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Do potatoes make you fat?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on March 20, 2013

potato

Do potatoes make you fat?

Well, they certainly can . . . the same way any food can: if you eat too much of it, you get fat.

It’s true of potatoes just as it’s true of cupcakes, pizza, and any other food—healthy or unhealthy—that you could name.

OK, I admit this article’s headline is a tease. I wrote it because I wanted you to read it so I could have the chance to persuade you that potatoes are not bad carbs, not inherently fattening, not a despicable vegetable that has to be shunned by dieters and should be eliminated from school lunches.

Not long ago I talked to a very intelligent professional woman who is close to 60 but looks more like 45. She has an excellent figure and is very fit. Her diet (by which I mean “daily food plan”) is healthy and sensible.

But during our conversation, she said she avoids unhealthy carbs like “white sugar, white flour, white potatoes . . .”

The humble spud does have white flesh, but it deserves so much more respect than to be categorized with refined carbs that have been stripped of much of their nutritional value.

In fact, when I’m restricting calories for weight loss, the ’tater is one of my best friends.

Why I love potatoes

Why do I love the spud? A smallish potato (about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces) can be ready to eat in just a few minutes. Preparing it takes about 30 seconds: scrub with vegetable brush, pierce with knife, wrap wet potato in paper towel, nuke in microwave.

Served with cottage cheese and/or some grilled chicken or lean beef and a few tablespoons of salsa, it makes a highly nutritious, tasty, and very filling lunch or dinner. Key word is filling: potatoes provide high satiety, meaning they quell your hunger for a long time.

That small potato helps you feel full much, much longer than a half cup of brown rice or 1.5 slices of whole-wheat bread or just about any other similar portion of another healthy carb.

Now let’s talk about nutrition. Did you realize that the potato compares very favorably with brown rice, which everyone knows is a nutritional winner?

Let’s look at 100 grams of baked potato with skin, prepared without salt, and 100 grams (about half a cup) of cooked brown rice. All values come from the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Nutritional factor per 100 grams potato brown rice, long grain
calories 93 111
protein 2.5 grams 2.6 grams
carbohydrate 21 grams 23 grams
fat .13 grams .9 grams
fiber 2.2 grams 1.8 grams
potassium 535 milligrams 43 milligrams
vitamin C 9.6 milligrams 0 milligrams

About the only advantage brown rice has is its higher levels of B vitamins, and even here the potato has quite respectable amounts.

A nutritional star

Note that the potato is one of the best sources of potassium around. Many Americans are deficient in this all-star nutrient, which is associated with reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility.

An adequate adult daily intake of potassium is 4,700 milligrams—an amount that’s tough to get unless you eat lots of bananas, milk, citrus fruits, green vegetables, and other healthy stuff.

And none of the items in the list above contain as much potassium in a 100-gram serving as my pal the potato (535 mg per 100-gram portion).

What about the glycemic index? Maybe you’re concerned about eating baked potatoes because you fear they are “too high” on the glycemic index—a measure of how quickly a food influences the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood.

The leading online database for glycemic index measurements indicates that 150 grams of baked potato with skin have a GI of 69; 150 grams of brown rice have a GI of 66. Both are thus considered “medium” on the GI scale.

More important, if you’re concerned about the glycemic index, you should know that the entire meal is what determines your body’s blood-sugar response, not each individual food item.

So when you eat that potato with protein and fat (as when you combine it with cottage cheese or lean protein plus a salad with an oil-based dressing), the meal has a much lower GI than the potato (or any starch) would have by itself.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that the potato is your friend too. Bake it rather than fry it, and eat the skin. See if you don’t find it a filling and tasty alternate to other starches.

Flickr photo by foodiesathome.com

Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
I'm Mary Weaver, your weight-loss and body-transformation coach. My specialty is helping women get in the best shape of their lives with satisfying diet plans, effective fat-burning exercise, and loads of encouragement and motivation. Check me out on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Todd Vastine March 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

You should never recommend using a microwave. Microwaves kill all nutrion in food.

