Potatoes are edible tubers, available worldwide and all year long. They are relatively cheap to grow, rich in nutrients, and they can make a delicious treat.
The humble potato has fallen in popularity in recent years, due to the interest in low-carb foods.
However, the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals it provides can help ward off disease and benefit human health.
Potatoes were first domesticated in the Andes in South America up to 10,000 years ago. Spanish explorers introduced them to Europe in the early 16th century.
They are now the biggest vegetable crop in the United States (U.S.), where the average person eats 55 pounds, or 35 kilograms (kg) of potatoes every year. They are an important staple food in many countries around the world.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Fast facts on potatoes:
Here are some key points about potatoes. More detail is in the main article.
A high intake of fruits and vegetables can benefit health and reduce the risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Potatoes contain important nutrients, even when cooked, that can benefit human health in various ways.
Here we look at 10 ways in which the potato might contribute to a healthful lifestyle, including preventing osteoporosis, maintaining heart health, and reducing the risk of infection.
1) Bone health
Iron and zinc play crucial roles in the production and maturation of collagen.
Phosphorus and calcium are both important in bone structure, but it is essential to balance the two minerals for proper bone mineralization. Too much phosphorus and too little calcium result in bone loss and contribute to osteoporosis.
2) Blood pressure
A low sodium intake is essential for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, but increasing potassium intake may be just as important. Potassium encourages vasodilation, or the widening of the blood vessels.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), fewer than 2 percent of American adults meet the daily 4,700-milligram recommendation.
Potassium, calcium, and magnesium are all present in the potato. These have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally.
3) Heart health
The potato’s fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support heart health.
Potatoes contain significant amounts of fiber. Fiber helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
Research based on the NHANES has linked a higher intake of potassium and a lower intake of sodium to a reduced risk of all-cause mortality and heart disease.
Choline is an important and versatile nutrient that is present in potatoes. It helps with muscle movement, mood, learning, and memory.
It also assists in:
- maintaining the structure of cellular membranes
- transmitting nerve impulses
- the absorption of fat
- early brain development
One large potato contains 57 mg of choline. Adult males need 550 mg, and females 425 mg a day.
Fiber intake from fruits and vegetables like potatoes are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Vitamin C and quercetin also function as antioxidants, protecting cells against damage from free radicals.
6) Digestion and regularity
The fiber content in potatoes helps prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
7) Weight management and satiety
Dietary fibers are commonly recognized as important factors in weight management and weight loss.
They act as “bulking agents” in the digestive system. They increase satiety and reduce appetite, so a person feels fuller for longer and is less likely to consume more calories.
Potatoes are a great source of vitamin B6. This plays a vital role in energy metabolism, by breaking down carbohydrates and proteins into glucose and amino acids. These smaller compounds are more easily utilized for energy within the body.
Collagen is the skin’s support system. Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to help prevent damage caused by the sun, pollution, and smoke. Vitamin C also helps collagen smooth wrinkles and improve overall skin texture.
Research has found that vitamin C may help reduce the severity and duration of a cold. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C.
How healthful a potato is in the diet depends to some extent on what is added or how it is cooked. Oil, sour cream, and butter all add calories, but the plain potato itself is relatively low in calories.
It also provides important nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, and various minerals.
A 100-gram (g) or 3.5- ounce serving is a little more than half of a medium size potato. This much white potato, baked with skin, contains:
- 94 calories
- 0.15 grams of fat
- 0 grams of cholesterol
- 21.08 grams of carbohydrate
- 2.1 grams of dietary fiber
- 2.10 grams of protein
- 10 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.64 mg of iron
- 27 mg of magnesium
- 75 mg of phosphorus
- 544 mg of potassium
- 12.6 mg of vitamin C
- 0.211 mg of vitamin B6
- 38 micrograms (mcg) of folate
Potatoes also provide niacin, choline, and zinc. Different varieties provide slightly different nutrients.
Sodium: Whole, unprocessed potatoes contain very little sodium, only 10 mg per 100 g (3.5 ounces), or less than 1 percent of the suggested daily limit. However, this is not true of processed potato products, such as French fries and potato chips.
Alpha-lipoic acid: Potatoes also contain a compound known as alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which helps the body to convert glucose into energy.
Some evidence suggests that alpha-lipoic acid can help control blood glucose levels, improve vasodilation, protect against retinopathy in diabetic patients, and preserve brain and nerve tissue.
Quercetin: Quercetin, a flavonoid found in potato skin, appears to have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect that protects the body’s cells from damage by free radicals.
Flavonoids are a kind of phytonutrient, organic compounds that are believed to help protect against disease.
