Potatoes Are Healthier Than You Think – 6 Reasons To Eat Them

Potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the world - here are there benefits


(updated )

8 Minutes Read

Photo shows someone holding five medium-sized potatoes in their two cupped hands Should we all be eating more potatoes? - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

The humble potato is a marvel. More than a billion people around the world regularly eat the starchy, perennial root vegetable, and global annual crop production is now an astronomical 300 million tons. (That’s the weight equivalent of around one million Boeing 747s.)

Our collective love for the potato isn’t a new thing, and humans first domesticated these versatile tubers around 8,000 years ago in the South American Andes.

Indigenous communities in this part of the world still have a particularly close gastronomic relationship with potatoes, but the popularity of the vegetable has spread far beyond the Americas to make it a staple throughout North America, Europe, the UK, and beyond.

Despite being the single most popular vegetable in the US, potatoes sometimes get a bad rap. For example, spud-skeptics draw attention to their high carbohydrate content, which can cause spikes in blood sugar as it is broken down. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Carbohydrates are an important part of any balanced diet, and potatoes are so much more than just their starchy sugars. In fact, potatoes are far healthier than you might think. Here’s everything you need to know about their nutritional content, including six reasons to eat them.

Are potatoes bad for you?

Potatoes are classified as a complex carbohydrate – meaning a “healthier” variety that produces a longer-lasting energy boost – but because the human body does break down its white, starchy carbs quite quickly, eating potato can cause a blood sugar spike.

For folks with health conditions such as diabetes, this means that they might have to pay close attention to portion size and how eating potatoes impacts their blood sugar. But even then, the way potato is digested doesn’t necessarily mean people need to avoid it entirely.

There are also several things you can do to reduce the chances of a sudden increase in blood sugar. These include eating the skin, which contains additional fiber (along with a particularly high concentration of vitamins), and pairing potatoes with high protein, fibrous foods such as beans and vegetables like avocados, which are high in healthy fat.

“In plant-based meals, we want to make sure that our carbohydrate sources are paired with a good source of protein,” Courtney Pelitera, a Registered Dietician at Top Nutrition Coaching, tells Plant Based News (PBN).

“For example, I would recommend pairing a mashed potato with something like beans or tofu to provide additional protein, keeping you fuller for longer,” she adds.

‘It’s all about moderation and preparation’

Photo shows a baked or "jacket" potato topped with baked beans and grated cheese
Adobe Stock The healthiest way to prep potatoes is by baking, boiling, or steaming them at home

Smith tells PBN that there are several popular myths about potatoes, including misconceptions about carbohydrates and weight gain and oversimplified health narratives that look for “magic bullet” solutions to obesity, diabetes, and chronic diseases.

It’s worth noting that public perception of carbohydrates, including potato, is heavily influenced by current weight loss trends. Low-carb dieting has cycled in and out of fashion for well over 150 years, but in reality, carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source and the brain’s only energy source, which consumes 150g of carbs per day to function.

“While they certainly can provide a quick boost and help fuel endurance exercise, they’re also essential for our brain function and overall energy levels throughout the day,” Danielle Smith, who is also a Registered Dietician at Top Nutrition Coaching, tells PBN.

“In the context of a plant-based diet, carbs play an even more crucial role because they’re found in so many nutrient-rich foods,” she explains. “There is no need to shy away from carbohydrates like potatoes. They have a lot to offer nutritionally and can be a part of a healthy, varied diet that supports your well-being.”

6 reasons to eat more potatoes

Because potatoes are so nutrient-dense, eating them regularly has been linked with a variety of confirmed and possible health benefits. However, not all preparation methods are equal. Highly processed and particularly fatty forms of potato – think pre-made hash browns, tater tots, or fries – can’t compete with the boiled, baked, or steamed varieties you make at home.

“It’s all about moderation and preparation,” adds Smith. “Including them as part of a balanced diet, where you’re also eating plenty of other vegetables and considering your overall carbohydrate intake, is key. […] Remember, no single food defines health, and variety is crucial in a healthy diet. Potatoes can absolutely fit into this approach.”

Potatoes are low in calories

One medium-sized potato contains approximately 155 calories and is almost entirely (99.9 percent) fat-free. But because the starchy vegetables are also nutrient-dense and extremely filling, they can help with appetite control while still ensuring a well-balanced diet.

“Potatoes are a powerhouse for nutrition,” notes Pelitera. “[They] provide about 26-30g of carbohydrate per medium-sized potato and are very filling, making them a great carbohydrate source with a balanced meal.”

