassium naturally, so we need to get it from our food. One potato has just over 25% of our body’s daily recommended intake of potassium.
Are Potatoes Healthy for Weight Loss?
Many people assume that potatoes are unhealthy because of the way they’re used to eating them. However, that’s a little bit unfair. Any food becomes less healthy when we cover it in butter and sour cream or deep-fry it, which is how most of us are used to eating potatoes.
The reality is, potatoes can be healthy and support weight loss if they’re eaten without piling on extra calories in the form of fats or dairy. The fiber in potatoes can also help us feel fuller for longer, and is part of the reason why they’re recognized as one of the cheapest and most satiating foods available. In one study, potatoes were compared to rice and pasta, and the researchers found that study participants who were eating potatoes ate fewer calories overall.
Are Potatoes Healthy for People With Diabetes?
Potatoes are rich in resistant starch, which passes through the large rather than the small intestine. This contributes to better blood sugar control and improved insulin sensitivity.
However, potatoes should still be eaten in moderation by people with diabetes, because they’re so rich in carbohydrates. For diabetics who are trying to minimize their carb intake, less than one potato per day is recommended. Boiled or baked potatoes also have a lower carb count, so make sure you opt for those rather than deep-fried varieties.
Are Potatoes Healthy for Your Heart?
With some care in preparation, potatoes can be heart-healthy. They’re rich in soluble fiber, which helps reduce our levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
However, a lot of the fiber in a potato is found in the skin. If you peel a potato before you eat it, that takes away a lot of the beneficial fiber. To help keep your potato dishes healthier for your heart, scrub the potatoes well to remove dirt then leave the skins on.
How Can You Incorporate Potatoes Into Your Diet?
There are many different ways to incorporate potatoes into your diet. Most of them are already well-known. French fries and potato chips can be found almost everywhere. However, to reap the health benefits of potatoes, they should be prepared without lots of added fat and dairy ingredients, and you should try to eat them with their skins on as much as possible.
Here are some suggestions for healthier ways to prepare potatoes.
Loaded Baked Potatoes
Baked potatoes are delicious, and can be prepared using a minimal amount of oils and fats. Simply scrub up one or two Russet potatoes per person, then cover the clean skin with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once they’re fully baked, the olive oil makes the potato skin crispy and delicious.
Top them with a variety of healthier toppings such as a small amount of butter, olive oil, herbs like parsley, chives, or rosemary, and vegetables like tomatoes, green onions, and peppers.
The secret to fantastic roast potatoes is giving them a head start. You can do this by boiling them until they’re knife-tender, then tossing them with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper before putting them into a hot oven.
Any potato can be prepared this way, including some of the more vitamin-rich varieties like purple and red potatoes. To get even more fiber, leave the skin on.
Mashed potatoes can still be delicious and healthy without tons of dairy adding calories and fat. To make your mashed potatoes healthier, leave all or some of the skins intact while you boil them, then mash the flesh and skin together. Then, minimize the amount of butter you put in to just a few tablespoons or replace some of the butter with olive oil.
Should You Be Eating Potatoes?
Potatoes are delicious and rich in fiber, but like many of our favorite foods, they should be either prepared in a healthier way or eaten in moderation.
After reading the nutrition facts on potatoes we mentioned above, you should have a better idea of healthier potato dishes and preparation methods that you can use to satisfy your cravings from now on.
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