Back in the day, a meal of meat and potatoes was something to look forward to. Then came the diet revolution and, all of a sudden, carbohydrate-rich potatoes were evil. Potatoes and other carbs such as rice and pasta are not bad for you all by themselves. Adding fat to them, eating too many of them and pretending French fries count as a vegetable is the cause of weight gain. Take away the sour cream and bacon bits and you’ll find enough nutrition in potatoes to satisfy your body without threatening your waistline.
Your body needs carbohydrates. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, carbohydrates provide the fuel your body needs to keep your organs functioning and to move around and be active. Your body turns carbohydrates into sugars. Starchy carbs turn into sugar faster than complex carbohydrates and other foods, like proteins, causing an insulin spike. This plays a role in weight gain. However, if you eat a balanced diet that includes lean proteins, essential fatty acids, whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits and get plenty of rest and exercise, an occasional potato will not suddenly make you fat.
White potatoes are not empty calories. The Baylor College of Medicine state that a 7-ounce potato -- about baking size -- gives you half the vitamin B6 and vitamin C you need for the whole day. The potato also has potassium, and baked or steamed with the skin on, provides 5 grams of fiber, 220 calories and no fat. Top one with non-fat plain yogurt, chopped green onions and sesame seeds for a skinny, hearty side dish that balances carbs with protein.
Sweet potatoes have a golden brown skin and a deep, pumpkin-colored interior. They are sweeter than white potatoes, and according to Ohio State University Extension’s Family Nutrition program, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, beta-carotene and vitamin C, and low in sodium. They have no fat or cholesterol. How you cook them makes a difference though, and deep-fried sweet potato fries are no better than regular french fries as far as calorie and fat content.
Red, yellow and purple potatoes are no different from white ones as far as basic calories and fiber, but those pretty colors are not just for show. The deeper colors mean the potato contains more antioxidants, which are useful in scouring free radicals from your body. Free radicals can destroy the structure of your cells, affect your DNA and even cause cells to die. Certain cancers and complications of aging are linked to free radicals, so the more antioxidants you consume, the better.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates
- GoAskAlice.com: Does Carbohydrate Become Body Fat?
- Baylor College of Medicine: How Nutritious Are Potatoes?
- Ohio State University Extension: Nutrition and You - Sweet Potatoes
- Washington State University: Nutrition Study May Give Potato New Respect
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Colorful Potatoes Offer Nutrition, Variety