…But are packed with nutrients

A single medium baked potato (around 173g) contains 4.3g of protein, 36.6g of carbs, and 3.8g of fiber. It also contains nearly 30 percent of your RDA for vitamins C, B6, and potassium, along with magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, and folate.

According to Smith, the nutrients contained in potatoes can help to support the immune system, metabolism, and nervous system health, red blood cell formation, and skin health. They also support normal blood pressure and heart health, along with digestive health.

Potatoes contain resistant starch

Resistant starch is developed when potatoes are cooked and then allowed to cool completely. It is a variety of dietary fiber that the body does not fully break down and absorb. Instead, it ferments in the large intestine where it feeds beneficial gut bacteria.

Some of the key benefits of resistant starch include the promotion of gut health, insulin sensitivity regulation – which improves overall blood sugar control – and the enhancement of mineral absorption. It is also resistant starch, in particular, which makes you feel full.

“As a dietitian, I often refer to using potatoes as a staple food as a ‘food hack.’ They are a food which is very filling, therefore making meals feel more satisfying,” says Pelitera.

They are naturally gluten-free

Approximately one percent of people have coeliac disease, which causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and cease absorbing nutrients when gluten is eaten. In addition, up to 10 percent of the UK population follows a gluten-free diet for other reasons, including what is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

It can be a challenge to find gluten-free foods, particularly when eating out, but potatoes are so versatile – and potato dishes are so easily adapted – that it’s ideal for avoiding gluten.

Potatoes also contain antioxidants

Antioxidants effectively neutralize potentially harmful molecules in the body known as free radicals, which are thought to increase the risk of certain chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer along with heart disease. (Note: more human-based research is needed in this area.)

“Potatoes contain various compounds, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids, which act as antioxidants,” explains Smith. “These can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases by combating oxidative stress in the body.”

And are culturally significant

Potato-based dishes are frequently associated with culturally significant celebrations such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, while many authentic Peruvian dishes (and at least one unique new year’s eve tradition) are centered on potatoes.

This coming May 30 will even see the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) celebrating the first-ever International Day of Potato, emphasizing its practical and cultural importance along with the need for sustainability and food security in the future.

“Beyond their nutritional value, potatoes hold significant cultural and historical importance, having been a cornerstone of various global agricultural and culinary traditions for thousands of years,” addsSmith. “Incorporating potatoes can yield a lot of flavor and texture diversity to meals on top of nutrient diversity.”

5 potato recipes to try at home

A vegan potato gratin made to a dairy-free recipe
Natlicious Food Looking for ways to eat more potatoes? Try this creamy garlic potato gratin

Creamy garlic potato gratin

This recipe from Natlicious Food transforms the traditionally dairy-heavy potato gratin into a vegan powerhouse, combining thinly sliced potatoes with plant-based cream cheese. Perfect for a Sunday lunch, a side, or even a starter.

Find the recipe here.

Vegan roast potatoes

With recipes from Avant Garde Vegan, So Vegan, BOSH!, Rachel Ama, and School Night Vegan, this collection of roast potato dishes are high in flavor. From simple to elaborate, each recipe uses different oils, herbs, seasonings, and varieties of potato for different results.

Find the recipe here.

Potato rostis with tofu

Rosti – or rösti – is a Swiss dish resembling a large potato cake that was traditionally eaten for breakfast by farmers. It’s primarily made by frying or baking grated potato until crispy and this Viva! Vegan Recipe Club version is best served with the accompanying caramelized onion chutney.

Find the recipe here.

Patatas bravas

Patatas bravas is a popular example of Spanish tapas. In this version – also from Viva!’s Vegan Recipe Club – you’ll combine chunks of fried potato with spicy tomato and creamy vegan aioli, an emulsified olive oil sauce flavored with garlic.

Find the recipe here.

Creamy potato salad

Food blogger ElaVegan created this vegan potato salad to be free from oil and animal products. It’s creamy, delicious, and perfect if you’re trying to boost your resistant starch intake as it features cooked and then cooled potatoes.

Find the recipe here.

More like this:

Become A Plant Based Chef with our 1000+ recipes! 🥦

We know it can be hard to keep cooking up tasty, exciting meals. So we thought of them for you! Browse our selection of vegan recipes below.

© 2024 Plant Based News is a mission-led impact media platform focused on elevating the plant-based diet and its benefit to human health, the planet, and animals. | Plant Based News Ltd, PO Box 71173, London, SE20 9DQ, United Kingdom.