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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 (
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.
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 (
- Calories: 161
- Carbs: 37 grams
- Fiber: 3.8 grams
- Protein: 4.3 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
- Vitamin B6: 25% of the daily value (DV)
- Potassium: 26% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 27% of DV
- Folate: 12% of the DV
- Magnesium: 12% of the DV
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 (
Potatoes also contain a fair amount of fiber, mostly in their skin (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
In fact, studies have shown that potatoes promote greater feelings of fullness than other foods with the same carb content (
This could be due to a naturally occurring molecule in potatoes called protease inhibitor II (PI2), which may suppress appetite and inhibit food intake (
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 (
High CCK levels also reduce the speed at which your stomach empties its contents, further promoting feelings of fullness (
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 (
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 (
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 (
Foods classified as high GI foods spike your blood sugar, while low GI foods promote a steady, controlled increase of blood sugar.
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 (
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 (
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 (
Studies have also shown that the potassium content of potatoes helps improve insulin sensitivity and production (
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 (
So, consuming baked potatoes may help control your blood sugar levels.
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 (
- 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 (
- Potential cancer-fighting properties. Antioxidants in baked potatoes may hinder cancer growth and promote the death of cancer cells (
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.
Baking potatoes — or cooking them at high temperatures — may lead to acrylamide production (
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 (
Scientists still don’t know the long-term effects of low level environmental exposure to acrylamide in humans (
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 (
Alternatively, consider boiling or steaming your potatoes. These cooking methods don’t tend to produce acrylamide (
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 (
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.
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 (
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.