Are Potatoes Healthy?
Although french fries and potato skins are usually high in fat and calories, the potato has zero fat and cholesterol, and it's low in sodium.
So when you prepare them right, potatoes can make delicious, satisfying, and healthy dishes.
Types of Potatoes
Americans eat more potatoes than any other vegetable. In 2019, every American ate an average of 49.4 pounds of potatoes. The root vegetable is easy to grow and is used in countless dishes year-round.
Plus there are numerous varieties of potatoes, but they're categorized into three basic types: starchy, waxy and all-purpose.
These potatoes are high in starch, low in moisture, and have thick skins. They're fluffy when you cook them, so they're best baked or fried. They make great potato chips, cakes, or hash browns. They're the best for mashed potatoes, but don't overwork them or the texture will turn on you.
Varieties include King Edward, Russet, and sweet potatoes.
Waxy potatoes have less starch and more moisture and sugar than starchy potatoes. They're also usually smaller and have a wax-like skin. The flesh is creamier, too, so they're best when they're boiled, roasted, or sliced in casseroles, soups, and potato salads. They're not good for mashing.
Varieties include red bliss, French fingerlings, and chieftain.
These potatoes generally are a happy medium between starchy and waxy. They have a higher moisture content than starchy potatoes but can stand up to boiling water. You can roast, pan fry, or stew them, and they work in soups and stews. You can also use them for mashed potatoes, but they won't give you quite the fluffy texture as starchy potatoes.
Varieties include Yukon gold, white potatoes, and purple potatoes.
Benefits of Potatoes
Potatoes are a decent source of fiber, which can help you feel full longer. Fiber also can help prevent heart disease by keeping your cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check. Potatoes are also rich in antioxidants that prevent diseases and vitamins that help your body function properly.
Potatoes may also provide some of 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. You can increase the resistant starch in potatoes by cooking them a day ahead 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, compounds that are helpful to the bacteria in your gut. Like insoluble fiber, it can prevent or treat constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Potatoes are packed with antioxidants, molecules that fight free radicals from causing damage to your cells. A diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.
To get the most antioxidants, leave the skins on and choose colorful varieties like red and purple potatoes. The more color, the more antioxidants. Plus, the skin of some potatoes can have up to 12 times more antioxidants than the flesh.
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 large baked Russet potato with the skin on has:
- 25 milligrams vitamin C (more than 25% of the recommended daily value (RDA) of vitamin C)
- 1 milligram of vitamin B6 (100% of the RDA)
- 1,640 milligrams of potassium (almost four times the amount in a medium-sized banana)
Potatoes are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, and folate.
Things to watch out for
If you enjoy high-fat toppings like cheese, sour cream, and butter on your baked potatoes, measure them out to keep the portion sizes small. Or use lower-fat, high-protein toppings like cottage cheese, homemade chili, black beans, corn, or salsa instead.
French fries have many times the calories and fat than the potato from which they were 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 dishes, too.
If you’ve ever let potatoes sit out too long, you may have noticed they've turned green. What does it mean when they go green, and are they still safe to eat?
Potatoes contain two types of glycoalkaloids, which are natural toxins:
When potatoes are exposed to light, it causes chlorophyll and glycoalkaloids to rapidly grow. Chlorophyll is what causes the green skin on a potato, and it's not harmful, but it's also a sign that the toxic glycoalkaloids are also rising.
Are green potatoes safe to eat?
Green potatoes may not be bad. Glycoalkaloids are found mostly in the skin, "eyes", and sprouts, so you can remove those and reduce the level of toxic glycoalkaloids. But if your potato is green in more than a few spots, it's better to toss because cooking doesn't get rid of the toxins.
And don't serve children green potatoes. The solanine might irritate your stomach. But it's been shown to cause severe symptoms in children, including fever, low blood pressure, and neurological disorders, though it's very rare.
If you have any of these symptoms after eating a green potato, call your doctor right away:
- Abdominal pain
- Flushed skin
How to Cook Potatoes
Potatoes are available in grocery stores year round. Always scrub and rinse them 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 olive oil to coat, and season with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs or spices. 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 potatoes
- Cut Russet 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 pot.
- For each pound of potatoes, add 1/8 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 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 Russet 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.
Check your potatoes by poking with a fork. You'll know your baked potatoes are done when your fork sticks into them.
How to Store Potatoes
Though it may seem like the refrigerator is the logical place to store potatoes, the cold temperature may cause them to discolor when they're cooked. Also, the starch content converts into sugar much faster.
Instead, store them in a cool, dark place like your pantry or a root cellar so they're not exposed to light. Also choose a spot that's far away from your oven to be sure the potatoes are protected from the heat.