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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Potatoes Are Not Problematic

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

potatoes are healthy

White potatoes have been getting an undeserved bad rap for a few decades. It is not uncommon to hear nutritionists and diet gurus suggest abstaining from the poor white vegetable. For the better part of my career, I have heard people proclaim we all need to eat more vegetables while simultaneously warning about the dangers of potatoes. This root vegetable is as bad as chocolate cake because it is chock full of sugar and starch; this is demonstratively not true.

Thanks to the french fry, these tubers are the most popular vegetable in the United States. The average American eats about 30 lbs of french fries per year! We can hold Thomas Jefferson responsible for this delectable side dish. He brought them to America from a trip to France in the 1780s. Alas, there are much healthier ways to eat potatoes. For starters, we don't need to deep fry or put a bunch of sugary ketchup on them. A baked or roasted potato can be delicious, healthy and nutritious. However, if you add a Herculean amount of sour cream or butter to your potatoes, don't fool yourself into thinking you had a healthy meal.

A medium baked potato has approximately 160-200 calories, 6-7 grams of protein, 5-6 grams of fiber and is chock full of potassium, B6, magnesium, iron, and vitamin C. Don't peel your potatoes because like your mom told you, the skin is a most nutritious part. I know some might think this is a culinary abomination, but when I make mashed potatoes the skin stays in!

There are over 4000 varieties of potatoes, we mostly eat only a few types:

Popular Potatoes

  1. Russet

  2. Red

  3. White & Yellow

  4. Purple

  5. French Fingerling

  6. Yukon Gold

  7. Petite

The low-carb community has vilified potatoes for a long time. They get a bad reputation because they are starchy high glycemic vegetables. The spike in insulin from eating spuds is supposed to increase hunger, however, the data tells a different story:

Back in 1995, a group of Australian researchers gave 240 calories' worth of food to subjects who each ate one of 38 specific foods. They tracked how hungry the subjects got and developed a Satiety Index (using white bread as a benchmark, with a score of 100). The hands-down winner, with a Satiety Index of 323, was potatoes. In second place was fish (225), and oatmeal took third (209).
It's an imperfect study, as it tracks hunger for only two hours, and few additional studies have compared satiety of potatoes vs. satiety of other foods (and some have been funded by the potato industry). Generally, there is enough disagreement over whether the speed of insulin response correlates with satiety that we shouldn't be so hard on the potato. A food is undoubtedly more than its contribution to blood sugar, and it's not unreasonable to believe that potatoes have other qualities (fiber, water, resistant starch) that could contribute to satiety

Potatoes are carby but as a whole food, the fiber offsets some of the insulin response. In fact, they are a great post-workout snack with more nutrients and bioavailability than rice. They can quickly replenish glycogen stores and leave you feeling sated. Ounce for ounce potatoes are one of the most filling, nutritious, versatile foods we can eat. When prepared correctly, they can fast-track weight loss goals. Potatoes are loaded with resistant starch, which feeds your microbiome in the GI tract and slows down digestion. They are a good substitution for many grains and deliver a lot more bang for the buck. Next time you are at a farmers market, pick up a new variety - there are plenty to choose from.

Sweet potatoes and yams are considered by many to be even more nutritious than the lowly white potato. As long as you are not drenching these spuds in oils, salts and fats, either potato will be an excellent addition to your diet. I have never met a person that couldn't lose weight or get stronger because they were eating too many potatoes. In some ways, they are the perfect food. They are easy to grow, inexpensive, versatile, long-lasting and healthful. After all, they helped the Irish stave off famine and prevented Matt Damon from starving on Mars.

Beleive it or not, you can even lose weight on a potato-only diet. Anecdotally, the majority of people on this diet lose a significant amount of body weight. However, before you decide to live on a potato-only diet, just know the main nutritional limitation of potatoes is their lack of vitamins A and B12 (albeit the liver stores these vitamins in large quantities so you can live quite a while without them). Let me be clear: I don't recommend this diet, or any like it, because it is not sustainable or particularly healthful. Primarily diets like this work because bland, repetitive meals reduce spontaneous caloric intake without provoking hunger.

Don't be afraid of the potato and never ever spell it with an 'E" (old Dan Quayle joke).

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