Are Baked Potatoes Healthy

Archives of Internal Medicine: “Sodium and potassium intake and mortality among US adults: prospective data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.”

Health Benefits of Baked Potatoes

Potatoes have been a staple food around the world for centuries. Historically, many communities have relied on these root vegetables to meet the majority of their nutritional needs.

In addition to being a satisfying snack, potatoes are easy to grow and can be found all across the globe. In recent years, the popularity of low-carb diets has caused some people to avoid potatoes. In reality, baked potatoes are packed with nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet.

Health Benefits

Despite the current trend toward low-carb diets, there are a lot of reasons to eat baked potatoes.

Reduces Inflammation

Baked potatoes are packed with choline, an essential nutrient that most people in the United States don’t eat enough of. Current research suggests that choline deficiency may be at least partly to blame for inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. By eating baked potatoes, you can increase the choline in your body and reduce inflammation.

Digestion

Baked potatoes are high in fiber, which helps with digestion. A high-fiber diet can help both diarrhea and constipation. People with digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome may find the fiber in baked potatoes especially helpful for managing symptoms and regulating digestion.

Weight Control

The fiber in baked potatoes aids with digestion and vitamin B6 helps break down carbohydrates and improves metabolism. This winning combination can be great for weight loss and weight management.

Heart Health

Nearly one third of Americans have high cholesterol, putting them at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Baked potatoes are a naturally low-fat, low-cholesterol food. They’re also packed with potassium, which some research suggests can greatly reduce risks of heart disease.

Nutrients per Serving

One medium-sized baked potato contains:

  • Calories: 161
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Sodium: 17 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 37 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 4 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams

In addition to providing a low-fat, low-cholesterol source of carbohydrates and protein, baked potatoes are also nutrient-dense. In fact, a potato has more potassium than a banana. Some of the most important nutrients baked potatoes provide include:

Potatoes are high in carbs, but not as high as some other starchy staples, like pasta and rice. For people with diabetes one small potato has about 15 grams of carbohydrates.

How to Prepare Baked Potatoes

When you make baked potatoes, it’s important to wash the potatoes well. Potato skins are one of the most nutritious parts of the vegetable, but you have to clean them before they’re safe to eat. Washing the potato thoroughly helps rid it of any fertilizers or chemicals that may have been sprayed on it while it was being grown.

There are two main ways to make baked potatoes: in the oven or in the microwave.

To make baked potatoes in the oven, rub them with olive oil and seasoning. Place your potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake them for 45 minutes to an hour at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

To cook a baked potato in the microwave, poke holes throughout the potato using a fork. Place the potato on a microwave-safe plate and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the potato and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Continue this process until your potato is cooked through.

Check your potatoes by poking with a fork. You’ll know your baked potatoes are done cooking when your fork sticks easily into them.

Baked potatoes can be served as a side dish, or you can load them up with toppings to make the main course. Other ideas for enjoying baked potatoes include:

  • Adding turkey chili on top
  • Top with your favorite vegetables and a little sprinkle of cheese
  • Using it to replace rice as a side dish
  • Eating with a little ketchup in place of French fries

Show Sources

Archives of Internal Medicine: “Sodium and potassium intake and mortality among US adults: prospective data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.”

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Cells: ” Vitamin B6 and Its Role in Cell Metabolism and Physiology.”

CDC: “Cholesterol Myths and Facts.”

Mayo Clinic: “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Obesity.”

National Institutes of Health: “Choline Fact Sheet for Professionals.”

Are Baked Potatoes Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, and Downsides

People often make the mistake of associating potatoes with weight gain and the obesity epidemic. However, they actually provide many health benefits and play an essential role in fighting malnutrition and starvation worldwide ( 1 ).

That said, the way you prepare potatoes can significantly affect their nutritional value and health effects.

This article takes a closer look at the health effects of baked potatoes specifically.

baked potato in tinfoil

Potatoes pack a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients essential for good health.

One medium-sized baked potato with skin weighs about 173 grams and provides the following nutrients ( 2 ):

In terms of macronutrients, potatoes are a high carb food with a relatively low protein content and virtually no fat.

The carbs they contain are mostly two types of starches: amylopectin, which your body can digest relatively easily, and amylose, a nondigestible starch (known as a resistant starch). This resistant starch provides many of potatoes’ health benefits ( 1 , 3 ).

Potatoes also contain a fair amount of fiber, mostly in their skin ( 1 , 4 ).

And while people don’t normally consider potatoes a high protein food, their protein content is high quality, thanks to the amino acids they contain.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Potatoes have particularly high levels of the essential amino acids lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan ( 1 ).

As for their vitamin and mineral content, potatoes are a good source of iron and zinc, which your body needs for oxygen transport and immune function, respectively ( 5 , 6 ).

Cooking methods may greatly affect the macronutrient content of potatoes — especially their fat content.

For instance, a 100-gram serving of fried potatoes has 14 grams of fat. In comparison, the same serving size of baked or boiled potatoes has just 0.1 grams of fat ( 2 , 7 , 8 ).

Plus, the way you prepare your potatoes may lead to micronutrient losses.

For example, potatoes pack a significant amount of vitamin C. However, baked or microwaved potatoes have about twice the amount as boiled or fried potatoes ( 1 ).

Summary

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable with high quality protein and virtually no fat. They’re also great sources of vitamins and minerals. However, cooking methods may change their macronutrient and micronutrient content.

Here are some of the health benefits baked potatoes have to offer.

