Potatoes tend to get overlooked as the whole, natural foods they are — and with all the attention given to ultra-processed forms like potato chips and french fries, it’s not hard to see why. “Carbohydrates, including those found in white potatoes, have been misunderstood and demonized,” says Jordan Hill, RD, a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching. As a result, potatoes are often treated as inherently unhealthy, but that’s just not the case.
Basic white or russet potatoes tend not to be held in the same regard as their orange cousins, even though the nutritional differences between white and sweet potatoes are negligible (white potatoes actually win out when it comes to potassium and protein). A lot of the healthfulness of potatoes comes down to how they’re prepared, and when they aren’t deep-fried in fatty oils or smothered in dense dairy spreads, white potatoes are a high-quality source of key nutrients and antioxidants. Despite their narrow role in fast food menus, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these tubers in all their fluffy, starchy glory — without sacrificing nutrition.
Another perk? Amid rising grocery prices, white potatoes are an affordable, accessible, and filling side for the whole family. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, potatoes remained under $1 per pound in April 2023.
If you need more convincing to add a five-pound bag to your next shopping list, here are seven health benefits white potatoes bring to the table.
1. They’re a Good Source of Fiber
One medium white potato, including its skin, contains more than 5 grams (g) of fiber, per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It may not sound like much, but that’s between 13 and 20 percent of the daily recommended intake (25 g for women and 38 g for men), “which can add up quickly when eaten in larger portions,” says Brookell White, RD, a nutrition data curator at MyFitnessPal. Fiber contributes to the maintenance of a healthy digestive system, regular bowel movements, regulated blood sugar levels, and increased satiety, Hill says. Just know that you won’t reap all those benefits if you break out the vegetable peeler to prepare them — about half the fiber in a potato is in the skin, research has found.
2. They’re a Gut-Loving Resistant Starch
Potatoes contain amylose, a resistant starch that, as its name implies, resists being broken down by digestion and, therefore, acts as an insoluble fiber and prebiotic that feeds good bacteria in the gut and helps move waste through the digestive tract, says Amy Lee, MD, the head of nutrition for Nucific. Resistant starches have also been shown, in a June 2019 Nutrition & Diabetes study, to decrease blood sugar response and improve insulin resistance and sensitivity, especially in those with diabetes. By proxy, those effects may prevent colon cancer and gallstone formation, lower cholesterol, and help a person maintain a healthy weight.
3. They Contain Loads of Protective Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a disease-preventing antioxidant that supports the immune system, protects cells from damage, promotes collagen synthesis, and reduces inflammation, according to the National Institutes of Health. And a white potato is a fantastic source of it, accounting for around 20 percent of the daily recommended value.
4. They’re Rich in Potassium
Potassium is the potato’s most abundant mineral — and its benefits are manifold. Potassium is an important electrolyte in the nervous system for maintaining cellular fluid levels — it is also involved in blood pressure control and may decrease the risk of stroke, research shows. One medium potato contains 867 milligrams (mg) of potassium, or about 25 to 30 percent of the daily recommended value for adults, which ranges from 2,600 to 3,400 milligrams (mg), per the NIH. Hill adds that potassium found in potatoes helps maintain heart and muscle function and supports proper hydration.
5. They Can Contribute to Weight Loss
Although potatoes’ popular fried forms are associated with weight gain, appropriately prepared spuds can have the opposite effect. One small study published in December 2022 in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that participants with uncontrolled glucose levels experienced lowered insulin resistance and weight loss after eight weeks on a potato-heavy diet.
Past research has also demonstrated that potatoes rank high in satiety, or the feeling of fullness you get after eating a food. Study subjects who consumed equal amounts of either a whole boiled potato, white rice, or white penne pasta on three consecutive days in random order reported feeling fuller, more satisfied, and wanting to eat less after consuming the potato compared with the rice or pasta. Because potatoes help fill you up more for the same amount of calories, they may help reduce total caloric intake, aiding weight loss.
6. Contrary to Popular Belief, They Don’t Pose a Risk to Heart Health
A review published in December 2020 in Systematic Reviews of 121 studies published between 1946 and July 2020 debunked the association of potatoes and cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. The review states that there was “no convincing evidence to suggest an association between intake of potatoes and risk of these diseases.” Dr. Lee adds that the vitamin B3 and potassium found in the skin of potatoes, conversely, “are great for heart health.”
7. They May Lower Risk of Chronic Disease
Further research is warranted to examine potatoes’ ability to lower risk of disease, but some research, such as a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2019, has found they are, at the very least, neutrally associated with chronic illness like hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, and colorectal cancer — when they’re mashed, boiled, or baked and not fried, that is.