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Potato Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Potatoes are high in starch and have developed a bad reputation due to the popularity of low-carb and Paleo diets. However, carbohydrates aren’t bad for your health as long as you watch your portions. In fact, they’re essential as a source of energy. Potatoes are inexpensive, versatile, can be stored for long periods of time, and are a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one medium (173g) baked russet potato (2 1/4″ to 3 1/4″ in diameter) with peel and no added salt or toppings. 

  • Calories: 164
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 24mg
  • Carbohydrates: 37g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugars: 1.9g
  • Protein: 4.6g

While a medium russet potato provides 37 grams of carbohydrates, only 4 grams of which are from fiber. Most of the carbs are starch and only a small amount (under 2 grams) is sugar. Starches are quickly broken down during digestion to sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in a quick rise in blood sugar levels.

The glycemic index of a food is an indicator of the impact of food on blood sugar. Study results vary, but the glycemic index of potatoes appears to average in the 80s, which is considered high. By comparison, table sugar has a glycemic index of 59, making potatoes higher on the glycemic index than sugar. Waxy varieties such as new red potatoes are slightly lower on the glycemic index than russet potatoes.

Another way to represent the glycemic effect of food is the glycemic load, which takes into account the serving size. A medium potato fares better here, with a moderate glycemic load of 17. But a large potato has a glycemic load of 29, which is high.

You can combat the blood sugar rush by serving potatoes as part of a balanced meal such as with a piece of salmon and a side of green beans. The addition of protein from the salmon and fiber from the green beans helps slow down the digestion and absorption of the starch from the potatoes.

Potatoes have only a trace of fat, and that tiny amount is split between saturated and polyunsaturated fat. They also have trace amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. As a vegetable, they have no cholesterol. Unless you add a topping with fat or fry your potatoes, they are basically fat-free.

Potatoes have a small amount of protein, but the protein is of high quality because of its amino acid composition and its digestibility. This means the protein quality is similar to that of eggs and actually higher than that of soybeans and other legumes.

Potatoes provide many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. They are a good source of folate, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. To get the most out of the potato, you should eat the potato skin as well as the flesh, as some micronutrients are more concentrated in the skin.

Potatoes should be considered a nutritious vegetable, even though they contain a lot of starch. Their other healthful plant compounds make them a worthwhile part of a balanced diet.

Potatoes are high in potassium, which works in opposition to sodium to help regulate blood pressure and fluid balance. Research shows that the potassium in potatoes is just as high and as usable by the body as when consumed as a dietary supplement. Potassium is also essential for normal muscle and nerve function.

Vitamin C is needed for normal immune system function, blood clotting, and strong connective tissue and blood vessel walls. Since vitamin C can’t be stored in the body, it must be consumed through food. One baked potato provides about 19% of the daily value for vitamin C.

Potatoes also have a good concentration of antioxidant phytonutrients, including vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenols. These compounds can help repair cells damaged by oxidative stress, which can contribute to a number of chronic diseases.

Fiber is important for digestion, blood sugar control, weight management, heart health, and more. Potatoes, especially when the peel is consumed, are a good source of dietary fiber.

Potatoes are low in fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols (also known as FODMAPs), short-chain carbohydrates that can lead to bloating and sensitivity in the digestive tract. In some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, following a low-FODMAP diet helps relieve symptoms. Potatoes are allowed on this diet.

Allergies to cooked or raw potatoes or potato pollen are rare but have been documented. Usually, these reactions are seen in people who have hay fever and are sensitized to birch tree pollen. Proteins in the potato might be chemically similar and therefore trigger a reaction when eaten.

The reaction is usually tingling in the mouth and lips, but in rare cases can lead to difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. Those who react to potato might also react to apples, hazelnuts, carrots, and other raw fruits and vegetables.

If you or your child has a potato allergy, remember to read ingredient labels carefully. A surprising number of products contain potato flour and/or potato starch.

Acrylamide is a toxic substance that forms in starchy foods when they are processed or cooked at high temperatures. It affects potatoes and other starchy foods. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals, but we don’t know what levels of acrylamide exposures are dangerous for humans. It is important to note that the amount of acrylamide you’d get from potatoes is much lower than the quantities studied in lab animals.

Frying and baking potatoes at high temperatures for a long time could result in the most acrylamide, but those levels may be reduced when potatoes are boiled first or treated with antioxidant solutions. You can also steam potatoes to avoid acrylamides.

Potatoes are part of the nightshade family of vegetables, along with tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, and a few others. Nightshades contain small amounts of a substance called solanine. Some people claim they have increased arthritis-type pain when they eat potatoes and other nightshade plants. But research hasn’t found any substantial connection between rheumatoid arthritis pain and solanine.

In large amounts, solanine is toxic, but the amount of solanine you’d get from potatoes isn’t enough to make you sick unless you eat green potatoes or sprouts that grow from potatoes that have been sitting around for too long. Don’t eat green potatoes—throw them out. They taste bitter and bad anyway.

The most common types of potatoes are white, yellow, and red potatoes though you might find blue and purple ones, too. You’ll also find a big variety in potato sizes, from tiny new potatoes to fingerlings to large russets (also known as “Idaho potatoes”). They’re all similar nutritionally but can have slightly different textures. Sweet potatoes, however, are different in looks, flavor, and nutrition.

Unwashed potatoes can be stored for weeks or even months in a cool, humid, dark place. Keep them in a paper bag or cardboard box, not a plastic bag. Don’t store in the refrigerator, as this can increase acrylamides in potatoes, and don’t consume green potatoes.

When they’re fried, turned into chips, or slathered in heavy sauces, butter, or cheese, the nutritional value of the potato dish changes drastically. Baked, roasted, and boiled potatoes are best in terms of nutrition. Consider topping your potatoes with veggies or other healthy toppings:

  • Add a healthy fat to baked or roasted potatoes like avocado or a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream on baked potatoes.
  • Serve baked potatoes with salsa or broccoli and sprinkle about 1 ounce of shredded cheese on top.
  • Make oven-baked “fries” or low-calorie potato skins.
  • Make mashed potatoes with low-fat sour cream, nonfat milk, and chives.
  • Add potato slices (with skins) to soups and stews.

10 Delicious Ways to Serve Baked Potatoes

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