Mashed Potatoes Can Be Healthy - If You Make Them Right

A common myth maintains that all "white foods," including potatoes, are unhealthy. With potatoes, though, a lot depends on the cooking method and the additions you make to them. Mashed potatoes, a beloved comfort food, are often less healthy than other types of potato dishes because of ingredients that add saturated fat and sodium. You can improve how nutritious your mashed potatoes are with substitutions and by controlling the amount you eat.

Improve the nutrition of your mashed potatoes by making them at home with low-fat milk, olive oil and fresh herbs.
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Mashed potatoes can be healthy, depending on how you prepare them and how much you eat.

Calories in Mashed Potatoes

A simple, standard mashed potatoes dish contains cooked potatoes, usually white or yellow; butter; milk or cream; and salt. You boil or microwave the potatoes until soft, remove the skins, chop, mash and whisk in the other ingredients.

A half-cup constitutes a serving of any cooked vegetable, including mashed potatoes. In that homemade mashed potatoes serving size, you'll get 108 calories. While that's just 6 percent of the daily value for calories on a 2,000-calorie diet, chances are pretty good that you're accustomed to helping yourself to a larger portion of mashed potatoes.

People are famously bad at calculating the correct serving size of foods. According to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2015, individuals so often misjudge their own calorie intakes that scientists have to accommodate for this underreporting by the participants in their studies.

At restaurants, you're even more likely to overindulge in mashed potatoes. One restaurant chain reports the calories in a serving of its homestyle mashed potatoes at 240 — before the addition of gravy. When you try to estimate a half-cup of mashed potatoes, visualize a tennis ball and stop at that amount. Leave off the gravy to avoid adding even more calories to the dish.

Mashed Potatoes Nutrition

A serving of mashed potatoes offers a small amount of protein — about 2 grams — and 18 grams of carbohydrate.

Of those carbs, roughly 2 grams are from fiber, or about 6 percent of the daily value. If you follow a low-carb diet, subtract the fiber from the total carbs to arrive at the net carbs of the dish. An indigestible part of plant foods, fiber contributes to digestive health by keeping your bowel movements regular, which in turn helps prevent colon diseases. Dietary fiber also supports heart health and weight management.

While the vegetable part of mashed potatoes supports health, the dairy ingredients complicate the dish, especially if you eat too large a serving. Butter and milk or cream not only add calories to mashed potatoes, but contribute saturated fat to a vegetable that is naturally fat free.

A half-cup of mashed potatoes supplies between 3 and 4 grams of fat, about a fourth of which comes from saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet contributes to weight gain and may put you at risk for heart disease.

If your diet limits animal foods, however, the saturated fat you get from a serving of mashed potatoes may not be significant to your overall intake. On the flip side, if you routinely consume beef or other animal foods with your mashed potatoes, you'll need to pay greater attention to your saturated fat numbers.

Read more: Are Potatoes Good Carbs?

Minerals in Mashed Potatoes

The other ingredient compromising the nutrition of your mashed potatoes is salt, which contains the electrolyte mineral sodium. Most whole foods offer some sodium, which isn't harmful on its own. Too much in your diet, though, bears a direct link to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. If your diet relies heavily on processed foods and restaurant fare or if you're too liberal with the salt shaker, you may be getting excess sodium in your diet.

A half-cup of mashed potatoes supplies about 370 milligrams of sodium or 16 percent of the daily value. When you order mashed potatoes in a restaurant, you're likely getting even more sodium. One restaurant chain reports that its mashed potatoes serving contains 540 milligrams of sodium.

On a positive note, mashed potatoes also supply a good amount of potassium, another electrolyte mineral that works with sodium to balance your body's fluids. A serving of homemade mashed potatoes contains 346 milligrams of potassium or about 8 percent of your daily needs. It's preferable, however, to have a ratio of potassium to sodium in your diet through which you're getting significantly more potassium.

Read more: The Relationship Between Potassium and Sodium

Mashed Potatoes and Vitamins

Mashed potatoes also provide vitamin A and several B vitamins. In a half-cup, you'll get 6 percent of the vitamin A you need daily. An antioxidant nutrient, vitamin A supports eye health, boosts immunity and plays a role in the function of your vital organs.

Vitamins B3 and B6 figure prominently in the mix of B vitamins offered by mashed potatoes. You'll get 8 and 9 percent, respectively, of the daily value of these two nutrients in 1/2 cup.

The B vitamins work together to help your body metabolize food into energy, among other functions. A review published in the journal Nutrients in 2016 discussed the importance of all the B vitamins to good neurological health. Deficiency in B3 or niacin has connections to Parkinson's disease, and a lack of B6 may contribute to cognitive decline, noted the author of the review.

A serving of mashed potatoes also supplies 6 percent of the daily value for vitamin K, a nutrient most often linked to leafy green vegetables. Vitamin K supports healthy bones and blood clotting. Deficiency, though rare, can cause bleeding and bruising.

Healthier Options to Mashed Potatoes

There's no reason to give up mashed potatoes altogether, as long as you watch your serving size and don't indulge too often. Make the dish yourself instead of ordering it when you go out. At home, it's easy to opt for low-fat mashed potatoes, made with 1 or 2 percent milk instead of whole milk or cream and heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter. In place of salt, you can mix in chopped garlic and fresh herbs like chives or rosemary.

Mashed cauliflower offers a similar texture to mashed potatoes with fewer carbs, making it a good choice for low-carb diets. One-half cup of cooked mashed cauliflower provides just 3 grams of carbohydrates. You'll get 15 calories in a serving before you add in other ingredients.

Keep your mashed cauliflower healthy with olive oil and fresh herbs and use a little Parmesan cheese for a creamier texture. Some supermarkets carry packages of riced cauliflower, which cooks much more quickly than whole florets and saves you a lot of mashing.

Cauliflower offers another advantage in its rich content of vitamin C. A half-cup gives you about a third of the daily value. This nutrient supports immunity and fights off free radicals, molecules that can cause damage to your DNA and lead to chronic diseases.

A baked potato is also a good substitute for a side of mashed potatoes. While the calorie content of a small potato is similar to that of mashed potatoes, it offers a more fiber — 12 percent of the daily value — and supplies 19 percent of your vitamin C needs.

Read more: 9 Healthy and Delicious Cauliflower Recipes

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