The surprising health benefits of potatoes, according to a dietitian
The hearty and reliable potato has been an inexpensive and beloved side dish for hundreds of years. Through the centuries, the potato has been transformed into many forms, like fries, chips, tots and mashes. And although many preparations of the spud include excess fat and sodium, the potato on its own is a nutritious and versatile vegetable.
Eating potatoes can improve cardio-metabolic health, help weight management and boost gut health and sports performance. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from the glorious potato and ways to add it to your diet.
Potato Nutrition Facts
One small potato has:
3 grams protein
0 grams fat
30 grams carbohydrates
4 grams fiber (11% daily value (DV))
34 milligrams Vitamin C (37% DV)
722 milligrams 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 lay your carb fears to rest.
Potatoes are heart healthy
This creamy tuber is a good source of fiber, which has been linked to a healthy heart. As a matter of fact, a large observational study of over 2,000 people found that those who ate potatoes when combined with higher levels of physical activity and lower red meat intake had a 24 % lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and a 26 % lower risk of having 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, which aids in weight management. So it’s no surprise that a recent study suggests eating potatoes suppressed appetite and short-term food intake. In addition, research confirms that pairing potatoes with a protein, like eggs, increases satiety and decreases short-term food intake.
Potatoes are great for gut health
Resistant starch also has positive gut health implications. A small study of 50 participants found that eating one potato-based side dish per day for 4 weeks slightly altered gut microbiota composition and diversity. Research in rats also shows similar results– the rats experienced less inflammation and gut imbalanes when fed potato resistant starch. More research is needed on this topic, but the results are promising.
Potatoes are full of 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 correlated with reductions in blood pressure. In other words, eating potatoes as part of a healthy eating plan may prevent high blood pressure.
Are there drawbacks to eating potatoes?
Since potatoes are often served in chip or fry form, they get a bad rap. But whether or not the form of potato plays a role in the healthfulness is up for debate.
A large observational study found a link between potatoes in any form and higher diet quality and increased nutrient intake. 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 factored into these results. Since fries, chips, tater tots, and mashed potatoes have added saturated fat and sodium, it’s best to eat these foods in moderation.
Another concern about potatoes is their carb count. But according to the Dietary Guidelines, carbs should account for 45-65% of calories, and and eating them has not been linked to obesity. The amount of carbs in one potato is similar to two slices of bread and less than two ounces of pasta.
Fun facts about potatoes
These interesting tidbits are a few more reasons to add potatoes to your shopping cart.
They fuel athletic performance
Due to their carbohydrate, potassium and protein content, potatoes have been linked to enhancements in athletic performance. Since carbohydrates are the main fuel for exercise, potatoes have been extensively studied for their potential as pre-workout fuel. A study in cyclists compared the effectiveness of potatoes and energy gels on performance during a timed trial. The results showed no difference among the groups, demonstrating that potatoes provide the same amount of energy as sports nutrition products.
The protein from potatoes has also been studied for its potentital to induce muscle growth. Although the research is limited, one small trial demonstrated that ingestions of 30 grams of potato protein concentrate increases muscle protein synthesis rates in healthy young males. Potato protein powder is not widely available, but you may start to see it pop up in the future.
Lastly, potassium is an electrolyte lost in sweat. Eating a pre-workout potato could mitigate fluid losses and help keep you hydrated during exercise.
There are more than 200 varieties of potatoes
Even though you may only see a few potato varieties at the store, there are over 200 grown in the United States. Each variety fits into one of these categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. All have a slightly different texture and flavor, but every single variety is versatile and tasty.
Whatever type you choose, store the potatoes in a dark cool place, like a pantry. Storing potatoes in the fridge causes the starch to convert to sugar, which alters the taste and texture. Potatoes will stay fresh for several months in a cool pantry. If the potato begins to sprout, remove the sprouts and cook as normal.
Healthy potato recipes
Besides the good old baked potato, there are plenty of preparations for the spud. Whether you like your potatoes mashed, stuffed, fried, with cheese or in a tasty salad, we’ve got options for you. Try some of these the next time you want to up your potato game:
This article was originally published on TODAY.com