Diet for Weight Loss: Potatoes or No Potatoes?

Diet modification is the cornerstone of successful and sustainable weight loss. We’re often told to consume some and ditch other foods in order to slim down. The role of potatoes is insufficiently discussed, despite the fact it’s widely consumed. Potatoes are the staple ingredients in many meals but are they healthy for you? Should your weight-loss diet include potatoes or not? Get answers below.

Potatoes and Weight

Potatoes have been demonized and we are always told to avoid them in order to lose weight. But what does science say? At this point not much! Studies on this subject are relatively scarce but nonexistent.

Back in 2014, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition published a study whose main objective was to analyze the effects of the glycemic index (GI), dietary prescription for modification of energy intake, and consumption of potatoes on weight loss and body composition. The study included 90 overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Participants were required to adhere to the protocol for 12 weeks. While two groups were advised to decrease energy intake by 500 calories and eat either low- or high-GI foods, the third group didn’t have any counseling or restriction. Participants from all groups were told to eat five to seven servings of potatoes a week.

Findings revealed there weren’t weight-loss differences between the groups. Scientists concluded weight loss is linked to reduced energy intake. Most importantly, the consumption of potatoes didn’t cause weight gain in this study (1). Since all groups were still able to lose weight, these results indicate potatoes don’t really jeopardize weight-loss endeavors and may not make a person gain pounds.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an interesting systematic review that evaluated the connection between potato intake and the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in healthy adults. The review included 13 studies and concluded evidence to suggest potatoes are associated with obesity and other health problems is insufficient (2). Scientists emphasized the importance of further studies on this subject. The exception here was French fries, which can increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. This review only confirmed it’s not about potatoes per se, but how we eat them.

The Nutritional Profile of Potatoes

Potatoes are a great source of various nutrients. In that aspect, these vegetables are a good addition to a well-balanced diet.

The nutritional profile of 100g (2/3 cup) of boiled potatoes with skin and without salt is as follows (3):

  • Calories: 87
  • Fat: 0.1g
  • Protein: 1.9g
  • Carbs: 20.1g
  • Fiber: 1.8g
  • Water: 77%
  • Sugar: 0.9g

On the other hand, the nutritional profile of one medium baked potato with skin looks like this (4):

  • Calories: 161
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Carbs: 36.6g
  • Fiber: 3.8g
  • Protein: 4.3g
  • Vitamin B6: 27% of RDI
  • Vitamin C: 28% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
  • Manganese: 19% of RDI
  • Potassium: 26% of RDI
  • Phosphorus, magnesium, folate, niacin: 12% of RDI

Generally speaking, the nutritional value of potatoes depends on the preparation method and their variety. For instance, baked potatoes have fewer calories than fried potatoes. A useful thing to remember is that a potato’s skin is a great source of vitamins and minerals. Peeling potatoes and removing the skin can decrease the vegetable’s nutritional value (5).

Carbohydrates are the main nutrient in potatoes, mainly in the form of starch. Simple sugars such as fructose, glucose, and sucrose are present in potatoes, but in small amounts. Potatoes tend to be on the higher side of the glycemic index (GI) score.

Although potatoes are not among high-fiber foods, they can still provide sufficient amounts to persons who regularly eat them. The skin contains the most fiber.

When we’re talking about the nutritional profile of potatoes, it’s useful to mention these tubers contain bioactive compounds such as chlorogenic acid, catechin, glycoalkaloids, and lutein.

Can my Weight-loss Diet Contain Potatoes?

Potatoes are a major source of confusion for persons who are trying to slim down. Are they okay to eat or is it better to avoid them? You’re probably on the fence about this subject. As seen in the abovementioned studies, potatoes don’t really jeopardize your weight loss and may not lead to weight gain.

Bearing that aspect in mind, it’s safe to eat potatoes in your weight-loss diet. Of course, this matters only if you generally eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. If you stay away from junk food and strive to choose your foods wisely, potatoes could be a great addition to your weight-loss diet.

In fact, a study from the Nutrients showed consumption of white potatoes could decrease appetite and promote a feeling of fullness (6). For many men and women overeating is a big problem, an obstacle they need to conquer in order to slim down and maintain weight in a healthy range. Easier said than done for most people. Adding potatoes to your meals could suppress your appetite and thereby reduce the amount of food you eat, prevent overeating, and help you consume fewer calories. All this is important for weight loss if we bear in mind you slim down when calorie intake is lower than the number of calories you burn.

Not only are potatoes filling, but also happen to be low in fats. Their rich nutritional profile is the reason to add them to your weight-loss diet.

What confuses people the most is the carbohydrate content in potatoes. Carbs account for the highest percentage in their nutritional profile. The general belief is that all carbohydrates are bad and we need to stay away from them to lose or maintain weight. For that reason, many people adhere to very low-carb diets which may help them slim down, but are unsustainable and could be equally damaging as very high-carb diets (7).

However, not all carbohydrates are equal. The type of carbs matters in weight loss. Eating complex and whole or simple and refined carbs is not the same. Potatoes, like whole grains, deliver complex carbs which have decent fiber content and are low in calories. Consumption of these foods can, as seen above, reduce calorie intake and help you feel full for longer.

On the flip side, simple and refined carbs, like those found in pastries and crackers, are heavily processed and dense in calories, but without enough fiber. As you eat these foods, you actually consume a lot of calories but don’t feel full. It’s the fiber content that makes you feel satiated, and in this case, there’s not enough of it to do the job. In turn, you eat more and gain weight.

Now, compare complex and simple carbs. What you can notice is that complex carbs like those in potatoes can aid your efforts to slim down or maintain a healthy weight. But simple carbs could be damaging your endeavor.

