Many weight-loss diets seem to have a list of good and bad foods: those you can eat and those you can't. Depending on the type of diet you follow, potatoes may fall on either list. There are certain types of foods that make weight loss a little more difficult, but a baked potato isn't one of them.
The truth is, you can eat a baked potato when you're trying to lose weight. This vegetable is relatively low in calories, a good source of fiber and rich in many nutrients that support good health. But like any food, when it comes to weight loss, moderation is always the key.
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As a "white food," you may think baked potatoes are a definite no-no on your weight-loss diet. But this savory tuber can easily fit into any healthy diet plan, even when you're trying to lose weight.
Nutrition in a Baked Potato
You may have been told you need to avoid potatoes when you're trying to lose weight because they're a "white food" like white bread, pasta and white rice. Many people believe these types of foods are the reason they can't lose weight, but it's a little more complex than that.
These so-called bad foods — bread, pasta and rice — are processed foods stripped of their natural fiber and nutrients. Fiber in food helps slow down digestion, which keeps you feeling full longer. Without the fiber, these white foods get digested more quickly, which may leave you feeling hungry again not too long after you eat them.
A baked potato may be white in color, but it hasn't been processed or stripped of its nutrients. Nutritionally, the baked potato is a rock star compared to those other white foods. One medium baked potato, equal to about 6 ounces, has:
- 161 calories
- 4 grams of protein
- 37 grams of carbs
- 3.8 grams of fiber
- Less than 1 gram of fat
- 20 percent of the daily value (DV) for potassium
- 24 percent of the DV for copper
- 11 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 6 percent of the DV for iron
- 24 percent of the DV for vitamin C
- 16 percent of the DV for folate
By comparison, a slice of white bread has 77 calories, 3 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fiber. The bread is a better source of selenium than the baked potato (12 percent of the DV versus 2 percent of the DV) and has the same amount of folate, but isn't a significant source of any other nutrient.
One cup of unenriched white rice has 204 calories, 4 grams of protein and 0.6 grams of fiber and isn't a significant source of any vitamin or mineral. Bread, rice and pasta are enriched, which means the vitamins that are lost during processing, usually B vitamins, are added back to improve each food's nutritional value.
Read more: Are Baked Potatoes Healthy?
Quality Counts With Weight Loss
It's true that calories count when it comes to weight loss. In order to drop those unwanted pounds, you need to create a calorie deficit so that your body burns more calories than it takes in. You can accomplish this by eating less, moving more or both.
But researchers are learning that weight loss is about more than just calories. The quality of the food you consume also matters. A February 2018 study published in JAMA compared the effects of a healthy low-fat diet to a healthy low-carb diet on weight loss in a group of overweight adults and found no difference in weight loss between the two diets.
Additionally, the researchers of the study noted that there was no difference in insulin secretion levels in the two groups. Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas that helps usher sugar from your blood into your cells to supply energy.
High blood insulin levels may increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and there's some preliminary evidence that too much insulin in your blood may lead to weight gain (although this is based on animal studies and more research is needed to confirm or disprove the association).
Based on the results of the 2018 study, and many previous studies, diet quality counts as much as calories when it comes to weight loss. You need to fill your diet with high-quality foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy unprocessed proteins and fats. You should limit refined grains (white bread, pasta and rice), fried foods, sugary drinks, sweets and overly processed foods such as chips, cookies and pretzels.
Read more: What Kind of Potatoes are the Healthiest?
What About the Glycemic Index?
One of the reasons the baked potato is a bit iffy when it comes to weight loss is because it has a high glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index is a tool that rates how carbohydrate-containing foods affect your blood sugar.
Foods with a low GI cause only a minimal rise in blood sugar, while foods with a high GI cause a rapid increase and then a drop in blood sugar. While research is a bit mixed, eating a low-glycemic diet may support your weight-loss efforts by helping to maintain blood sugar levels, which may improve hunger control.
When it comes to the glycemic index, the baked potato is over the top. In fact, the baked potato has a higher GI than pasta, bread and rice. But when it comes to satiety, the potato is better at keeping the hunger pangs away than the other white foods, according to a November 2018 study published in Nutrients, which confirmed the results of an early study from September 1995 that was published in the European Journal of Nutrition.
Whether you're following a low- or high-glycemic diet, eating baked potatoes may not have much of an impact on your weight loss either, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Participants in this small study (90 people) were counseled to reduce their daily intake by 500 calories and follow a low- or high-glycemic diet for 12 weeks. The study also included a control group. All groups were instructed to include 5-7 servings of potatoes a week.
At the end of the study, there was no difference in weight loss between the low- and high-glycemic groups, and the researchers concluded that the regular consumption of potatoes didn't lead to weight gain. The researchers also noted that the glycemic index portion of the diet was difficult for the participants to follow and may not be a practical tool for helping people lose weight.
Read more: The Disadvantages of Sweet Potatoes
Losing Weight With Baked Potatoes
Filling and rich in nutrients, baked potatoes can make a healthy addition to your weight-loss diet when consumed in moderation as part of your overall plan. The versatility of the baked potato makes it a great addition to any meal. You can dice and saute your leftover baked potatoes with onions, peppers and a touch of olive oil to serve with your morning eggs.
Or instead of your usual sandwich at lunch, top a baked potato with broccoli and a sprinkling of your favorite shredded cheese. And of course, the baked potato makes the perfect side dish for any dinner meal, including rosemary chicken, grilled salmon or London broil.
While the baked potato can easily fit into your weight-loss plan, be careful with your potato toppings. Sour cream, butter and bacon may cancel out any of the benefits you get from your baked potato. Even the cheese on your lunch potato may be a bit much if you're too heavy handed.
Instead, try eating your potato plain or topping it with low-calorie, nutrient-rich Greek yogurt to replace the sour cream. One tablespoon of nonfat Greek yogurt has 7 calories, 1 gram of protein and no fat, while the same serving of sour cream has 24 calories, 2 grams of fat and less than 1 gram of protein.
And by combining your baked potato with foods that are high in protein (cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs) or fiber (broccoli), you slow down digestion, which may reduce your potato's glycemic effect.
- Better Health Channel: "Weight Loss - Common Myths"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Potatoes, Glycemic Index and Weight Loss in Free-Living Individuals: Practical Implications"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Potatoes, Baked, Flesh and Skin, Without Salt"
- USDA FoodData Central: "White Bread"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Rice, White, Long-Grain, Parboiled, Unenriched, Cooked"
- MyFoodData: "White Rice, Nonfat Greek Yogurt, Cultured Sour Cream, White Bread, Baked Potatoes"
- JAMA: "Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Best Diet: Quality Counts"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes"
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States: "Hyperglycemia in Rodent Models of Type 2 Diabetes Requires Insulin-Resistant Alpha Cells"
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: "Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load"
- Nutrients: "Subjective Satiety Following Meals Incorporating Rice, Pasta and Potato"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "A Satiety Index of Common Foods"
- National Cancer Institute: "Enriched Foods"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"