If potatoes make it onto your plate more often than sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli or any other vegetable, you’re in the majority. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the average American consumes nearly 40 pounds of fresh potatoes each year, or about double the amount of sweet potatoes, carrots and broccoli combined. Aside from being plentiful and relatively inexpensive, potatoes are one of the most nutritious comfort foods available -- especially if you eat the skin, too.
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If you eat all of the flesh -- but none of the skin -- of an average-sized baked potato, you’ll get about 145 calories, 3 grams of protein, 34 grams of mostly complex carbohydrates and significant amounts of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, niacin and thiamine. For about another 15 calories, eating the skin provides you with an extra gram of protein, another 3 grams of carbohydrates and more of most of the vitamins and minerals found in the vegetable’s flesh. Potato skins are particularly rich in iron and potassium -- according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, an average-sized whole baked potato is approximately 70 percent higher in iron and 35 percent higher in potassium than a peeled one.
A baked potato served without skin falls short of qualifying as a good source of dietary fiber, with just over 2 grams per average-sized specimen. The root vegetable’s skin is a much better source of these beneficial, indigestible carbohydrates -- an ounce of potato skin delivers more than five times as much fiber as an ounce of potato flesh, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. You’ll get close to 4 grams of fiber from a whole, average-sized baked potato, or right around 15 percent of the recommended daily value. Whole potatoes are especially rich in insoluble fiber, the kind that stimulates digestion and promotes bowel regularity.
Blood Sugar Benefits
Potatoes are considered a starchy vegetable because they’re rich in complex carbohydrates. Compared to those found in whole grains, beans and other vegetables, the complex carbohydrates in peeled potatoes are more readily broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream, which is why they tend to cause blood glucose levels to rise more rapidly than other starchy foods. The extra fiber obtained by eating the vegetable’s skin -- a fair amount of which is soluble -- helps mitigate this effect. Soluble fiber keeps digested food in your stomach longer and slows the rate at which simple sugars enter your bloodstream.
Incorporate potato skins into your diet by roasting or baking whole potatoes. Serve them with fresh herbs, olive oil or plain yogurt, as butter and sour cream are generally less nutritious. Toss raw, diced potatoes into soups or stews as they cook. Don’t peel potatoes before mashing them -- the skin brings flavor and texture to an otherwise ordinary dish. Skip potato skins, the classic appetizer made by topping hollowed-out potato skins with copious amounts of cheese, bacon and sour cream. The skins’ benefits are outweighed by the dish’s high sodium, saturated fat and calorie content. If you regularly eat potatoes, opt for the organic variety whenever possible -- conventionally grown potatoes are treated with so many pesticides that the Environmental Working Group lists them among the “dirty dozen” of produce.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Per Capita Utilization of Selected Commercially Produced Fruits and Vegetables: 1980 to 2009
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Potatoes, Baked, Skin, Without Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Potatoes, Baked, Flesh, Without Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Potatoes, Baked, Flesh and Skin, With Salt
- Environmental Working Group: EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
- Wellness Foods A to Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers; Sheldon Margen, M.D.
- American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide; Roberta Larson Duyff, M.S., R.D.