Of all the vegetables Americans eat, potatoes are among the most popular – the average American eats about 55 pounds of potatoes a year. Some people call potatoes diet-wreckers. But others say they’re fine to eat.
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Registered dietitian Andrea Dunn, RD, explains the benefits of potatoes and how you can enjoy them without sabotaging your healthy eating goals.
Are potatoes a vegetable?
Are potatoes a vegetable or a starch? This age-old question can lead to arguments about their health benefits. After all, calling something a vegetable seems to magically change it into a healthier food.
“Potatoes are put in the starchy vegetable category, due to the amount of carbohydrates they contain,” says Dunn. “But they are a type of vegetable and they contain plenty of vitamins and minerals.”
Starchy vs. non-starchy vegetables
The two main types of vegetables are starchy and non-starchy. Starch is a type of carbohydrate that we find in lots of foods. Other types of carbs are fiber and sugar.
Starchy vegetables are higher in total carbohydrates than their non-starchy counterparts. Usually, this means starchy veggies are higher in calories, too. Other starchy vegetables include:
- Butternut squash.
- Corn and peas.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Lentils and beans.
Non-starchy vegetables include:
- Green beans.
- Leafy greens.
But the higher calorie content doesn’t make potatoes a diet no-no. Like any food, potatoes are fine to eat in moderation.
“Healthy food choices should include a variety of starchy and non-starchy vegetables,” says Dunn. “In fact, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes up to 5 cups a week of starchy vegetables for those needing 2,000 calories a day.”
Types of potatoes
Potatoes come in many varieties that differ in taste, texture and color. Some of the most common types include:
Each type varies slightly in terms of its vitamin and mineral content. But the differences are pretty small.
And sweet potatoes aren’t a type of potato, despite their name. “Sweet potatoes come from a different plant family than potatoes so their nutrition content is different,” says Dunn. “One of the main differences is that sweet potatoes contain vitamin A and white potatoes don’t.”
Wondering if potatoes measure up to other veggies in terms of nutrition? One medium-sized russet potato baked with skin offers:
- 25% of daily potassium.
- 35% of daily vitamin C.
- 30% of daily vitamin B6.
- four grams of fiber.
- five grams of protein.
To get the full nutrition, don’t peel your potatoes. “The skin has half of the potato’s fiber content and many of its nutrients,” says Dunn.
Best ways to cook potatoes
One of the reasons people may avoid potatoes when they’re trying to eat healthy is because of the cooking method, not the vegetable itself. Any food soaked in butter, deep fried or topped with sour cream will pack on the calories. Not to mention all the excess salt that often goes along with them (hello, bloating).
But potatoes can be a healthy and delicious choice if you use these cooking methods:
- Pressure cooking.
- Slow cooking.
- Air frying.
Be mindful of what you put on top. “Try a drizzle of olive oil with chives instead of sour cream, butter and salt,” says Dunn.
Healthy potato recipes
Looking for some ideas that add a little zip to your potatoes without all the calories? Try these recipes for healthy and tasty ways to enjoy your spuds.
- Walnut zucchini and potato pancakes: Potatoes can be a more filling option than the standard white-flour pancakes. And these have a savory flavor that doesn’t require syrup or sugar on top. Make these pancakes today.
- Low-fat broccoli and cheese baked potatoes: Don’t let the “low-fat” put you off. These are packed with flavor and nutrition without unhealthy fats or excess calories. Get the recipe.
- Loaded baked potato with black beans: This twist on baked potatoes provides extra protein and is a meal by itself. Perfect for hectic evenings when you don’t have much time to cook. Try these baked potatoes for dinner.
Potatoes aren’t bad for you
Potatoes aren’t the diet villain they’ve been made out to be. Skip the fries and enjoy your potatoes using healthy cooking methods. And be sure to include plenty of other fruits and veggies in your diet, too.