Potato Nutrition Facts

Calories, Carbs, and Health Benefits of Potatoes

Potatoes are good for you as long as you prepare them properly.
Chris Ted/Photodisc/Getty Images

Potatoes are high in starch and have developed a bit of a bad reputation due to the popularity of low-carb diets and fad Paleolithic diets. However, carbohydrates aren't bad for your health as long as you watch your portions. Potatoes can easily be part of a healthy diet and if you include the skins, they're a good source of fiber and vitamin C.

The most common types of potatoes are white, yellow, and red potatoes and you might find blue ones too.

They're all similar nutritionally, but they have slightly different textures so it's important to choose potatoes based on how you're preparing them. 

Nutrition Facts

Baked Potato Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 Medium Baked Potato with Peel
Per Serving% Daily Value*
Calories 159 
Calories from Fat 2 
Total Fat 0.22g0%
Saturated Fat 0.1g0%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1g 
Monounsaturated Fat 0g 
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 17mg1%
Potassium 919mg20%
Carbohydrates 36g28%
Dietary Fiber 4g15%
Sugars 2g 
Protein 4g 
Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 22%
Calcium 3% · Iron 10%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Carbs in Potatoes

While a medium potato has 4 grams of fiber, it packs in 36 grams of carbohydrates, for a total of 32 grams of net carbs. Most of the carbs are starch and only a small amount is sugar. Starches are quickly broken down during digestion to sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in a quick rise in blood sugar levels. This is known as being glycemic.

The glycemic index of a food is an indicator of the impact of a food on blood sugar. Studies vary, but potatoes average in the 80s, which is a high glycemic index. By comparison, table sugar has a glycemic index of 59, making potatoes more glycemic than sugar. Waxy varieties such as new red potatoes are somewhat less glycemic than varieties such as the russet.

Another way to represent the glycemic effect of a food is the glycemic load, which takes into account the serving size. A medium potato fares better here, with a moderate glycemic load of 17. But you need to watch your portion size as a large potato has a glycemic load of 29, which is high.

Fats in Potatoes

Potatoes have only a trace of fat, and that tiny amount is split between saturated and polyunsaturated fat. They also have trace amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. As a vegetable, they have no cholesterol. Unless you add a topping with fat or fry your potatoes, they are basically fat-free.

Protein in Potatoes

Potatoes have a small amount of protein, with a medium potato providing 9 percent of the daily value. However, it is likely that you will want additional protein sources in your diet.

Micronutrients in Potatoes

Potatoes are not empty calories, they provide many vitamins and minerals. One plain potato is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. They are a good source of folate, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. To get the most micronutrients, you should eat the potato skin as well as the flesh, as some micronutrients are more concentrated in the skin.

Health Benefits

Potatoes are high in potassium, which works in opposition to sodium to help regulate blood pressure and fluid balance. Potassium is also essential for normal muscle and nerve function. Vitamin C is needed for normal immune system function, blood clotting and strong connective tissue and blood vessel walls. Potatoes also have a good concentration of antioxidant phytonutrients.

Common Questions

Isn't the starch in potatoes bad for you?

It's true that potatoes are high in starch, which is where most of the calories come from. Starch is a storage form of sugar and your body's good at digesting it and absorbing it.

If you only eat a plate full of potatoes with nothing else, you might see a substantial impact on your blood sugar levels. But it's unlikely you would only eat plain potatoes and nothing else.

You can combat that blood sugar rush by serving your potatoes as part of a balanced meal. An example is a piece of salmon with whipped potatoes and a side of green beans. The addition of protein from the salmon and fiber from the green beans slows down the digestion and absorption of the starch.

Aren't potatoes high in calories?

Potatoes are not highly caloric in themselves. One medium plain potato has about 150 to 160 calories. The excess calories come from how you prepare them, either by deep frying them (French fries or potato chips) or burying them under globs of cheese or gravy.

For example:

  • 1 cup potato salad has 358 calories
  • 1 medium order of French fries has over 300 calories
  • 1 cup hash browns has 470 calories
  • 10 tater tots have about 180 calories
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes has about 240 calories (that's without gravy which can add 100 to 200 more calories)
  • 1 ounce of potato chips has 155 calories (but a whole bag can have well over 1,000 calories)

If you're watching your weight, you need to be careful about what you put on your potatoes. Better toppings include salsa, green veggies, or reduced fat sour cream.

Don't potatoes contain acrylamide and isn't that dangerous?

Acrylamide is a toxic substance that forms in starchy foods when they are processed or cooked at high temperatures. It affects potatoes and other starchy foods as well. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals, but we don't know what levels of acrylamide exposures are dangerous for humans. The amount of acrylamide you'd get from potatoes is much lower than the quantities studied in lab animals.

Frying and baking potatoes at high temperatures for a long time could result in the most acrylamide, but those levels may be reduced when potatoes are boiled first or treated with antioxidant solutions. You can also bake your potatoes in the microwave to avoid acrylamides.

Is solanine in potatoes toxic?

Potatoes are part of the nightshade family of vegetables, along with tomatoes, eggplants, and a few other plants. Nightshades contain small amounts of a substance called solanine. Some people claim they have increased arthritis type pain when they eat potatoes and other nightshade plants. But, research hasn't found any substantial connection between rheumatoid arthritis pain and solanine.

In large amounts, solanine is toxic, but the amount of solanine you'd get from potatoes isn't enough to make you sick unless you eat green potatoes or sprouts that can grow from potatoes that have been sitting around for too long. Don't eat green potatoes—throw them out. They taste bitter and bad anyway.

Recipes and Preparation Tips

The main problem with potatoes is how unhealthy they can become when they're fried, turned into chips, or slathered in heavy sauces, butter, or cheese. The closer a potato stays to being an actual potato, the better it is for you. Baked, roasted, and boiled potatoes are best. Here are some ideas:

  • Serve baked potatoes with salsa or broccoli and sprinkle about one ounce of shredded cheese on top.
  • Make oven-baked 'fries' that are low in fat and calories.
  • Make mashed potatoes with low-fat sour cream, nonfat milk, and chives.
  • Try roasted potatoes with oregano or rosemary.
  • Add potato slices (with skins) to soups and stews.

These recipes are all tasty, easy to make, and retain the healthy goodness of potatoes:

Allergies and Interactions

Allergies to cooked or raw potatoes or potato pollen are rare but have been documented. Usually, these are seen in people who have hay fever and are sensitized to silver birch tree pollen. Proteins in the potato might be chemically similar and therefore trigger a reaction when eaten. The reaction is usually tingling in the mouth and lips, but in rare cases can lead to difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. Those who react to potato might also react to apples, hazelnuts, carrots, cherries, pear, tomatoes, celery, and peaches.

Sources:

Acrylamide in Food and Cancer. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet.

Ek KL, Wang S, Copeland L, Brand-Miller JC. Discovery of Low-Glycaemic Index Potato and Relationship With Starch Digestion in Vitro British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;111(4):699–705. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513003048.

Food Allergy. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20355095 .

Potato Plant Poisoning - Green Tubers and Sprouts. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002875.htm.

USDA Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search.