Potatoes are a starchy vegetable commonly consumed in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans ate an average of 49.4 pounds per person in 2019.
Eating too many potatoes, especially fried potatoes or those loaded with too much fat and salt, can cause side effects such as increased blood sugar and blood pressure, although potatoes are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Here’s the potential health risks of eating too many potatoes, how to prepare them so they’re healthier for you, and how to balance your diet with other nutrient-dense carbohydrates and vegetables.
Potatoes are a type of starchy vegetable, along with examples such as corn, jicama, and yams. Starchy vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals and can help you feel full and satisfied after eating.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults eat 4 to 6 cups of starchy vegetables per week, based on a 1,600 to 2,400 calorie diet. Those on higher-calorie diets may need more starchy vegetables, while those on lower-calorie diets may need less.
It’s important to note that starchy vegetables are only part of a balanced diet. A balanced diet also includes other vegetables such as leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Different food groups provide different nutrients and health benefits, so it’s important to eat a variety of healthy foods. A varied, nutrient-dense diet can help achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Listed are the calories, macronutrients and selected vitamin and mineral content in a 100 gram portion of baked white potatoes with skin.
- Calories: 92
- Carbohydrate: 21.1 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.1g
- Protein: 2.1g
- Fat: 0.15g
- Potassium: 544 milligrams (mg) (12% of the Daily Value or DV)
- Copper: 0.127 mg (14% DV)
- Vitamin C: 12.6 mg (14% DV)
- Vitamin B6: 0.211 mg (12% DV)
- Folate: 38 micrograms (mcg) (9.5% DV)
Potatoes are high in carbohydrates but low in protein and fat. They also provide fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. While it’s important to pay attention to portion sizes and toppings, carbohydrates like potatoes can be part of a nutritious diet.
White potatoes are a good source of important nutrients including potassium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and folic acid. These nutrients are essential for proper muscle contraction, heart, kidney and nerve function, immune system support, metabolism and DNA synthesis. Folate is particularly important for fetal development because it helps prevent neural tube defects.
Potatoes contain resistant starch, a type of starch that is not digested in the small intestine. Instead, it enters the large intestine, where it is fermented by gut bacteria to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids. Cooling potatoes after cooking increases the resistant starch content. Research shows that resistant starch has positive health effects, including gut health, metabolism and blood sugar regulation.
Like many foods, potatoes can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. However, eating too many potatoes can lead to some side effects.
Higher blood sugar
Potatoes are a carbohydrate-rich food that can increase blood sugar levels when consumed in large quantities, especially in people with diabetes or insulin resistance. Although eating a plate of scalloped potatoes sounds comforting and filling, it’s best to stick to the recommended intake for starchy vegetables in the Dietary Guidelines or the plate method outlined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The ADA’s plate method helps control blood sugar levels: Fill a quarter of the plate with carbohydrate or starchy vegetables such as potatoes, half the plate with non-starchy vegetables, and the remaining quarter with a protein source.
While it’s important to watch your carbohydrate intake, especially if you have diabetes, carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body. Too few carbohydrates can lead to low blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates impact blood sugar, so balance is key.
Eating too many potatoes, particularly fried or loaded with high-calorie toppings like butter, sour cream and bacon, can lead to weight gain. French fries, a popular side dish in the standard American diet, are particularly high in calories due to the amount of oil used in frying.
Fried foods may contain twice as many or more calories before frying. For example, a 3.5-ounce serving of plain baked white potatoes provides just 92 calories and little fat, while the same serving size of restaurant-style French fries provides 289 calories and 14 grams of fat. When it comes to overall health and weight loss or maintenance, health experts recommend avoiding or drastically limiting consumption of fried foods. Even if you switch to healthier cooking methods like baking, it’s important to pay attention to portion sizes and seasonings when consuming potatoes.
Higher blood pressure
Eating four or more servings of boiled, baked, mashed or fried potatoes per week is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, according to a review of three large U.S. studies.
Researchers believe that potatoes’ high carbohydrate content and effect on blood sugar may contribute to the development of high blood pressure. Other factors, such as the added salt and fat content of potato dishes, can also play a role. However, it is important to note that this study has some limitations, including the fact that participants self-reported their high blood pressure and no direct blood pressure measurements were taken.
Eating too many potatoes, or generally too much during a meal, can lead to digestive problems such as abdominal discomfort, bloating and bloating. This is especially true if the meal is full of fat and grease, like a plate full of French fries or a potato loaded with butter or cream. Another reason to keep the consumption of potatoes in moderation and to pay attention to how they are prepared and what they are eaten with.
In general, baking, roasting and steaming are the healthier ways to prepare potatoes. These methods avoid adding unhealthy fats and excess calories to potatoes.
- Baked potatoes are a classic side dish or main dish when topped with a protein source like ground beef or chopped chicken. To bake a potato, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45-60 minutes or until fork-tender. You can top the baked potato with nutritious toppings like a spoonful or two of salsa, plain yogurt, or chopped avocado. Add low-calorie flavor with peppers and herbs like parsley and chives.
- Roasted chopped potatoes are another healthy option. To roast potatoes, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and toss the potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can also season with other spices. Roast for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy.
- Steamed potatoes are a low-calorie and low-fat option. To steam potatoes, simply place them in a steamer basket over a pot of simmering water. Steam for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
- Make a potato salad to increase the resistant starch content. Replace the full-fat mayonnaise with light mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt and add spices, herbs and chopped celery or peas.
There is a wide variety of potatoes to choose from, but the sweet potato is a particularly nutrient-dense variety. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient for vision, immune function and cell growth.
Sweet potatoes also contain slightly more fiber than white potatoes. Fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and ensures a feeling of satiety during meals. A 3.5-ounce serving of baked sweet potato contains 3.3 g of fiber, while a white potato of the same size contains 2.1 g.
Add sweet potatoes to soups and stews to add a touch of natural sweetness. Try adding sweet potatoes to your favorite chili or bean recipe, or mixing roasted sweet potatoes with tomatoes to give tomato soup a special twist. Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted and mashed like other potatoes. For a healthier alternative to fried French fries, bake or air fry thin strips of sweet potatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Potatoes are a nutritious, starchy vegetable, but there are many other nutrient-dense alternatives you can eat to achieve a more balanced diet or get other nutrients. Here are a few ideas:
- Whole grains are a good source of fiber, complex carbohydrates and other nutrients such as iron and magnesium. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole grain bread and pasta.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas provide protein, fiber and other nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc. They can be eaten plain or added to soups, stews and salads.
- Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and various nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers and carrots.
Potatoes are a filling food, but eating too many potatoes can override other nutritious foods and lead to side effects. They should be eaten in moderation. Some nutritious alternatives to traditional white potatoes include sweet potatoes, legumes, whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. Eating a variety of healthy foods can ensure you get all the nutrients you need.