Are Potatoes Healthy? Here's the Science
And a healthy mashed potatoes recipe.
From french fries to vodka, potatoes are like the MVP of versatile foods. That said, there’s a lot of misinformation swirling around about spuds. “Wait, aren’t they super high in carbs?” “White potatoes are bad for blood sugar!” “Healthy mashed potatoes simply do not exist.”
Here's the potato fact and fiction you need to know and a healthy mashed potatoes recipe you should consider adding to your healthy meal plan this week.
The Health Benefits of Potatoes
You may have heard about the research that indicates that potatoes help lower blood pressure. In the small study, 18 overweight or obese people with high blood pressure downed six to eight purple potatoes, each about the size of a golf ball (with skins, microwaved without oil) twice daily for a month. The spud eaters' average diastolic blood pressures dropped by 4.3 percent and the systolic pressure decreased by 3.5 percent, and none of the volunteers gained weight.
The news isn't too surprising because other studies have identified natural substances in potatoes that act similar to those in blood pressure medications, and potatoes are a great source of potassium, a nutrient known to keep blood pressure under control. The study used purple potatoes because the pigment that gives them their pretty hue is rich in antioxidants (just like these versatile superfoods).
There's more—besides providing fiber, vitamin C and B vitamins, once you cook and then cool them, potatoes become loaded with resistant starch, a unique kind of carbohydrate—resistant starch—that's been shown to naturally rev up your body's fat-burning furnace. Like fiber, you can't digest or absorb this resistant starch, so your body ferments it when it reaches the large intestine, which triggers your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
The Downsides of Potatoes
Despite its accolades, another Harvard study made big headlines when scientists found that potatoes—in any form—were linked to weight gain. Scientists tracked the diet and lifestyle choices of more than 120,000 participants for at least 12 years. They found that over four-year spans, those who ate an extra serving of French fries daily gained an average of 3.4 pounds, those who munched an extra serving of potato chips daily gained an average of 1.7 pounds, and an additional serving of potatoes prepared in any form gained an average of 1.3 pounds. (Related: Why Does My Workout Cause Weight Gain?)
Ok, so are potatoes healthy? The benefits seem to outweigh the bad, in terms of the health qualities of potatoes. But like most things in life, moderation is key. The trick is to prepare them healthfully and watch your portion size.
Healthy Ways to Cook Potatoes
It's not so much about whether potatoes are healthy—it's how you prepare them and how much you eat. Stick to about a half-cup (the size of half of a tennis ball) prepared in healthy ways:
- Slice or cube them then roast or grill in foil brushed with extra virgin olive oil and season with rosemary
- Microwave or broil and drizzle with pesto, from basil to roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato or artichoke
- Cube and saute with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions and bell peppers
- Bake and garnish with healthy toppings like plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and fresh or dried herbs, a ladle of vegetarian chili, feta cheese, or chunky marinara sauce
- Cook, chill and toss with a simple balsamic vinaigrette or a mixture of Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, red wine vinegar and paprika
Or try this DIY healthy mashed potato recipe.
Healthy Mashed Potatoes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
- 8 to 10 garlic cloves
- 2 pounds potatoes, quartered
- 1/3 cup light sour cream (or Greek yogurt or vegan sour cream like Good Karma Plant-Based Sour Cream)
- 1/4 cup milk (or non-dairy substitute, such as oat milk)
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano, rosemary, or thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- To roast garlic, wrap unpeeled cloves in foil. Bake in a 400° F oven 25 to 35 minutes or until cloves feel soft when pressed. When cool enough to handle, squeeze garlic from peels into a small bowl.
- Meanwhile, put potatoes in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes; return to saucepan.
- Mash potatoes and softened garlic with a potato masher or an electric mixer on low speed. Add sour cream; milk; oregano, rosemary, or thyme; salt; and black pepper. Beat until light and fluffy.
Nutrition facts per 2/3-cup serving: 156 calories, 4g protein, 34g carbohydrate, 1g fat (1g saturated), 2g fiber
Tips for Making Healthy Mashed Potatoes
These four healthy mashed potato recipe all-stars are key to scoring the most flavorful spud side dish.
- "Roasted garlic adds richness without fat," says Jennifer Iserloh, author of Secrets of a Skinny Chef, who created this healthy mashed potato recipe.
- Low-fat sour cream gives these healthy mashed potatoes a velvety consistency and a punch of flavor. (You could also try Greek yogurt if you prefer.)
- Try Yukon Golds, which have a naturally buttery taste that's just right in mashed potatoes.
- Fresh herbs are one of Iserloh's healthy staples because they boost flavor but not calories.
Steer clear of these common missteps—they almost guarantee mushy potatoes.
- Using hot water. Start potatoes in cold water, not warm, and then bring to a boil.
- Adding cold ingredients. Let milk and sour cream reach room temperature before combining with hot potatoes.
- Overmixing. Use an electric mixer, not a food processor; stop as soon as milk and sour cream are incorporated.