Potatoes – The Healthy Carbohydrate

Despite what you may have heard, potatoes represent good nutritional value for your money and merit some space on your plate! Like the avocado and banana, the potato is often maligned AND it doesn’t deserve to be.
Rich in starchy carbohydrate, potatoes are a fantastic fuel for our bodies. Unadulterated and unprocessed, they are probably the best source of starchy energy in our diets. In a world where many carbohydrates are so processed that they are devoid of essential nutrients, the potato stands head and shoulders above the rest.
In fact, potatoes and porridge oats are two of the best carbohydrates that I recommend people to eat. And for those of you who are trying to lose weight, enjoy smaller serving sizes, without smothering your spuds in sauces or spreads.
Nutrition matters
While the humble potato may seem a tad old-fashioned in comparison to exotic entrants in the market, it remains one of the most inexpensive and nutritious foods for sale in our supermarkets.
• Potatoes are an excellent source of fibre. Fibre plays a role in digestive health and weight management. Fibre also provides a source of energy for the friendly ‘probiotic’ bacteria living in the digestive system, helping to boost whole body immunity. We know from national dietary surveys that 4 out of 5 adults don’t get enough fibre. One medium baked potato in its skin contributes 27% of the guideline daily amount (GDA).
• Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C. One small potato provides 31% of the GDA, that’s more vitamin C than you would find in a tomato. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, stabilizing free radicals and helping to prevent cell damage. It’s important for normal collagen production; increases iron absorption in the body; and helps keep your immune system working at it best.
• Potatoes are a good source of potassium…more potassium than a banana! One medium potato with its skin provides 37% of the GDA. Potassium is a mineral, essential for transmitting nerve impulses and helping our muscles contract. It also helps maintain normal blood pressure. We know from the National Adult Nutrition Survey that potassium intakes in Irish adults fall below the recommended daily amount (RDA)1. Low dietary potassium may contribute to increased risk of high blood pressure.
• Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is a water soluble vitamin that plays important roles in carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and so is a key player in athletic performance and endurance. It is also required for the immune system and nervous system to function properly and is required for the formation of new red blood cells.
• Potatoes are a good source of folate, providing 26% of the RDA. Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is necessary to make new cells, including new red blood cells. It is also very important during pregnancy, as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in your unborn child.
• A serving of potato contributes only 12% of the calories you need in day. They are naturally low in fat, cholesterol and salt, making them perfect for health conscious consumers and parents.
Table 1: Nutrient Comparison of Potatoes with other Common Carbohydrates
Some people have concerns in relation to consuming potatoes when it comes to weight management. They often incorrectly identify potatoes as having a higher fat content compared with pasta and rice, when in fact potatoes have the lowest fat content.

Cooked Weight Calories (kcals) Fat (g) Fibre (g) Potassium (mg) Vitamin C (mg) Vitamin B6 (mg)
Medium Baked Potato (180g) 245 0.4 6.5 1134 25 0.97
Medium portion of white rice (180g) 248 2.3 0.2 97 Nil 0.13
Medium portion of brown rice (180g) 254 2.0 1.9 178 Nil Trace
Medium portion of spaghetti (220g) 229 1.5 3.5 53 Nil 0.04
Medium portion of wholewheat spaghetti (220g) 249 2.0 7.7 308 Nil 0.18

Potato facts!
• Carbohydrate is the main fuel for your body and brain. Potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates, making them perfect for athletes and recreational exercisers alike.
• 1 medium potato (180g) contains approximately 50g of carbohydrate and makes a great pre- or post-exercise snack or meal option.

Table 2: Potatoes v’s other common carbohydrate-rich foods
Potatoes help fill us up, not out as long as you eat them in moderation like everything else. They are naturally low in fat and salt too.

Food Item Calories (kcals) Carbohydrate (g)
1 baked potato (180g) 245 53
1 Danish pastry (110g) 376 53
1 croissant roll (60g) 224 24
1 jumbo sausage roll (80g) 283 23
1 fresh eclair 349 31
1 slice carrot cake with topping (85g) 305 29
1 Pot Noodle (320g made-up weight) 423 62
1 average serving takeaway egg fried rice (270g) 502 84

Did you know?
• A baked potato in its skin contains more fibre than two slices of wholemeal bread! If you want all the nutritional benefits, be sure to eat the potato’s flavourful skin as well as its creamy centre.
Value for Money
• Because potatoes are produced in Ireland they provide very good value to the Irish consumers.
• As well as supporting local industry you can rest assured that potatoes are, on average, 3 times cheaper than pasta and 5 times cheaper than rice or noodles on a per kilo basis.

My Personal Opinion?
Potato is not a fattening, starchy carbohydrate with empty calories. Unadulterated and unprocessed, potatoes are one of the best source of starchy energy and deserve a place on our plates. They are a gluten-free coeliac’s dream and a better source of vitamin C, potassium and vitamin B6 than either rice or pasta. Excellent nutritional value for money!

1M. Giltinan, J. Walton, B. McNulty, A. Nugent, M. Gibney, A. Flynn (2012) Potassium Intakes in Irish Adults. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71 (OCE2), E107. doi:10.1017/S0029665112001644