Do potatoes make you fat?

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


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

Google Analytics Alternative