May help control appetite

Potatoes are a very filling food, which helps control your appetite, aiding in weight loss, if that’s one of your goals ( 9 ).

In fact, studies have shown that potatoes promote greater feelings of fullness than other foods with the same carb content ( 10 ).

This could be due to a naturally occurring molecule in potatoes called protease inhibitor II (PI2), which may suppress appetite and inhibit food intake ( 10 , 11 ).

More specifically, PI2 stops an enzyme that breaks down a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK), which decreases hunger and increases feelings of fullness. In turn, blood CCK levels increase, leading to a reduced food intake ( 10 , 11 ).

High CCK levels also reduce the speed at which your stomach empties its contents, further promoting feelings of fullness ( 10 , 12 ).

Due to the effect PI2 has on appetite control, people often use it as a nutritional supplement to aid weight loss.

One study in 44 healthy women determined that consuming 15 or 30 mg of PI2 1 hour before breakfast resulted in reduced hunger and desire to eat, as well as higher feelings of fullness after a meal ( 13 ).

May help manage blood sugar levels

Potatoes are a rich source of resistant starch and potassium.

Your body can’t break down resistant starch. For this reason, it has a similar effect as dietary fiber — it lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity ( 3 , 14 , 15 ).

Additionally, resistant starch helps lower the glycemic index (GI) of a food. The GI evaluates how carb-containing foods affect your blood sugar levels after you eat them ( 14 ).

Foods classified as high GI foods spike your blood sugar, while low GI foods promote a steady, controlled increase of blood sugar.

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While freshly cooked potatoes are a high GI food, chilled cooked potatoes have a low GI. This is due to a process known as starch retrogradation, which leads to starches becoming harder to digest when cold ( 1 , 3 , 16 , 17 ).

Aside from temperature, cooking methods also affect the resistant starch content of potatoes. Research shows that baked potatoes have higher resistant starch content than boiled ones ( 17 ).

For example, one study determined that 90 minutes after a meal, participants’ blood sugar levels were lower if they consumed baked potatoes compared with mashed potatoes, French fries, and white bread ( 10 ).

Studies have also shown that the potassium content of potatoes helps improve insulin sensitivity and production ( 18 , 19 ).

Once again, baked potatoes have higher potassium levels than boiled ones because, with boiling, some potassium comes out of the potato and into the water ( 18 ).

So, consuming baked potatoes may help control your blood sugar levels.

Other benefits

Other potential benefits of baked potatoes include:

  • Improved heart health. Test-tube and animal studies show that potato protein and resistant starch content may lower blood cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease ( 1 ).
  • Improved gut health. Resistant starch in baked potatoes leads to butyrate production. This short-chain fatty acid has beneficial effects on gut health and gastrointestinal conditions ( 20 , 21 ).
  • Potential cancer-fighting properties. Antioxidants in baked potatoes may hinder cancer growth and promote the death of cancer cells ( 22 ).

Summary

When you consume them in moderation, baked potatoes may help you manage your blood sugar levels and lose weight, if that’s one of your goals. They also have cancer-fighting properties and may improve heart and gut health.

While potatoes are a nutrient-dense food with many health benefits, they also come with a couple potential downsides.

Acrylamide

Baking potatoes — or cooking them at high temperatures — may lead to acrylamide production ( 23 ).

Acrylamide is a chemical formed when you cook starchy foods at high temperatures. It has a toxic effect on various body systems, and long-term exposure may lead to reproductive problems and nerve damage ( 24 , 25 ).

Scientists still don’t know the long-term effects of low level environmental exposure to acrylamide in humans ( 25 ).

You could reduce acrylamide formation in baked potatoes by cooking them for shorter periods at lower temperatures or aiming for a golden-yellow color when you bake or fry them, rather than a brown color ( 26 ).

Alternatively, consider boiling or steaming your potatoes. These cooking methods don’t tend to produce acrylamide ( 26 ).

Health authorities also recommend storing potatoes in a dark, cool place instead of the fridge. This is because refrigerating potatoes may increase acrylamide production when you cook them ( 26 ).

Unhealthy toppings

Baked potatoes may also go from a nutritious side dish to one that’s high in fat or calories, depending on the toppings you add.

Butter, sour cream, fatty cheeses, and bacon are some of the most common toppings people add to baked potatoes. While many of these foods have their own nutritional advantages, they tend to increase your potatoes’ fat content significantly.

Instead, opt for low fat topping alternatives, such as Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, and chopped veggies.

Summary

Baking potatoes may lead to the formation of acrylamide, a chemical that can have toxic effects. Cooking potatoes for shorter periods at lower temperatures may help reduce it. Additionally, be mindful of your choice of toppings.

Contrary to popular belief, baked potatoes are a nutrient-dense food rich in vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein. Plus, they have virtually no fat.

Baked potatoes are highly filling and have a high resistant starch content, which may help you manage your blood sugar levels and lose weight, if that’s one of your goes, as long as you consume them in moderation.

However, baking potatoes does promote the formation of acrylamide, a substance that’s harmful over the long term in high amounts.

So, make sure to bake your potatoes for shorter periods at lower temperatures to reduce this. Or, choose cooking methods that don’t produce acrylamide at all, such as steaming or boiling ( 26 ).

Lastly, be mindful of the toppings you add to your baked potatoes. If you’re looking to reduce your calorie intake, consider swapping higher fat toppings for lower fat alternatives.

Last medically reviewed on April 26, 2021

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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