There is much more to nutritionally packed potatoes than just calories. They have 2.5 grams of dietary fiber per potato. Potatoes are very high in vitamin C, most B vitamins, potassium and other minerals. Just as important are the recognized health hazards you are avoiding with potatoes like sodium, cholesterol, and fat. Of the calories from potatoes, only 1% comes from fat, and these few fats are mostly the kind that we need, called essential fats.
One important reason people think of potatoes as fattening and unhealthy is all the toppings poured over them, like high-fat gravies, bacon bits, cheese, sour cream, and butter. Fortunately, there are healthy (no-cholesterol, low-fat) toppings that you can choose like chives, salsas, tofu, low-fat salad dressings, soups, chilies, marinara, and bean sauces.
Don’t confuse baked or boiled potatoes with American’s favorite forms of potatoes: French fries and potato chips.
Cooking a nutritious food like potatoes in oil increases the percentage of fat from 1% to 36% for French fries, and up to 58% for potato chips. Often the fats used for cooking the potatoes are the most damaging forms: saturated and hydrogenated fats – linked closely with heart disease and cancer.
There is no cholesterol in a potato and insignificant amounts of cholesterol-raising saturated fats. People in New Guinea living on diets consisting almost entirely of sweet potato tubers (with an even greater percentage of carbohydrate calories than white potatoes) and leaves have cholesterol levels on the average of 108 mg/dl.5 (Cholesterol levels below 150 mg/dl are associated with immunity from heart disease.) Heart disease is unknown in these people on their sweet potato diet. In animal experiments potatoes have been shown to have a particularly potent cholesterol-lowering effect.
Potatoes can provide complete nutrition for children and adults. Many populations, for example, people in rural populations of Poland and Russia at the turn of the 19th century, have lived in very good health doing extremely hard work with the white potato serving as their primary source of nutrition.
One landmark experiment carried out in 1925 on two healthy adults, a man 25 years old and a woman 28 years old, had them live on a diet primarily of white potatoes for 6 months. The report stated, “They did not tire of the uniform potato diet and there was no craving for change.” Even though they were both physically active (especially the man) they were described as, “in good health on a diet in which the nitrogen (protein) was practically solely derived from the potato.”
One 5-ounce baked potato has about 140 calories.
Potatoes are at the bottom of the list of calorie dense foods, at one calorie per gram. By comparison, sugar, cheese, and beef are about 4 calories per gram and vegetable oils are 9 calories per gram.
The Fat You Eat Is the Fat You Wear. Potatoes are 1% fat – so there are virtually no fat calories to wear. By comparison, beef and cheese can be 70% fat and butter is 100% fat.
One of the strongest risk factors for heart disease is excess body fat. Therefore, any expert who says potatoes will lead to diabetes or obesity is ignoring the bulk of the scientific and nutrition literature. And they are ignoring an observation anyone can make: People living on diets high in starch like the Japanese and Okinawans are trim, young, and active people with very low rates of diabetes.