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Spud or dud- are potatoes healthy?

July 12th 2016 / Anna Hunter


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The humble tat has suffered some negative press over the years, but does it deserve to be sidelined? It’s about time the potato got a fair hearing

From high GI fears to generalised carbophobia, your regular, run of the mill potato has been much maligned over time in favour of quinoa, brown rice and poor potato’s hip, more vibrant cousin, the sweet potato. With recent studies linking regular consumption of potatoes to both high blood pressure and an increased risk of diabetes during pregnancy, it could be perceived that our esteem for the spud is at an all time low, yet is potato dodging really justified? Given that crisps apparently had no adverse health effects in the aforementioned high blood pressure study, and neither studies state exactly how potatoes were served, concrete proof regarding potato’s damaging credentials is lacking. In fact, nutrition experts are all the more keen to sing spud’s praises in the face of pessimistic potato publicity. Here are some pros afforded by the potato according to those in the know…

It’s not necessarily the sugar bomb you’ve been lead to believe it is…

Nutritional therapist Libby Limon debunks the health fears:

“Potatoes are classed mainly as a starchy carbohydrate, with a high glycemic index of 85, therefore discounted as a simple carbohydrate such as white rice and pasta. However this is actually quite misleading because the glycemic load is low at 28, and it’s also quite low in calories (115 cal for a medium potato), with a moderate protein level of 2.5g for a carbohydrate food. Often they are cooked in unhealthy way such as deep-fried as chips or crisps, thus giving them a bad reputation as a unhealthy food.”

Which leads us to our next potato pointer…

It’s unprocessed

Nutritional therapist Jenna Zoe feels strongly about this one…

“It’s important to be aware of the facts outside of the current context of what’s trendy in health and fitness. Right now we’re living in a post-Atkins carbophobia. But potatoes shouldn’t be lumped in with white rice and white pasta because they are totally unprocessed. They come locked and loaded with awesome vitamin profile. If you live in the Western world and you’re eating a baked potato, that’s about as local and indigenous as it gets. Potatoes have been a major source of nutrition for people in this part of the world for thousands of years, long before obesity became a thing.”

“As a side note, I see so many people avoiding simply cooked potatoes like the plague but then gorging on protein bars that are filled with things like grape juice concentrate - ingredients that will spike your blood sugar way more than eating a simple, natural carb.”

Which links to Jenna’s next assurance…

It needn’t lead to weight gain

“A medium jacket potato gives you bang for your buck in the sense that they are only around 100 calories but very filling.”

“Beware of avoiding natural carbs so much that your body then wants to overcompensate with say, too much fat or too much protein. For example, I see people overeating peanut butter because they’re training hard but won’t allow themselves some natural carbs like fruit or potatoes.”

“Common sense around food always prevails. Some baked potato wedges with tahini and a side salad, or a jacket potato stuffed with beans or some tuna salad will not make you fat.”

Libby also dispels the fat fear:

“It’s great to eat both normal and sweet potatoes two to three times a week, as part of a healthy and varied diet of course, and as long as you’re not intolerant to nightshade vegetables. They’re not ‘bad’! Potatoes can form a vital part of a nutritious meal, although to keep it balanced you should always aim to combine them with lean, quality protein, healthy fats and other vegetables. It’s also important not to cook potatoes in vegetable oils that create harmful trans fats when heated to high temperatures, as is often the case with chips and crisps.”

It’s a nutrient powerhouse

The potato is an especially potent source of vitamin C, as Jenna highlights:

“They’re a super-rich source of vitamin C, giving you half of your RDA in one jacket potato. Vitamin C is naturally present in nature’s carbohydrates (like all fruit and vegetables), because it slows down the absorption of natural sugars into your system. So if you eat anything ‘carby’ from Mother Nature without doing much to it, it will give you a steady level of energy rather than the sugar spike you might get from say, even healthy sweeteners. Plus, vitamin C is in no small part responsible for beautiful, plump skin.”

Libby concurs:

“A potato is nutrient dense, providing a good source of vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium and fibre. Baking them with the skin on is preferable, as that way they hold on to more of their nutritional goodness. Also do consider buying organic potatoes if you can, as these are generally more robust and healthy, producing more polyphenols, which means more health benefits for us when we eat them.”

It can take on the sweet potato

We may be bowing down to the sweet potato on social media, but boring old pale potato isn’t that far behind in terms of ‘wellness’ credentials, as Jenna emphasises:

“We’re currently being told that sweet potatoes are better for us because they are slightly lower GI, but everything else is good marketing. From a nutritional profile standpoint, they both boast a huge array of body-loving vitamins and minerals and come in at the same number of calories.”

Libby, however, can see to a degree where the sweet potato clan are coming from:

“The colour of the sweet potato does give it an edge, making it an excellent source of beta-carotene, and phytoestrogens, which studies have shown to be helpful in supporting female hormone balance.”

There’s not a lot in it though.

It’s personal

At least, how your body gets on with it is. We’ll let Jenna explain this one:

“The only rule I have with any food is that you have to put all of the currently accepted knowledge aside and test it out on yourself to see whether it makes you feel good. So if you’ve been writing off the white potato for a while, consider this your carte blanche to eat some again and wait for your body to decide.”

Let your body be the judge, and if you’re in need of any more endorsement peruse nutritional therapist to the stars Amelia Freer’s Instagram feed. She grows her own, rustling up dairy free potato salads, Spanish style frittatas and sauteeing them when the mood takes her. Maris Piper et al are most definitely on the menu health (and taste) wise, as long as you don’t live on mash alone. Bodger & Badger came to an end for a reason.


Follow Libby on Instagram @LibbyLimon, Jenna @JennaZoeDaily and Anna @AnnyHunter

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