Potatoes are a starchy vegetable that’s commonly consumed in the United States. Americans ate an average of 49.4 pounds per person in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Eating too many potatoes, especially deep-fried or laden with added fat and salt, can cause side effects such as raised blood sugar and blood pressure, despite potatoes being a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Here are the potential health risks of eating too many potatoes, how to prepare them so they’re better for you, and how to balance your diet with other nutritious carbs and vegetables.
Potatoes are a type of starchy vegetable, along with examples like corn, jicama, and yams. Starchy vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they can help you feel full and satisfied after eating.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat 4 to 6 cups of starchy vegetables per week, which is based on a 1,600 to 2,400-calorie diet. Those on a higher-calorie diet may need more starchy vegetables, while those on a lower-calorie diet may need fewer.
It’s important to note that starchy vegetables are just one part of a balanced diet. A balanced diet includes other vegetables like leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Different food groups offer different nutrients and health benefits, so it’s essential to eat a variety of healthy foods. A varied, nutrient-rich diet can help achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Listed are the calories, macronutrients, and select vitamin and mineral content in a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of plain baked white potatoes with skin on.
- Calories: 92
- Carbohydrate: 21.1 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.1 g
- Protein: 2.1 g
- Fat: 0.15 g
- 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-carb, but low in protein and fat. They also provide fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals. Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy. While it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes and toppings, carbs 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 folate. These nutrients are essential for proper muscle contraction, heart, kidney, and nerve function, immune system support, metabolism, and DNA synthesis. Folate is especially important for fetal development, as it helps to prevent neural tube defects.
Potatoes contain resistant starch, a type of starch that is not digested in the small intestine. Instead, it travels to the large intestine, where it’s fermented by gut bacteria to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids. Cooling potatoes after they’re cooked increases the resistant starch content. Resistant starch has positive effects on health, including gut health, metabolism, and blood sugar regulation, according to research.
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 high-carb food, which can raise blood sugar levels if eaten in large amounts, especially in people with diabetes or insulin resistance. While loading up on a plate of scalloped potatoes may sound comforting and filling, it’s best to stick to the Dietary Guidelines’ recommended intake for starchy vegetables or the plate method as outlined by The American Diabetes Association (ADA). The ADA’s plate method helps manage blood sugar levels: fill a quarter of the plate with carb or starchy vegetables like potatoes, half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables, and the remaining quarter with a protein source.
While it’s important to be mindful of your carb intake, especially if you have diabetes, carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the body. Consuming too few carbs can lead to low blood sugar levels. Carbs impact blood sugars, so balance is key.
Eating too many potatoes that are especially deep-fried or loaded with high-calorie toppings like butter, sour cream, and bacon may lead to weight gain. French fries, a popular side dish in the standard American diet, are especially high in calories because of the amount of oil used in frying.
Fried foods can contain double or more calories before frying. For example, a 3.5-ounce serving of plain baked white potatoes offers just 92 calories and little fat, whereas the same portion size of restaurant-style french fries provides 289 calories and 14 grams of fat. When it comes to general health and weight loss or weight maintenance, health experts recommend avoiding or drastically limiting the intake of fried foods. Even when you switch to healthier cooking methods like baking, it’s important to watch portion sizes and condiments when eating potatoes.
Higher Blood Pressure
Eating four or more servings per week of boiled, baked, mashed, or fried potatoes 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 carb 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, may also play a role. However, it’s important to note that this study has some limitations, including that participants self-reported their hypertension and direct blood pressure measurements weren’t obtained.
Eating too many potatoes or too much in general during a meal can cause digestive issues such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gas. This is especially true if the meal is loaded with fat and grease like a plate full of french fries or a potato piled with butter or cream. Again, another reason to moderate potato intake and be mindful of how they are cooked and with what they are eaten.
In general, healthier ways to prepare potatoes include baking, roasting, and steaming. These methods avoid adding unhealthy fats and excess calories to the potatoes.
- Baked potatoes are a classic side dish or a main entree if 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 it’s fork-tender. You can top the baked potato with nutritious toppings like a spoonful or two of salsa, plain yogurt, or chopped avocado. Add more 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 may season with other spices as well. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or 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 boiling water. Steam for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
- Make a potato salad to increase the resistant starch content. Swap full-fat mayonnaise for light mayo or plain Greek yogurt and add seasonings, herbs, and chopped celery or peas.
There is a wide variety of potatoes to choose from, but sweet potatoes stand out as a particularly nutrient-packed variety. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient for vision, immune function, and cell growth.
Sweet potatoes also offer a little more fiber than white potatoes. Fiber is important for digestive health and adding satiety to meals. A 3.5-ounce (oz) serving of baked sweet potato has 3.3 g of fiber, while a white potato of the same size has 2.1 g.
Incorporate sweet potatoes in soups and stews to add a touch of natural sweetness. Try adding sweet potatoes to your favorite chili or bean recipe or blend roasted sweet potatoes with tomatoes for a twist on tomato soup. Like other potatoes, sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, and mashed. For a healthier alternative to deep-fried French fries, oven-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-packed alternatives that you can eat to create a more balanced diet or get different nutrients. Here are a few ideas:
- Whole grains are a good source of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and other nutrients like iron and magnesium. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-wheat bread and pasta.
- Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas, provide protein, fiber, and other nutrients like B vitamins and zinc. They can be eaten on their own or added to soups, stews, and salads.
- Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and various nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots.
Potatoes are a filling food, but eating too many potatoes can leave out 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. By eating a variety of healthy foods, you can ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients you need.