It is true that potatoes are high in carbohydrates. If you are concerned about carbs, you can still include potatoes in your healthy diet.
A Starch or a Vegetable?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the potato is a starchy vegetable. This distinction comes from its status as a tuber, which is the name given to an enlarged underground stem of a plant. A tuber is a plant's storage site for starch—the complex form of carbohydrate. This makes the potato higher in carbohydrate, and therefore calories, than the average vegetable.
The Benefits of a Vegetable
The potato is a good source of fiber (with the skin on), vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, and niacin (vitamin B3). Like most vegetables, this tuber contains no fat. However, when it's fried or smothered in butter, sour cream, or similar toppings, the calories and fat really add up. For example, note the nutrient profile of French fries:
Source: Bowes & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used
Building a Better Baked Potato
Mashed potatoes, hash browns, potato salad, French fries, potato pancakes, scalloped potatoes… What do these potato preparations have in common? Their high fat content. There are many ways to prepare potatoes, but the baked potato is the healthiest. However, many people load up a baked potato with fatty toppings like sour cream, butter, bacon, and cheese, which change this way of eating a potato from healthy to unhealthy. It can be a side dish or, with the right toppings, can stand alone as a meal.
Try some of these toppings to make your baked potato a bit healthier:
Potatoes can be baked quickly in the microwave. Poke a few holes in the skin with a fork and cook for about 6-8 minutes per potato. Turn potatoes once during cooking. When baking potatoes in the oven, poke a few holes in them, but do not wrap them in aluminum foil. Foil seals in moisture resulting in a texture that is pasty instead of dry and fluffy. A potato can take an hour or more to cook thoroughly. Once baking is complete, though, the potato can be wrapped in foil to hold its warmth.
One Potato, Two Potato…
Potatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Here is a guide to help decide which spud to buy and how best to prepare it.
Selecting and Storing Your Spuds
Here are some tips for handling potatoes:
Idaho Potato Commission
Dietitians of Canada
Bowes & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 1998.
Idaho Potato Commission website. Available at: http://www.idahopotatoes.org. Accessed May 21, 2009.
Mueller's spaghetti. Foodpicker.org website. Available at: http://foodpicker.org/categories/pasta/foodizer.asp?paid=432. Accessed March 22, 2011.
Potatoes, white, flesh and skin, baked. Foodpicker.org website. Available at: http://foodpicker.org/categories/potatoes/foodizer.asp?poid=130. Accessed March 22, 2011.
Squash, summer zucchini with skin, raw. Foodpicker.org website. Available at: http://foodpicker.org/categories/vegetables/foodizer.asp?vid=136. Accessed March 22, 2011.
United States Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. Accessed June 24, 2011.
Last reviewed March 2011 by Brian Randall, MD