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Suzan St Maur
Twitter:
March 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

That’s such good news – I knew that potatoes were not “Enemy Of The People #1″ but that they’re actually healthy, is great.

There’s nothing I love more than a Salade Nicoise made from sweet little new potatoes (boiled or steamed with the skins on), freshly chopped chive, parsley, arugula, chervil, dill and/or whatever herbs you have handy, maybe some chopped bell peppers, cucumber, cooked green beans, olives, and some flaked tuna and a chopped hard-boiled egg or two (for protein!), freshly milled pepper and a little sea salt, and a good quality olive oil or canola, vinegar and dijon mustard dressing.

Would this count as a healthy meal, too?
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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S.
Twitter:
March 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Now I’m salivating . . . and yes, that would be a fabulous meal!

Tuna and eggs for protein, veggies, healthy oil—A+
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Contemplative FItness March 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

“More important, if you’re concerned about the glycemic index, you should know that the entire meal is what determines your body’s blood-sugar response, not each individual food item”

So few people realize or understand this, it KILLS me.

Oh, and uhm, Todd from up above, where’s your data…?
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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S.
Twitter:
March 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Exactly. I just can’t get worked up about the glycemic index, presuming people are eating well-rounded meals.

Not too worried about the microwave either.

Thanks, Roy.
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Amanda March 21, 2013 at 7:11 am

Regarding the comment about microwaves – I would then wonder why all veggies prepared in them are very full of flavour when compared to those prepared on the hob – just saying.

I really agree with moving away from views that say you can’t eat that or realistically calling how you eat a diet. The exception to excluding foods is for those with genuine health conditions not perceived ones.

I always tell people who say to me can you eat that? (I am on a journey to lose weight and be healthier), I can eat anything, its about balance. Imagine no cake again ever or chocolate? That standpoint alone is enough to stop most people even starting to get a balance in their eating habits plus it drives you to overeat the forbidden food and then spend hours annoyed at how you failed.

If you do overeat a particular thing such as chocolate, I would say its about giving yourself a break from that food and giving yourself something else that would give you the same ‘nice’ feeling for example a healthy hot chocolate drink – enoughto give you a ‘hit’ but so you don’t secretly eat a family sized bar of chocolate. when you have broken the craving, about a month or two, let yourself have a bit of chocolate now and again. If you have given yourself enough of a break you won’t want to overeat it because if you do you will probably make yourself feel quite sick. A word of caution, in terms of carbs from cake etc I don’t support that the break means to stop carbs altogether though but just have another form of carbs.

We are all hopefully here a long time and being healthy and fit shouldn’t be something you see as a chore or a terrible punishment while other people seem to go off and eat what they like – don’t starve yourself or deprive yourself either That’s just daft :-)

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S.
Twitter:
March 21, 2013 at 8:44 am

Love what you say, Amanda—there are no forbidden foods!

And you’re absolutely right: it’s a privilege, not deprivation, to lead a healthy life.
:D
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Alison June 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

I love spuds, I would go without sweets, cakes and alcohol but not my spuds. I hate microwaved food though and do not own one, bake the potatoes in the oven or mash them with olive oil instead of butter and milk or some low fat yoghurt.

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Carmen Z. August 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Thank you for coming to the defense of the helpless spud! Many people think they need to avoid foods like white potatoes in order to burn belly-fat. Potatoes do have a higher glycemic index (meaning they can spike insulin and potentially take your body out of fat-burning mode) but I agree with what you said: it’s all about what other foods you combine the ‘tater with that makes the difference. Potatoes, rice and ice cream…not a good combo but potatoes and beef or fish…now it’s balanced! Believe it or not, potatoes can actually be one of the best foods to eat for long term fat-loss. Thanks for great info and helping dispel the myth that they are bad to eat!
Carmen Z. recently posted..Potatoes Can Greatly Improve Your Fat Loss PlansMy Profile

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