This blog was originally written as a guest blog for the Alliance for Potato Education & Research. You can see the post here.
Some foods have been in the human diet so long that the history of our survival is inseparable from theirs. The potato is one of them. Yet even with this shared legacy, some myths persist about the value of the potato in our diets. Letting the facts speak for themselves is the best way to put these myths to rest so we can all continue to enjoy America’s favorite vegetable!
MYTH #1. POTATOES HAVE NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE; THEY’RE NOTHING BUT CARBS.
This myth would disappear if fresh potatoes were sold with a Nutrition Facts panel like those found on all packaged foods. The Nutrition Facts panel to the right shows what one would look like for one medium baked potato, flesh and skin, without salt.
The Nutrition Facts panel [i] shows that a medium baked potato is an excellent source of potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6; plus, it’s a good source of fiber, folate, and the essential minerals phosphorus and magnesium. Add to that the 4 grams of protein and you have a nutrition powerhouse!
These Nutrition Facts provide plenty of evidence that there is no truth to the myth that potatoes are “nothing but carbs,” but there’s more. Most of the carbohydrate found in potatoes is the complex type, so it delivers a steady source of energy to our bodies. And emerging research shows that some of the carbohydrate in potatoes is a type called “resistant starch,” which may help regulate blood glucose levels and favorably alter bacteria in the large intestines, among other health benefits.
MYTH #2. SWEET POTATOES ARE THE ONLY NUTRITIOUS POTATOES DUE TO THEIR BRIGHT ORANGE COLOR.
Color is an easy way to identify nutrient-rich vegetables, but that doesn’t mean the white, tan, and brown ones are not as good. Potatoes, onions, and cauliflower are just a few of the “white” vegetables that provide us with key nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. But white vegetables can be overlooked if we only focus on the dark green and red and orange vegetable subgroups named in USDA’s MyPlate. White vegetables are also an important source of many phytonutrients that do not yet appear in food composition tables, but are believed to have significant health benefits, such as the colorless flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol found in potatoes.
All types of potatoes can make big nutritional contributions to the diet, so don’t limit yourself to any one type or color. Enjoy them all as part of your healthy diet!
MYTH #3. THE SKIN IS THE ONLY NUTRITIOUS PART OF A POTATO.
There are essential nutrients in every part of the potato—flesh and skin—so enjoy the whole vegetable to get the best nutritional value. The nutrients aren’t just skin deep; potatoes provide key nutrients, including fiber and potassium, whether eaten with or without the skin. A medium baked potato with skin contains 920 mg potassium and 3.6 g fiber, and without skin, 676 mg potassium and 2.6 g fiber. You can prepare potatoes peeled or unpeeled to increase your culinary options in dishes like potato salad or mashed potatoes.
MYTH #4. ONLY FRESH POTATOES ARE NUTRITIOUS; OTHER VARIETIES ARE TOO PROCESSED.
All of the potatoes we enjoy are processed to some degree before we eat them because even cooking is a type of processing. Whether you start with fresh potatoes or one of the other more convenient forms available, they all provide us with key nutrients, like fiber and potassium. Food companies that freeze or process potatoes use similar methods we would use if preparing them that way at home, just on a larger scale. A big advantage to having all these different types of potatoes is that it makes it easier to eat them more often. As a result, potatoes are among the best nutritional values in the produce aisle or frozen vegetable case.
MYTH #5. FRENCH FRIES ARE TOO HIGH IN FAT TO BE PART OF A HEALTHY DIET.
The good news about French fries is that leading manufacturers and most restaurant operators are now cooking them in oil that is trans-fat free and a source of beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Industry reports also show that new frying techniques can reduce fat absorption by as much as 50% compared to traditional frying methods. And market leaders are going the extra step to provide consumers with even more choices, like the new SATISFRIES™ at Burger King that have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories per serving.
We’ve just scratched the surface of potato myths and will be sharing more myth-busting facts about potatoes in a future post!
Disclosure Statement: Robyn Flipse was compensated by the Alliance for Potato Research & Education for her services as a guest blogger, but all opinions expressed here are her own.
[i] Nutrition Facts panel information calculated from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26, 2013. Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt (11674).