Are White Potatoes Really Part of a Healthy Diet?

Potatoes Are Healthy When Prepared Right

Potatoes have been declared a bad carbohydrate for decades through inaccurate scientific feedback and marketing. Past studies have linked white potatoes to increased weight gain and Type-2 diabetes. Older reports from Harvard University research even indicated potatoes were a fattening starch not worthy of vegetable status. All the bad press and diet trends restricting carbs have caused many of us to eliminate them from our diet. 

Past studies failed to include all the facts of the type of potatoes the participants were consuming. They were eating large amounts of French fries and potato chips. If we all sat around eating bags of chips and super-size fries, the end result would be super-size thighs. Unfortunately, research made the mistake of including the potato as a bad carbohydrate without taking these very important details into consideration. 

Current research has debunked these old unhealthy claims about white potatoes. It turns out, the potatoes are not to blame but how they are prepared or processed. New discoveries indicate white potatoes are an excellent plant food part of a healthy diet. ​

Why Active Adults and Athletes Eat White Potatoes

Steaming hot plain baked potato
J Shepherd/Getty Images

According to an article published in the Journal of Advances in Nutrition, white potatoes should be included as a vegetable in all food guides because they contain essential nutrients. Potatoes are also indicated to be a healthy carbohydrate having an important role in a nutritious diet. The potato is now the most consumed vegetable in the United States.   

White potatoes are full of essential nutrients, vitamins and an excellent source of fiber. They are also indicated to contain high-quality protein because of their superior amino acid composition. During food testing, it was determined potatoes exceeded the recommended amino acid levels for lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan. Amino acids, and especially lysine play a vital role in muscle repair

The carbohydrate or starchy part of the potato ranks high on the glycemic index (GI). This means it enters the bloodstream faster but endurance athletes love this fact. Food is our fuel and a plain baked potato makes an excellent meal before a challenging workout. 

Leslie Bonci, R.D., Director of Sports Medicine Nutrition at the University Pittsburgh Medical Center, recommends adding a small amount of protein or healthy fat to slow down the GI profile. This will allow for slow-release energy during a hard workout or long distance run.

Research Information

The American Society of Nutrition (ASN) shared extensive research and presented findings on the health benefits of potatoes. Several researchers discussed why potatoes are an important part of a healthy diet. 

One study targeted young women of child-bearing age and the importance of a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet. It was suggested young women are only eating 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vegetables including white potatoes. Nutrients are crucial before, during and after pregnancy to optimize health for both mother and child. In order to increase the nutrient profile for these women, it was suggested to add potassium-rich potatoes to their diets. 

Other research compared potatoes to other carbohydrates combined with a lean meat when consumed by young children. Results showed children to eat 30 percent fewer calories when served boiled mashed potatoes. Also, post-meal glucose and insulin were not significantly different than before eating. This research suggests a glycemic index (GI) reading is unreliable if the potatoes are combined with other food. In fact, eating potatoes with protein or a healthy fat is shown to slow insulin or glucose release. These findings are similar to results found in adults. 

Another study looked at the potassium in potatoes compared to a dietary supplement. According to research, only three percent of Americans meet the recommended intake of 4700 mg/d of potassium. Potatoes are a rich source of potassium providing 19-20 percent in the American diet. Limited studies have examined setting dietary requirements for potassium using food. However, a first-of-its-kind study by a team of researchers at Purdue University discovered the bioavailability of potassium in potatoes is significantly better than it is from supplements. This means the body is able to absorb and utilize potassium more efficiently when eating white potatoes. 



Potatoes Sustain Our Workouts

Potatoes are actually one of the most consumed vegetables in America. They are also an inexpensive source of valuable nutrients. At least 50 percent of us are getting it right by baking or boiling our spuds to maintain nutritional value. 

According to an article published by the American Dietetic Association, eating a large baked potato is just as effective as pasta to prepare athletes for a hard or long workout. The healthy carbohydrates are shown to provide adequate energy and ward off hunger for hours. One medium baked white potato is approximately 170 calories, 37g of carbs, 5g of protein, and 4g of fiber with absolutely no fat.

Potatoes just so happen to contain lots of​ the amino acid lysine, one of the building blocks for protein. The high-quality plant protein found in potatoes is shown to promote muscle growth and proper organ function. It's also indicated to burn fat more efficiently leading to overall body fat reduction.

Active adults and athletes are taking advantage of the positive energy and muscle building benefits of white potatoes. The phytochemicals, antioxidants, and essential nutrients are also shown to support good health. It appears enough evidence has been provided to support potatoes as the right white food to stay in our diet. 

Potato Tips

Bake or boil your potatoes instead of frying.

Avoid high-fat toppings like sour cream, cheddar cheese, and butter.

Bake potato wedges and use a no sugar added organic ketchup.

Enjoy your baked potato topped with plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or butter.

Prepare mashed potatoes using a no to low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, fat-free or low-fat milk, or low-fat plain Greek yogurt.

Potato chips are not a vegetable serving. 


Advances in Nutrition, White Potatoes, Human Health, and Dietary Guidance, Janet C. King et al., 5/13

Alliance for Potato Research and Education, Summary: Potato Research at Experimental Biology 2015

New England Journal of Medicine, Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men, Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D. et al., 6/11

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