The surprising health benefits of potatoes, according to a dietician

The hearty and reliable potato has been an inexpensive and popular side dish for hundreds of years. Over the centuries, the potato has been transformed into many forms, such as chips, chips, tots, and mash. And while many preparations of the spud contain excess fat and sodium, the potato is a nutritious and versatile vegetable in its own right.

Eating potatoes can improve cardio-metabolic health, help with weight management, and improve gut health and exercise performance. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from the glorious potato and ways to add it to your diet.

Golden roast potatoes with rosemary.  (SimpleImages / Getty Images)

Golden roast potatoes with rosemary. (SimpleImages / Getty Images)

Potato Nutrition Facts

A small potato has:

  • 135 calories

  • 3 grams of protein

  • 0 grams of fat

  • 30 grams of carbohydrates

  • 4 grams of fiber (11% Daily Value (DV))

  • 34 milligrams of vitamin C (37% DV)

  • 722 milligrams of potassium (15% DV)

The health benefits of eating potatoes

Potatoes are best known for their carbohydrate content, which is why some low-carb dieters avoid the root vegetable. But the benefits of eating potatoes should put your carb anxiety to rest.

Potatoes are heart healthy

This creamy tuber is a good source of fiber, which has been linked to a healthy heart. A large observational study of more than 2,000 people found that those who ate potatoes in combination with more exercise and less red meat had a 24% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a 26% lower risk of elevated triglycerides.

Potatoes can help you manage your weight

Potatoes are also a source of resistant starch – a type of carbohydrate that “resists” digestion. Resistant starch controls hunger, aiding in weight management. So it’s no surprise that a recent study suggests that eating potatoes suppressed appetite and short-term food intake. In addition, research confirms that combining potatoes with a protein, such as eggs, increases satiety and reduces food intake in the short term.

Baked potato on a dark rustic wooden table.  (pjohnson1/Getty Images)

Baked potato on a dark rustic wooden table. (pjohnson1/Getty Images)

Potatoes are great for gut health

Resistant starch also has positive implications for gut health. A small study of 50 participants found that eating one potato-based side dish per day for 4 weeks slightly altered the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota. Research in rats also shows similar results: the rats experienced less inflammation and intestinal problems when they were given potato-resistant starch. More research is needed on this topic, but the results are promising.

Potatoes are packed with nutrients

In addition, potatoes are a good source of potassium, a mineral that has the potential to lower blood pressure. A small randomized controlled trial observed the effects of feeding potatoes to adults with prehypertension or hypertension for 16 days. The study authors concluded that eating potatoes was linked to a reduction in blood pressure. In other words, eating potatoes as part of a healthy eating plan can prevent high blood pressure.

Are there any downsides to eating potatoes?

Because potatoes are often served in fried or French fries form, they get a bad reputation. But whether the shape of the potato plays a role in health is up for debate.

A large observational study found a link between potatoes in any form and higher nutritional quality and increased nutrient absorption. Another long-term study that followed participants for 8 years concluded that frequent consumption of fried potatoes increased the risk of mortality. But since french fries are usually part of a fast-food meal, it’s impossible to know if other unhealthy eating patterns played a role in these results. Since chips, chips, tater tots, and mashed potatoes contain saturated fat and sodium, it’s best to eat these foods in moderation.

Another concern about potatoes is their carb count. But according to dietary guidelines, carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of calories, and eating them has not been linked to obesity. The amount of carbohydrates in one potato is comparable to two slices of bread and less than two ounces of pasta.

Fun facts about potatoes

These interesting tidbits are just a few more reasons to add potatoes to your cart.

They boost athletic performance

Due to their carbohydrate, potassium and protein content, potatoes have been linked to improvements in athletic performance. Since carbohydrates are the primary fuel for exercise, potatoes have been extensively studied for their potential as a pre-workout fuel. A study of cyclists compared the effectiveness of potatoes and energy gels on performance during a time trial. The results showed no difference between the groups, showing that potatoes provide as much energy as sports nutrition products.

The protein from potatoes has also been studied for its potential to induce muscle growth. Although research is limited, a small trial showed that intake of 30 grams of potato protein concentrate increases muscle protein synthesis in healthy young men. Potato protein powder isn’t widely available, but you may see it popping up in the future.

Finally, potassium is an electrolyte that is lost in sweat. Eating a pre-workout potato can reduce fluid loss and help you stay hydrated during exercise.

There are more than 200 varieties of potatoes

Even though you may only see a few potato varieties in stores, there are over 200 in the United States. Each variety fits into one of these categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. They all have a slightly different texture and flavor, but each variety is versatile and tasty.

Whichever variety you choose, store the potatoes in a dark, cool place, such as a pantry. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator converts the starch into sugar, which changes the flavor and texture. Potatoes will stay fresh for several months in a cool pantry. When the potato begins to sprout, remove the sprouts and cook as usual.

Freshly made potato salad.  (Fudio/Getty Images)

Freshly made potato salad. (Fudio/Getty Images)

Healthy potato recipes

In addition to the good old baked potato, there are plenty of preparations for the spud. Whether you like mashed, stuffed, baked potatoes, with cheese or in a tasty salad, we have options for you. Try some of these the next time you want to up your potato game:

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