Potatoes aren’t usually thought of as nutritious. However, this all-purpose vegetable has some surprising health and nutrition benefits. Although french fries and potato skins may be heavy in fat and calories, the potato itself is fat free and cholesterol free as well as low in sodium. Prepared the right way, potatoes can make a delicious, satisfying, and healthy dish.
Potatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetable in the United States. In 2017, each person consumed 49.2 pounds of potatoes. This beloved vegetable is easy to grow and is used in countless dishes across the country year-round.
Potatoes are a good source of fiber, which can help you lose weight by keeping you full longer. Fiber can help prevent heart disease by keeping cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check. Potatoes are also full of antioxidants that work to prevent diseases and vitamins that help your body function properly.
In addition, potatoes can provide the following health benefits:
The fiber found in potatoes is a special type called “resistant starch,” which has the health benefits of both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber and causes less gas than other types of fiber. You can up the amount of resistant starch in potatoes by cooking them a day ahead of time and cooling them in the fridge overnight. Feel free to reheat them before you eat.
Like soluble fiber, the resistant starch in potatoes acts as a prebiotic – food for the helpful bacteria in your large intestine. Like insoluble fiber, it can prevent or treat constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Potatoes are packed with antioxidants — compounds that fight free radicals from causing damage to your cells. A diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables lowers your risk of heart disease and cancer.
To get the most out of potatoes, leave the skins on and choose colorful types such as purple potatoes. The more color in the potato, the more antioxidants it contains. On top of that, the skin of the potato can have up to 12 times more antioxidants than the flesh. So don’t be afraid to eat your potato skins.
Lower blood pressure
Baked potato skin is a great source of potassium and magnesium. When you don’t have enough potassium in your diet, your body retains extra sodium, and too much sodium raises your blood pressure. A potassium-rich diet can help decrease blood pressure, protecting the heart and reducing the risk of stroke.
One unskinned potato provides:
- More than 40% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C
- About half the vitamin B6 needed for the day
- More potassium than a banana
Potatoes are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, and folate.
One medium potato contains:
Things to watch out for
Consider measuring high-fat toppings such as cheese, sour cream, and butter to keep portion sizes small. Or top a baked potato with lower-fat, high-protein options such as homemade chili or taco meat, black beans, corn, and salsa.
A large order of French fries has over four times as many calories and 23 more grams of fat than the potato from which it was made. Potato chips, tater tots, and hash browns are also usually deep-fried in oil. Roasting, boiling, and baking are healthier options and can make delicious side dishes and mouth-watering snacks.
How to Cook Potatoes
Potatoes are available in grocery stores year round. Uncooked, a potato has a shelf life of about 1-2 weeks at room temperature. With over 200 varieties of potatoes for you to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice. The most common potatoes are russets, reds, yellows, whites, and fingerlings. Always scrub and rinse potatoes well before cooking. Be sure to leave the skins on for flavor and fiber.
Here are a few recipes to help you incorporate potatoes into your diet:
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Wash and dry potatoes. Cut into 1-inch wedges or cubes. If using new potatoes, just cut them in half.
- Toss with just enough olive oil to coat the potatoes well, a moderate amount of salt, and your favorite herbs or spices. Chili powder, paprika, and a small amount of garlic powder make a good seasoning for oven fries. New potatoes roasted with 1 teaspoon rosemary and 1/8 teaspoon pepper per pound make an elegant side dish.
- Cook in a single layer for about an hour, turning twice, until browned and tender.
Garlic smashed red potatoes
- Cut potatoes into quarters and place in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Boil until soft but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and place them back in the pan.
- For each pound of potatoes, add 1/8 cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and a dash of pepper. Gently stir to combine. The potatoes should be lumpy, not smooth like mashed potatoes.
Crispy baked potatoes
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Wash and dry potatoes. Poke each about four times with a fork.
- Place potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook until skins are slightly wrinkly, about 25 minutes.
- Brush all over with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place potatoes back on the baking sheet with the opposite side up.
- Bake for 20 more minutes, then put on an oven mitt and squeeze a potato to see if it's soft. If not, continue cooking, testing every 5 minutes.
There are two main ways to make baked potatoes: in the oven or in the microwave.
How to bake potatoes in the oven
- Preheat oven to 425 F.
- Wash and dry potatoes.
- Rub with olive oil and seasoning.
- Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour.
How to bake potatoes in the microwave
- Wash and dry potato.
- Using a fork, poke holes throughout the potato.
- Place on a microwave-safe plate and cook for 5 minutes.
- Flip potato and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Continue this process until your potato is cooked through.
Check your potatoes by poking with a fork. You'll know your baked potatoes are done cooking when your fork sticks easily into them.
Baked potatoes can be served as a side dish, or you can load them with toppings to make the main course.