The Skinny on the Root Vegetable: Potato

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Low-carb diets are all the rage, and the popular root vegetable, potatoes, do not typically appear on the menu. You probably guessed that a french fry diet isn’t the healthiest for you. 

Therefore, you may have questioned, “Does potato make you fat?” After all, it is a plant-based food that’s naturally low in cholesterol. As it turns out, this root vegetable has multiple health benefits, but some downsides, too — here’s the skinny. 

The Potato — Nutrition Facts 

Why does the potato enjoy a less-than-savory reputation among diet-conscious folks? After all, it’s a naturally vegan dish, at least before you top it with cheese, sour cream or butter. Spuds don’t contain any artery-clogging cholesterol, either. 

Part of the reason might lie with this plant’s family members. Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. These plants contain nitrogen alkaloids that some people believe trigger increased symptoms in those with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s. Animal studies indicate that these foods may increase intestinal permeability, creating “leaky gut,” although further research is necessary before scientists feel secure making recommendations for human diets. 

Another explanation is the high glycemic index of many potato varieties. Ordinary table sugar has a glycemic index of only 59 — many spuds weigh-in between 80 and 90. Blood sugar spikes can lead to fluctuating hunger levels and weight gain, in turn increasing your risk of heart disease or diabetes. People who run an elevated risk of developing Type 2 diabetes may wish to reduce their potato intake. 

The glycemic impact may explain why excessive potato consumption can contribute to heart disease despite being a plant-based food. The HUNT study investigated boiled potato consumption among Norwegian participants and found a slight increase in cardiovascular risk factors among those who indulged in the food every day. 

Are Potatoes Terrible, Then?

Not by a long shot. This root vegetable does offer various nutritional benefits. For example, each spud contains 30% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C. They have 15% of your RDA of potassium, a necessary electrolyte for keeping your sodium levels in check and heart working as intended. They also have 10% of your vitamin B6, critical for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. 

Potatoes are also a rich form of carbohydrates, perhaps explaining why they are the second-most common food eaten in the United States. Carbohydrates provide readily available energy. Even if you follow a low-carb meal plan, you need some intake of this macronutrient, as a deficiency will cause headaches, fatigue, weakness and an inability to concentrate. 

Preparation Matters 

How you prepare your potatoes matters. You probably know that french fries and chips aren’t the healthiest ways to eat potatoes. Even when they’re cooked in vegetable oils, excess consumption can throw off the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your body, particularly if you don’t eat much fish, flax or chia seeds. 

Baking is always a wise choice as it adds no extra oils or calories. If you enjoy crispy skin, though, brush on a light coat of olive oil and Himalayan salt before popping your spud in the oven. 

What about mashed? In general, the butter and heavy cream many locations use account for the extra fat and calories. You can make a healthier alternative by using nonfat milk, chicken broth or nonfat Greek yogurt to enhance the flavor and texture. 

Varieties and Alternatives to Consider 

The type of potato you select also affects the total nutrition you get from your meal. Consider the following varieties when you hit the grocer’s or farmer’s market:

  • Red: In general, these are the most nutrient-rich spuds you can find. They contain quercetin, a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. They also possess a whopping 1,670 milligrams of potassium to help flush excess salt from your system. 
  • Sweet: Sweet potatoes are one of your best sources of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. This nutrient helps preserve your eyesight. They also possess manganese, which aids in the production of blood-clotting factors and sex hormones. 
  • Purple: Purple potatoes might look unusual, but there’s a good reason you should whip them out this Halloween — or anytime. They’re rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in deep red, blue and purple foods. They have four times the antioxidant content of a russet. 
  • Russet: However, russet potatoes also have their merits. These spuds go best with the stereotypical steak-and-potato dinner, as they’re ideal for baking. They also have some of the highest-fiber content of all potatoes. 
  • White: White potatoes are a rich vegan protein source. They exceed the RDA for the amino acids lysine, methionine, threonine and tryptophan. They are the highest of all the spuds on the glycemic index, though. 

Does Potato Make You Fat? This Root Vegetable Has Many Benefits 

The bottom line: When eaten in moderation, potatoes alone will not make you fat. This root vegetable has multiple health benefits and deserves a place — if not necessarily a starring role — in your balanced meal plan. 

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