Potatoes are a staple in many diets around the world. These cool-season vegetables are part of the starchy vegetable group and offer a variety of nutrients. Potatoes have a bad reputation because of how they are prepared, topped and cooked, but as a side dish or a stand-alone meal with healthy toppings, potatoes can make a nutritious meal choice.
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Potatoes offer a rich source of carbohydrates in the form of starch and a good source of fiber from their skin. One medium-size potato provides 170 calories, no fat, sodium or cholesterol. It's also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin B-6 and has more potassium than bananas. Potatoes are such potassium powerhouses that they rank highest in potassium content among the top 20 most frequently consumed raw vegetables and the top 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits, according to Northwestern University.
Go With Color
More than 100 varieties of potatoes exist in different colors, textures, shapes and sizes. While most varieties offer similar nutritional value, brightly colored potatoes, such as purple and red, contain higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants than white potatoes. Colorado State University and researcher Jairam Vanamala note that fresh, colored potatoes can deliver antioxidants in levels comparable to blueberries and grapes. Additionally, the orange color of the highly nutritious sweet potato offers a rich source of beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in your body.
Prepare for Health
How you prepare potatoes can vastly influence how healthy they are. Frying adds calories and no nutritional value. Similarly, smothering potatoes in butter, salt, sour cream or similar toppings adds calories, sodium content and unhealthy fats. The healthiest cooking methods for potatoes include boiling, baking, roasting or microwaving and swapping fatty toppings for healthier options such as sautéed vegetables, low-fat cheeses, salsa and beans.
Everything in Moderation
Like any food, you should eat potatoes in moderation and balance your food options. Fuel your body with nutrients that come from a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. A balanced diet can provide all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your body needs to function properly.