Rethinking Potatoes

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Potatoes have been given a bad name in nutrition – most likely because of the way we prepare them.  Before they were turned into french fries, loaded baked potatoes, potatoes au gratin or any of the million other extremely high-calorie bastardizations of potatoes, they started as a healthy and delicious starchy root.

Potatoes are good for you, but they don’t count as a vegetable

First, let’s be clear.  A potato is a starch, not a vegetable.  It should not count towards your 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day if you want to get all of your vitamins.  It is, however, in its unadulterated form, a very nutritious starch.

One medium potato contains:

  • only 160 calories
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • over 25% of daily vitamin C and potassium
  • a plethora of B-vitamins, including folate
  • 10% of daily iron recommendation.

There is a lot of talk about high glycemic index foods and low glycemic index foods, mostly relating to fad diets like South Beach.  A potato is a high glycemic index food; however, recent research* has shown that eating potatoes had no effect of weight loss when included in a healthy diet…probably because potatoes (when properly prepared) are indeed healthy for you.

Potatoes may also be helpful for weight loss because they are high in glutamate – the substance that gives the taste of umami, richness and fullness.  They will help you feel satisfied with your meal.

Ideas for preparing healthy potatoes

Baked or steamed: Steam a potato the microwave for about 5-6 minutes on high, or bake a batch in the oven for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, then top with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and even vinegar if you like.

Mashed: Dice potatoes and boil for 10 minutes.  Mash with some garlic, salt and olive oil.  Add a bit of white wine or stock if they need some moisture.  I think these are even better than traditional, butter-loaded mashed potatoes.

Potato salad: Here’s an interesting idea for a potato salad made with yogurt and vegetables in place of mayonnaise.

Potato pancakes: Here’s a good recipe for carrot potato pancakes: https:/

* The research was sponsored by the US Potato Board.  Usually, I am highly skeptical of research funded by bodies with a conflict of interest.  However, I like the cut of their jib – they seem to be pushing healthy preparation of potatoes over McDonald’s french fries.  Check it out.


Image credit: Flickr creative commons by oddsock

5 thoughts on “Rethinking Potatoes”

  1. Man, I love potatoes! They’re a staple around my house.

    We tend to have them mashed with a little almond milk, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and pepper. You can also do a vegan potato salad with olive oil and a little vinegar in place of mayo. Yum!

  2. I get what your going for here and potatoes are great. We use them in soups often to give the soup more body.

    However, what were you thinking when you wrote this sentence? “First, let’s be clear. A potato is a starch, not a vegetable. It should not count towards” It sounds like something from the Atkins diet handbook.

    Just to name a few other “Starchy” vegetables:

    1. Carrots
    2. Beets
    3. Yams
    4. Peas
    5. Lentils

    They certainly do count! Now we just need more Americans would eat their potatoes without deep frying them or smothering them in olive oil.

    1. Jeannie Moulton

      I was actually referring to the food pyramid classification (nothing from Atkins at all). The food pyramid is annoying and misleading because it could allow you to count potatoes as a vegetable — and if this were true, it would be very difficult to get a variety of nutrients in one day, especially if the starches eaten were of the white bread type.

      As a rebuttal, potatoes compared to carrots have a lower nutrient density per calorie in most of the common vitamins they contain. A similar argument can be made for beets and peas. Yams I consider to be distinct from vegetables nutritionally for similar reasons, and lentils are in their own category in the food pyramid anyway – meat, beans and legumes – and peas technically could be here as well.

      This is why I made the statement. Perhaps it wasn’t as clear as I intended it to be.

      Starches are necessary for energy, and potatoes are a healthy way to get these calories, but they are not as nutrient dense as ‘true’ vegetables.

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