The Power of Potatoes: Positively Nutritious

The Power of Potatoes: Positively Nutritious

America’s favorite vegetable is not only fat- and cholesterol-free, it is also high in vitamin C and potassium, and is an excellent source of fiber with the skin on.

In addition to being nutritious and delicious, potatoes are versatile. Potatoes can star at the center of the plate with beef, chicken or fish, or on their own as an easy vegetarian meal. Or, mash, bake potatoes for a tasty side dish. Leave the skins on your spuds for an extra nutritional boost since a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber are found in the peel.

Potatoes with skin are an excellent source of potassium, which is great for cardiovascular health. In fact, potatoes qualify for a health claim approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which states: Diets containing foods that are a good source of potassium and that are low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Just one potato offers 21 percent of the Daily Value for potassium. Potassium also helps retain calcium, which is important to build strong bones.

Vitamin C
For vitamin C, don''t just think oranges -- think potatoes! Potatoes are one of the leading sources of vitamin C. This vitamin is a potent antioxidant that helps stabilize free radicals, which may prevent cellular damage. Vitamin C also produces the collagen that helps hold bone tissue together.

One medium potato (5.3 ounces) with skin contains three grams, or 12 percent of the recommended daily intake for fiber. Preliminary studies show that fiber is beneficial for a healthy digestive system and may help reduce the risk of some cancers and possibly heart disease. According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University, consuming adequate fiber and water helps increase satiety between meals.

Antioxidants protect key cell components by neutralizing the damaging effects of “free radicals,” natural byproducts of cell metabolism. Free radicals travel through cells, disrupting the structure of other molecules, causing cellular damage. Such cell damage is believed to contribute to aging and various health problems.

  • Potatoes contain glutathione, an antioxidant that may possibly help protect against some cancers. Per serving, potatoes, along with avocadoes, asparagus, squash, okra, cauliflower, broccoli and raw tomatoes, have the highest glutathione content compared to other vegetables.
  • In a study comparing the overall antioxidant activity of potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, onions and broccoli, potatoes ranked second highest after broccoli.

Carbohydrates -- The Meat and Potatoes of Healthful Eating
Foods that contain complex carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. Although some advocates of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets recommend cutting back on or eliminating carbohydrate-containing foods such as potatoes, carrots and dried fruit, many nutrition experts believe that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are potentially unhealthy and are not beneficial for maintaining long-term weight loss. Because these diets tend to be high in saturated fats and low in fruits, vegetables and grains, they may increase the risk for heart disease and some cancers.

The Glycemic Index (GI)
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a system that assigns a number to foods, particularly carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and potatoes, based on their ability to increase blood glucose. The higher the GI, the more the food''s ability to raise blood glucose levels. Several studies have examined the effects of the GI on appetite, but to date there have been no well-controlled, long-term human studies to examine the effects of GI on body weight regulation. In addition, there is no conclusive evidence that eating high GI foods will lead to obesity.

The practicality of the GI of individual foods in diet planning is controversial because combinations of foods can alter the total GI of a meal. In the case of potatoes, for example, common toppings such as cheese, broccoli, butter, vinegar, or salsa may lower the combined GI.

Some of the foods that score high on the GI such as potatoes, also score high on the satiety index (SI). The higher the SI of a food, the more satisfied a person is between meals. More research is needed before health and nutrition professionals will recommend using the GI as a tool to help plan meals and snacks.

As always, it is recommended that you talk with your doctor or registered dietitian before starting any new diet or meal plan.

This fact sheet is sponsored by the United States Potato Board. The contents have been reviewed by the American Dietetic Association’s Fact Sheet Review Board. The appearance of this information does not constitute an endorsement by ADA of the sponsor''s products or services. This fact sheet was prepared for the general public. Questions regarding its content and use should be directed to a dietetics professional. This fact sheet expires 9/1/2005.