From mashed potatoes, scalloped cheesy potatoes and the fast-food fried variety, potatoes are everywhere. They’re by far one of the most popular vegetables in America. But are potatoes good for your health?

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions on the health benefits of potatoes. UC Davis Health dietetic intern Adrienne Posner breaks down the nutrition facts on potatoes and why you may want to serve them at your next meal.

Are potatoes vegetables?

Yes. Potatoes are stem tubers and are considered a starchy vegetable. As the name implies, these vegetables contain more starch as compared to others. This isn’t bad. It means that the vegetable delivers more calories and typically less fiber.

Starch is a type of carbohydrate that our body breaks into glucose to use as energy. Therefore, starchy foods could be a good food source if you want to add calories or add a food choice to round out a meal.

Many cultures serve sides of rice, pasta, or potatoes with meals. These choices add calories and give a “full feeling” to hungry families. Other types of starchy vegetables include:

  • corn
  • green peas
  • winter squash, such as butternut or acorn
  • sweet potatoes and yams
  • beans and lentils

Potatoes for health and nutrition

In addition to starch, potatoes contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re rich in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant. Potatoes were a life-saving food source in early times because the vitamin C prevented scurvy. Another major nutrient in potatoes is potassium, an electrolyte which aids in the workings of our heart, muscles, and nervous system. Potato skin contains fiber, which is important for digestive health.

Different types of potatoes, especially those that come in other colors, contain more nutrients that have health benefits. In general, the darker the potato, the more antioxidants it contains. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A, an important nutrient for immunity and eye health. Purple potatoes are rich in antioxidants including anthocyanins which may prevent heart disease and cancer and boost brain health.1

Types of potatoes

Potatoes come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. There are many different varieties of potatoes. Some of the common types at most grocery stores include:

  • Fingerling potatoes: Small, stubby, finger-shaped potatoes
  • Russet potatoes: Large potatoes with dark brown skin and white flesh
  • Sweet potatoes: Large potatoes with bright orange flesh and sweet taste
  • White and red potatoes: Many sizes and shapes with either white- or red-colored skin
  • Purple potatoes: Oval-shaped potatoes with a purplish-black skin and purple flesh

What makes potatoes unhealthy?

Generally, potatoes move into the less than healthy category when they are loaded with toppings such as cheese, sour cream, and bacon. When you are mindful of both portion size and toppings, potatoes can provide comfort and satisfaction with any meal.

So why eat potatoes?

In addition to being budget-friendly, there are many health benefits to potatoes. They’re rich in energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Try to include different varieties of potatoes in your diet to maximize the nutritional benefits.

Healthy potato recipes

These three healthy potato recipes from Good Food Is Good Medicine that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

References
1.    Anthocyanins. Today's Dietitian. (2014, March). Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030314p20.shtml

This blog was written by UC Davis Health dietetic intern Adrienne Posner and reviewed by UC Davis Health registered dietitians.