Did you know that potatoes are by far the world’s most popular vegetable. And each year, Americans eat an average of 126 pounds of them. But they don’t count as a vegetable according to Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate because they are high in the type of carbohydrate that the body digests rapidly, causing blood sugar and insulin to surge and then dip- in scientific terms, they have a high glycemic load.
Many researchers have concluded that there’s a strong association between potatoes and weight gain. Potato consumption was also linked to increased risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well. But it’s not all bad news for spud lovers. According to St. Louis-based registered dietitian Alex Caspero, RD, “…potatoes are not the enemy! How we eat them is.”
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They are actually really low-cal, A medium white potato contains just 163 calories. (Of course, prep it with sour cream, cheese, and bacon, and that number goes way up.) But since potatoes’ resistant starch isn’t easily digestible (hence the word resistant), we don’t actually absorb every calorie, Caspero says. Plus, when overweight or obese women ate less-energy-dense foods—including spuds—early in the day, they dropped weight and kept it off. The likely reason, per the researchers? They stayed full throughout the day without relying on high-calorie alternatives.
While different types of potatoes have different nutritional profiles, they all share certain health benefits, including:
- Most are are high in antioxidants.
- Potatoes may help with digestion.
- Potatoes may aid bone health.
A large body of evidence tells us that for most people, potatoes (and especially sweet potatoes) can make a valuable contribution to a healthy diet. But a potato’s preparation is what makes it a healthy or unhealthy choice. The best way to maximize the health potential of potatoes is to eat them whole with the skin on. Some healthier toppers to try on your baked potato include salsa instead of sour cream or nutritional yeast instead of shredded cheese. Another tasty way to eat them is to pour some chili over them.
While potatoes do rank pretty high on the glycemic index (meaning they can, conversely, cause your blood sugar to spike), you can negate the impact by pairing them with protein and healthy fat, like eggs and avocado. For most people, whole potatoes (especially sweet potatoes) can make a valuable and affordable contribution to a healthy, balanced diet. But no matter how you eat them, it’s best to avoid them fried, processed, or covered in unhealthy toppings.