Super Spuds: The Health Benefits of Potatoes

By: 
True You
August 23, 2021

Sometimes the line between what hurts and what helps in weight loss can be a thin one. While foods such as candy or ice cream will clearly always land on the unhelpful and unhealthy end of the spectrum, there are some foods that can either result in you putting on the pounds or dropping a pant size depending on how they are prepared. 

Varieties of Potatoes

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap in many recent diet trends due to their high levels of carbs, but these starchy tubers can bring more to the table than just excess carbohydrates. With several varieties readily available including russet, yukon gold, red potatoes (sometimes called new potatoes), and white potatoes sold widely, there are plenty of ways to integrate potatoes into your diet, no matter what your dietary needs or taste preferences. 

An outlier on the nutritional spectrum in the potato family, sweet potatoes are another variety of spud that is gaining traction in the American diet as more and more consumers are looking to add more complex carbs to their diets. 

Potatoes can be a part of a healthy diet if you are careful about how you prepare and serve them. Though many potato recipes involve adding less healthy amounts of dairy or oil, there are ways to get the health benefits of potatoes without the cholesterol-raising fats found in french fries. 

Are Potatoes Healthy for You?

When determining how healthy a potato might be for you, it is worth keeping in mind that much of the nutrients found in potatoes lies in the skin. For one medium-sized baked potato (weighing around 6 ounces) you can expect to find the following levels of nutrients for which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) has a recommended daily intake:

  • folate: 12% of RDI
  • vitamin C: 28% of RDI
  • manganese: 19% of RDI
  • vitamin B6: 27% of RDI
  • magnesium: 12% of RDI
  • phosphorus: 12% of RDI
  • potassium: 26% of RDI
  • niacin: 12% of RDI

One of the best bets in preparing potatoes the healthy way is to bake them. This can take the form of the traditional baked potato if russet or yukon gold potatoes are on the menu. Fingerling and sweet potatoes can also be chopped, lightly tossed with olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and baked to the perfect crispy texture. This kind of preparation avoids the extra calories from additional ingredients like milk, butter, or unhealthy oils that can be a part of other dishes such as a cheesy tray of potatoes au gratin.

Like many vegetables, potatoes are packed with antioxidants that can help reduce the oxidative stress of free radicals. Diets high in antioxidants have been linked to lower levels of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

Some people go out of their way to avoid all carbs in an effort to help maintain lower blood sugar levels, but research suggests that the starches in potatoes can help your body reduce insulin resistance and manage blood sugar more effectively despite potatoes themselves adding carbs to your diet. 

That same starch that helps to control blood sugar may also play a role in improving your digestive health. When processed in the large intestine, the starches are converted into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which has been linked to lowered rates of inflammation in the colon, and lowered risk of colorectal cancer as well.

What is Bad About Potatoes?

The devil may be in the details, and the most important detail with potatoes is how they are prepared. Potatoes naturally contain very little fat and relatively few calories, but they can absorb high amounts of both depending on how they are cooked. A plain baked potato will be far more nutritious than the same potato turned into a pile of french fries. The ability of spuds to absorb fats during frying or other cooking is one thing that makes them potentially unhealthy. 

A plain baked potato may not be your idea of a tantalizing side dish, and this is where the trouble can start with the nutritional value of potatoes. Even seemingly innocuous mashed potatoes can involve an unhealthy amount of butter, milk, or sour cream that brings more dietary fat into the picture. Similarly, potato salad can start out healthy, but the addition of mayonnaise can introduce calories you may not be looking for. Further toward the unhealthy end of the spectrum you will find french fries or hash browns that contain extra fat and calories from oil. 

Another factor that could influence whether or not potatoes are good for you is whether or not you are on a diet that restricts your intake of carbohydrates. Low-carb or no-carb diets such as the keto diet do not allow for the starchy carbs in a potato, as that could interrupt that process of ketosis that speeds up fat burning in the liver. 

Potatoes and Weight Loss

The ability of potatoes to be filling while offering few calories is a benefit for most people looking to lose weight. For those who have undergone a weight loss procedure such as bariatric surgery, this benefit can turn into a serious danger. Due to the incredibly small size of your stomach after a procedure such as a gastric bypass, it is essential to maintain the highest nutrient density possible in your diet, as there simply isn’t enough room for extra food in your stomach. This is particularly true for gastric bypass patients, but even minimally invasive procedures such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty require special attention to your diet to prevent complications in your new life after your procedure. 

For many people trying to lose weight, feeling full on a restricted calorie diet can be a challenge. While you need your body to be in caloric deficit to lose weight, that will only be harder if you feel hungry all the time. Potatoes can be very filling, and since they have a lower caloric density than many other foods, they can help you feel full before you have eaten too much. There is also some research that suggests potatoes contain appetite-curbing proteinase inhibitor 2 proteins, which affects your levels of cholecystokinin, a hormone that helps to regulate feelings of fullness. 

Potatoes are a great example of why careful attention to detail is important if you are going to succeed in losing weight. The health benefits of a dry baked potato can easily be overcome by adding too much butter, sour cream, bacon, and other toppings. Finding potato recipes that are appealing and still healthy may take a bit of work, but the nutritional benefits can be worth doing a little digging. 

At True You Weight Loss, we know the challenges of losing weight and keeping it off for the long term. It takes attention to detail, consistency, and even some culinary imagination to keep to a diet that will be nutritious and appealing enough to curb desires to cheat. This is why our medical nutrition therapy program exists. Our dietitians and nutritionists can help you plan and execute a diet that will put you on the path to find freedom from excess body weight. 

If you have been finding it harder and harder to keep the pounds off, it may be time to get some help. If you want to know more about the services we offer at True You Weight Loss, request a consultation with us today. 

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