Are Some Types of Potatoes Better than Others for Weight loss?

Since potatoes are not really damaging your weight loss it’s impossible not to wonder whether some varieties are better than others. Since all varieties of potatoes are relatively low in calories, they can help you slim down. The amount of fiber may differ among potato varieties, but the levels of sugars or micronutrients are generally the same and are not significant to affect your weight loss.

Speaking of varieties, white potatoes have fewer calories than other kinds but come with higher fiber content. At the same time, red potatoes are low in calories, but also have slightly lower levels of fiber than their white counterparts. Additionally, red potatoes are abundant in bioactive compounds. Sweet potatoes tend to be higher in calorie and fiber content, but also dense in antioxidants and minerals.

In other words, the type of potato to add to the weight-loss diet depends entirely on you and your preferences (8).

Mistakes to Avoid

Now that we have established that potatoes don’t harm your weight loss and may even support your journey, it’s important to address mistakes to avoid. You see, some mistakes we make with potatoes can pose an obstacle to a healthy and successful weight loss. Check them out below.

Mistake #1: You’re using unhealthy preparation methods.

Potatoes have been demonized for a long time and people are usually advised to avoid them if they are trying to slim down. The reason potatoes have gotten a bad rep is observed in unhealthy preparation methods. The most common form of potato consumption is French fries.

Numbers show the average American eats almost 30 pounds of French fries each year (9). Indeed, French fries are popular but may hinder your weight loss due to high amounts of sodium and fat. Frying is not the best or healthiest way to prepare potatoes.

Fixing this mistake is easy. Instead of frying, you may want to opt for baking or cooking your potatoes. Oven-roasted potatoes are a dream and it’s easy to combine them with other vegetables and have a delicious, yet healthy meal.

Avoid topping your potatoes with bacon, cheese, sour cream, as well.

If you simply can’t resist French fries, you may want to avoid store-bought or those from junk/fast food places. Instead, you can make French fries in your home with a healthier approach. Don’t deep-fry them. You can bake them instead. There are tons of healthy French fries recipes online.

Mistake #2: Portions are too large.

While potatoes are relatively low in calories and have decent fiber content, it doesn’t mean eating large amounts is okay. Remember, consuming more calories than you burn can lead to weight gain. If you don’t control portions, weight loss becomes more complex and difficult to achieve. Evidence confirms portion control is significant for weight management (1011).

The absence of portion control leads to overconsumption of calories. Therefore, to ensure potatoes are supporting your weight loss or management, you should be mindful of the portions you consume. The easiest way to make this happen is to use a smaller plate. Sometimes we have the urge to eat all food from the plate even if the body isn’t hungry anymore. Controlling the intake of calories becomes more difficult at that point. So by eating from smaller plates you also get to prevent overconsumption of calories, but also avoid consuming more potatoes than you need.

Strive to eat four to eight servings of starchy vegetables a week. Keep in mind that one medium potato is, in fact, one serving (12).

Mistake #3: Failing to use potatoes as a replacement for refined grains.

A study from the British Journal of Nutrition found subjects who ate potatoes instead of refined grains had a higher diet quality, fiber, and potassium intake without adverse effects on cardiometabolic risk (13). A little reminder, refined grains-based foods include white pasta, rice, white bread, crackers, cereals, just to name a few.

Explanation of this finding leads us back to the previously mentioned difference between simple and complex carbs. If you don’t use potatoes to replace refined grains, you’re actually increasing the consumption of calories. The result is weight gain or experiencing problems to lose weight.

The solution to this mistake is obvious – think about the foods you eat and strive to use potatoes as a replacement for refined grains. For instance, with potato-based meals, you may want to avoid eating bread. Or you may want to avoid combining potatoes and pasta meals, white rice.

Mistake #4: You’re tossing the skin in the trash.

What’s the first thing you do when you want to prepare potatoes for your meal? Chances are high you peel them first. The skin ends up in the trash because we are somehow led to believe it’s not good for us. It’s in direct contact with the soil, so we need to throw it away, right? Doing so deprives you of fiber and other nutrients and micronutrients present in potatoes. As mentioned above, potatoes with skin are a lot more nutritious than those without.

What you should do is wash your potatoes thoroughly and prepare them with skin. You’ll notice the flavor is a lot better that way, as well. This is particularly important for fiber content. Evidence shows only 10% of people in the US get enough fiber during the day (14). Consuming enough fiber can prevent obesity and help you slim down (15). As you can conclude, it’s all down to appetite suppression.

Conclusion

Potatoes have gotten a bad rep due to high levels of carbs, primarily in the form of starch. We are often advised to avoid them because they lead to weight gain. Although demonized, potatoes can be good for us and their bad rep is undeserved. Various studies have confirmed potatoes don’t lead to weight gain and they may even help us slim down. The crucial thing here is the preparation method. To get the most from potatoes in a weight-loss diet, we need to avoid deep-frying them and opt for healthier methods such as baking, roasting, and cooking. Plus, it’s practical to use potatoes as a replacement for refined grains. The beneficial effects of potatoes for weight loss require a well-balanced diet, to begin with.

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25302575/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27413134/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/potatoes#nutrition
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-potatoes
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3064541/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551271/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32744579/
  8. https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/are-potatoes-good-for-weight-loss-48401704
  9. https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/french-fry-facts
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25033958/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088523/
  12. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf
  13. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/daily-intake-of-nonfried-potato-does-not-affect-markers-of-glycemia-and-is-associated-with-better-diet-quality-compared-to-refined-grains-a-randomized-crossover-study-in-healthy-adults/1C2933542FFF2C37C886A9D0FDF83091
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124841/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11396693/
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