Antioxidants: Potatoes contain vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants may help prevent cell damage and cancer and promote healthy digestion and cardiovascular functions.
Fiber: The fiber in potatoes helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and circulation.
According to the USDA, over half of all potatoes in the U.S. are sold for making French fries.
However, French fries are not the only or best option.
There are many cheap and easy ways to incorporate potatoes into a healthful diet.
There are many types of potato to choose from, not including sweet potatoes. There are white, red, yellow, and blue varieties, and within each color, a range of options.
Here are some ideas:
- Baking: Use starchy potatoes, such as russets.
- Roasting, mashing, or baking: Use all-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon gold.
- Potato salad: Waxy potatoes, such as red, new, or fingerling potatoes, keep their shape better.
Select potatoes that are firm, un-bruised, and relatively smooth and round. Avoid any that show signs of decay, including wet or dry rot, any roots or potatoes with a greenish hue.
It is best to buy potatoes that are unpackaged and unwashed, to avoid bacterial buildup. Washing potatoes early removes the protective coating from the skins.
Potatoes should be stored between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or between 7 and 10 degrees Celsius, in a dark, dry environment, such as a cellar or pantry.
Exposure to sunlight can lead to the formation of solanine, which causes potatoes to turn green. It is toxic. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator causes their starch content to be converted to sugar. This can give an unpleasant flavor.
Potatoes should not be stored around onions because both vegetables emit natural gases that cause the other to decay.
Fully grown potatoes have a shelf life of up to 2 months, but spoiled potatoes can affect the other potatoes around them. Remove rotten potatoes to prevent the rest from spoiling.
Preparing and cooking potatoes
The vitamin, mineral, and fiber content of potato is mostly in the skin,so it is best to eat them with the skin left on.
Scrub potatoes under running water and remove any bruises or deep eyes with a paring knife. Use a stainless steel knife instead of carbon steel in order to prevent the metal from reacting with the phytochemicals in the vegetable, as this may cause discoloration.
Jacket potatoes, baked in their skins, are a healthy and simple meal. Serve with salad and topped with tuna, cheese, baked beans, or another favorite. Cooking and eating the skins helps preserve the nutrients.
Potatoes can be boiled with mint and sprinkled with black pepper, or steamed to preserve more of the water-soluble vitamins.
To make a healthy potato salad, boil baby new potatoes leave to cool, then add freshly chopped garlic and mint, and olive oil.
Try some of these healthy and delicious recipes using potatoes:
Homemade BBQ chips
Roasted rainbow potatoes
Quick and easy Mexican minestrone
Fire-roasted rosemary vegetable soup
The potato plant, along with the tomato and eggplant, belongs to the nightshade family. Some of these plants are poisonous, and the potato was previously thought to be inedible. The shoots and leaves of potatoes are toxic and should not be eaten.
Solanine: Potatoes that are sprouting or have green discoloration are likely to contain solanine, a toxic compound that has been found to cause circulatory and respiratory problems, as well as headaches, muscle cramps, and diarrhea. If a firm potato has sprouted or has formed “eyes,” removing all sprouts is enough. However, if the potato has shrunken or has a green hue, it should not be eaten.
Acrylamide: Studies have shown that potatoes, when cooked above 248 Fahrenheit, or 120 degrees Celsius, produce a chemical known as acrylamide. This compound is found in plastics, glues, dyes, and cigarette smoke. It has been linked to the development of several cancers. Acrylamide has neurotoxic properties, and it may have a negative impact on genes and reproductive health.
Potato chips, French fries, and processed potato products are likely to be high in acrylamides, fat and sodium. Avoiding them can help reduce acrylamide exposure.
Diabetes and obesity: Potatoes, even plain, contain high levels of simple carbohydrates. This may not be beneficial for people with diabetes or obesity when eaten in excess. Like all foods, potatoes should be eaten in moderation and as a source of carbs, like rice or pasta, rather than as a vegetable. Non-starchy vegetables should be eaten alongside potatoes for a balanced intake. Legumes, on the other hand, have been shown to reduce diabetes risk.
Beta-blockers: This is a type of medication commonly prescribed for heart disease. It can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High-potassium foods like potatoes should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Potassium: High levels of potassium in the body can pose a serious risk to those with kidney damage or kidneys that are not fully functional. Damaged kidneys may be unable to filter excess potassium from the blood, and this can be fatal.
Fertilizers: Potatoes grown in heavily fertilized soil may contain high levels of heavy metal contamination. Anyone who is concerned about this can grow their own potatoes, if they have a garden, or buy organic varieties.
A healthful, balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables can enhance wellbeing and help prevent health problems. It is better to opt for a range of foods rather than focusing on a single item.