Are White Potatoes Considered Part of a Healthy Diet?

The Nutrient Value of Tubers

Potatoes have been labeled a bad carbohydrate for decades through inaccurate scientific feedback and marketing. Past studies have linked white potatoes to increased weight gain and type-2 diabetes. Older reports from Harvard University research even indicated potatoes were a fattening starch not worthy of vegetable status. All the bad press and diet trends restricting carbs have caused many people to eliminate them from their diet. 

But these past studies failed to include all the facts about what kind of potatoes research participants were consuming. Details of the research revealed that volunteers were eating large amounts of French fries and potato chips. Of course, consuming fries and chips would be unhealthy, promoting weight gain, obesity, and even illness. Unfortunately, research made the mistake of labeling the potato as a bad carbohydrate without taking the preparation method into consideration. 

Current research has debunked these old unhealthy claims about white potatoes. It turns out, the potatoes themselves are not to blame but rather how they are prepared or processed. New discoveries indicate white potatoes are an excellent plant food part of a healthy diet.

The Basics of Potato Nutrition

Pan Fried Yukon Gold Potatoes with Herb in Cast iron

4kodiak / Getty Images

According to an article published in the Journal of Advances in Nutrition, white potatoes should be included as a vegetable in all food guides because they contain essential nutrients. Potatoes are also considered a healthy carbohydrate having an important role in a nutritious diet. As of 2017, the most consumed vegetable in the United States was the potato.

White potatoes are full of essential nutrients and vitamins and are an excellent source of fiber. They also contain high-quality protein because of their superior amino acid composition. During food testing, it was determined potatoes exceeded the recommended amino acid levels for lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan. Amino acids (especially lysine) play a vital role in muscle repair. 

The carbohydrate or starchy part of the potato ranks high on the glycemic index (GI). This means it enters the bloodstream faster but endurance athletes love this fact. Food is your fuel and a plain baked potato makes an excellent meal before a challenging workout.

Leslie Bonci, RD, former Director of Sports Medicine Nutrition at the University Pittsburgh Medical Center, recommends adding a small amount of protein or healthy fat to slow down the GI profile. This will allow for slow-release energy during a hard workout or long-distance run.

Potatoes and Protein Content

According to research, white potatoes contain quality plant protein. The quality of plant protein is determined by its amino acid composition and digestibility. Amino acid quality is given a score based on amino acids contained within a food compared to human body amino acid requirements. Potatoes are said to exceed the recommended level for all four essential amino acids: lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan.  

Potato protein content is lower (5 grams for one medium potato), but the digestibility and amino acid value have been rated very good. This means the body digests and absorbs most of the amino acids from potato. In fact, depending on the potato, almost 90% of the protein is absorbed. This value is biologically comparable to the value of whole egg protein (100% absorption). 

Other research feedback about potato protein indicates the biological value (proportion retained for growth or maintenance divided by the amount absorbed) is higher than soybeans and legumes. The excellent amino acid rating and other important findings have determined potato protein to be of high quality and beneficial for a healthy diet.

Health Benefits of Potatoes

The American Society of Nutrition (ASN) shared extensive research and presented findings on the health benefits of potatoes. Several researchers discussed why potatoes are an important part of a healthy diet. 

One study compared potatoes to other carbohydrates combined with lean meat when consumed by young children. Results showed children to eat 30% fewer calories when served boiled mashed potatoes.

Also, post-meal glucose and insulin were not significantly different than before eating. The findings suggest a glycemic index (GI) reading is unreliable if the potatoes are combined with other food. In fact, eating potatoes with protein or healthy fat is shown to slow insulin or glucose release. These findings are similar to results found in adults. 

Another study looked at the potassium in potatoes compared to a dietary supplement. According to research, only 3% of Americans meet the recommended intake of 4700 milligrams per day of potassium. Potatoes are a rich source of potassium providing 19% to 20% in the American diet.

Limited studies have examined setting dietary requirements for potassium using food. However, a first-of-its-kind study by a team of researchers at Purdue University discovered the bioavailability of potassium in potatoes is significantly better than it is from supplements. This means the body is able to absorb and utilize the potassium in white potatoes more efficiently.

Potatoes and Your Workouts

Potatoes are actually one of the most consumed vegetables in America. They are also an inexpensive source of valuable nutrients. At least 50% of the population prepares potatoes the right way by roasting, baking, or boiling them to maintain nutritional value. 

Eating a large baked potato can be just as effective as pasta to prepare athletes for intense workouts of long duration. The healthy carbohydrates are shown to provide adequate energy and ward off hunger for hours. One medium baked white potato is approximately 170 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber with absolutely no fat.

Potatoes also contain a good amount of lysine, an essential amino acid and one of the building blocks for protein. The high-quality plant protein found in potatoes is shown to promote muscle growth and proper organ function. It's also indicated to burn fat more efficiently promoting overall body fat reduction.

Active adults and athletes are taking advantage of the positive energy and muscle-building benefits of white potatoes. The phytochemicals, antioxidants, and essential nutrients are also shown to support good health. It appears enough evidence has been provided to support poTipstatoes as a nutritious food to have in your diet.

A Word From Verywell

The research indicates that potatoes can be part of a healthy diet, but how you consume them matters. Here are some tips for including potatoes in a healthy diet:

  • Avoid high-fat toppings like sour cream, cheddar cheese, and butter.
  • Bake or boil your potatoes instead of frying.
  • Bake potato wedges and use a no sugar added organic ketchup.
  • Enjoy your baked potato topped with plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or butter.
  • Potato chips are not a vegetable serving. 
  • Prepare mashed potatoes using a no to low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, fat-free or low-fat milk, or low-fat plain Greek yogurt.
10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The problem with potatoes.

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  5. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetables.

  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central: Potatoes, white, flesh and skin, raw.

  7. Akilen R, Deljoomanesh N, Hunschede S, et al. The effects of potatoes and other carbohydrate side dishes consumed with meat on food intake, glycemia and satiety response in children. Nutr Diabetes. 2016;6:e195. doi:10.1038/nutd.2016.1

  8. Weaver CM. Potassium and health. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(3):368S-77S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003533

  9. Weaver C, Marr ET. White vegetables: A forgotten source of nutrients: Purdue Roundtable Executive Summary. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(3):318S-26S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003566

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By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.