This month the MIND approach continues with the humble potato, which fits in the “other vegetables” category. The white potato, in particular, has been vilified because it’s “white” and high in starchy carbs. It’s even been labelled fattening.  

There are many reasons its reputation is not justified.  All types of potatoes are a vegetable, just a starchy one like peas, corn, winter squash and beans.  Starchy carbs provide easy-to-digest energy.

White potatoes’ nutritional strengths include potassium (more than a banana!), fiber, B6 (nerve health) and vitamin C (nearly equal to an orange!). Many nutrients and fiber are in the skin.

Colorful sweet and purple varieties offer even more.  The orange flesh of the darker-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potato provides the antioxidant beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A. (Sweet potatoes can also be golden-skinned and paler-fleshed.) Purple potatoes are rich in anthocyanin, an antioxidant linked to brain and heart health. Sweet potatoes are indeed sweeter than white potatoes.

Yams versus sweet potatoes?  Both are root vegetables but belong to different plant families. True yams look very different from sweet potatoes and are rarely found in local supermarkets. Potatoes labeled as yams in US markets appear to be just a variety of the sweet potato.

The nutritional strengths show that potatoes, themselves, are not the bad guys, but how they’re prepared. Potatoes tilt towards unhealthy with high-fat toppings (cheese, sour cream, bacon, generous butter) and cooking methods (deep fried) – all sources of saturated fat and excess calories.

Healthy spud solutions:

  • Scrub potatoes before cooking and enjoy the skin.
  • Choose a mix of red, white, purple, yellow, and orange potatoes for nutrition variety.
  • Mix up potato sizes and shapes for visual appeal (fingerlings, petite bite-size potatoes).
  • Select the thicker-skinned russet for the best baked potato. To greatly shorten cooking time, microwave on high for 4-6 minutes per potato before finishing in a preheated 425-degree oven.
  • Roast (oven-fry) potato slices or wedges and petite bite-size potatoes after tossing with olive oil and a favorite seasoning in a 400-degree oven.
  • Slim-down baked potatoes with nonfat plain Greek yogurt (tastes like sour cream) and a sprinkle of chopped green onions.
  • Top a plain baked potato with a bean-based salsa or veggie chili.
  • For lighter mashed potatoes, use naturally buttery Yukon gold potatoes.  Mash with skim or 1% milk, nonfat Greek yogurt and/or vegetable broth.
  • Make deep-fried potatoes a sometimes food.

Bottom-line: Potatoes are inexpensive, shelf-stable, filling, and nutritious. Plus, they come in different types that add color and shape variety to meals.

To learn about different type of potatoes, storage and handling, and preparation ideas, check out:  

About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.