Some nutrition advice is like nails on a chalkboard for me. “Don’t eat anything white” is high on that list. It’s shorthand for “don’t eat bread, pasta, and potatoes” and somehow implies that not only are those foods unhealthy but they’re also off-limits if you’re trying to lose weight.
But the long-maligned spud is making a comeback. WW (formerly Weight Watchers) now counts potatoes as a ZeroPoints food on one of its plans, which means members don’t have to measure and track them. Even Whole30, a strict elimination diet, announced recently that potatoes were officially off the lengthy no-no list.
Personally, I’m glad to see potatoes getting a reprieve because they deserve some credit. One medium white potato has a third of the vitamin C you need every day, more potassium than a banana, a couple grams of fiber (and not just in the skin), and even some protein and iron--all for just 110 calories. Even the authors of the Whole30 diet acknowledge that potatoes are a “whole, real, nutrient-dense food” and conclude that it just didn’t make sense to leave them off the plan.
White potatoes are no nutritional slouch, but some other varieties have unique perks. Red and purple potatoes, for instance, owe their hues to a natural plant compounds called anthocyanins. Those work as antioxidants in the body, guarding cells from the kind of damage that lead to disease. Some research shows that anthocyanins may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.
Potatoes in general have another special power: When they’re cooked and cooled (like in potato salad), they become rich in resistant starch, a kind of carbohydrate that can help you feel fuller and boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Why have potatoes gotten such a bad rap? One reason is that while they’re the most commonly eaten veggie, they’re often consumed in the form of French fries--and alongside decidedly less nutrient-dense foods. Once potatoes are deep-fried, showered in salt, and served with a fast food burger and soda, their nutrient density (and the value they bring to your plate) seriously diminishes.
So by all means, enjoy potatoes--just be mindful of how they’re prepared. That doesn’t mean you have to shun fries and chips forever. But eat potatoes roasted, baked, broiled, and boiled much more often. Try different varieties to nab different health perks. And include lots of other vegetables in your diet too, including low-starch veggies like broccoli and leafy greens. Just take potatoes off your “do not eat” list. (Or better yet, ditch the “do not eat” list altogether!)