Red, yellow, and purple potatoes

Here are two facts about potatoes: They’re extremely nutritious, and you should probably cut back on how often you eat them.

How can both be true? “Potatoes are a top source of potassium, which is an essential mineral for heart health,” says Loneke Blackman Carr, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Connecticut. A small potato (about 5 ounces) has 23 percent of the amount you should consume every day. You also get 26 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin B6 (key for neurological health), along with iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber.

We eat more potatoes than any other vegetable—almost 50 pounds a year per person. But that’s a concern because potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar rapidly after you eat them.

Experts think this is why some studies have found a link between potatoes and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and excess weight, regardless of the way they’re cooked.

The research isn’t consistent, however. For example, in a 2019 study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers followed more than 400,000 people for 16 years and saw no differences in the risk of early death from any cause between those who ate the most potatoes and those who ate the least.

What’s a spud lover to do? These tips will help you get all the advantages of potatoes while sidestepping the risks.

Think Carb, Not Vegetable

Botanically speaking, potatoes are vegetables, but nutritionally their high starch content puts them in the carb category. 

More on Healthy Eating

Potatoes should replace rice or bread in your meal, not other veggies, says Michelle Cardel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics at the University of Florida College of Medicine. The Department of Agriculture says women over 50 shouldn’t eat more than 4 cups of starchy vegetables per week (for men, it’s 5 cups). In addition to potatoes, these include cassava, corn, green peas, parsnips, and plantains.

Make Fries a 'Sometimes' Food

French fries tend to be higher in sodium and calories than nonfried potatoes. And in some studies, fries posed more of a risk than potatoes overall.

More research is needed, but a 2017 study of people over age 50, for example, found that those who ate fries two or three times a week had a 95 percent increase in the risk of early death from any cause; nonfried potatoes didn’t raise the risk. A 2019 analysis of 28 studies found that eating fries every day upped the risk of type 2 diabetes by 66 percent and high blood pressure by 37 percent. Eating potatoes prepared in other ways raised the diabetes risk only slightly and hypertension not at all.

Oven-fried potatoes may be a healthier bet. Slice potatoes lengthwise and drizzle them with olive oil and a little salt, then bake at 425° F for about 25 minutes. (For chips, cut horizontally and bake at 400° F for 25 minutes.) Or whip some up in your air fryer.

Top It Right

Too often we mash potatoes with cream and butter or pile baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon, and cheese. That means excess calories and saturated fat, which is bad for your heart health.

A tablespoon of butter, for example, adds more than 100 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat; a tablespoon of sour cream packs another 30 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat.

For a healthier option, cut a potato in half, drizzle it with olive oil and rosemary, and bake in a 400° F oven. Then put it under the broiler for a few minutes until brown on top, suggests Lisa R. Young, PhD, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

And you can slim down mashed potatoes by swapping out cream and butter for low-fat plain Greek yogurt. “It has a similar taste and consistency, plus protein and healthy fats,” Cardel says.

Eat the Potato Rainbow

White potatoes have antioxidants, which help fight cell damage. But getting a mix of red-, purple-, and yellow-fleshed spuds will give you a greater range (such as anthocyanins and carotenoids) than sticking with your standard russets.

Braised fingerling potatoes with rosemary
Photo: Laura Johansen

Braised Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary

Long and thin, fingerlings have feathery skins (so they don't need peeling) and don't break apart when cooked. This healthy recipe from CR's test kitchens (pictured above) shows off their beautiful shape and delicate flavor.

1 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
1 shallot, peeled and quartered, root left intact
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, plus 1 teaspoon chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1⁄8 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Directions
1. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer in a large skillet. Put shallot pieces and rosemary sprigs in between the potatoes.

2. Add 1 tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper; pour chicken broth over potatoes.

3. Partially cover the pan and bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Remove and discard the shallot pieces and rosemary sprigs. Using a slotted spoon, place the potatoes on a serving platter.

5. Increase the heat to high and boil the remaining liquid 2 minutes uncovered until reduced slightly. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and pour sauce over potatoes; sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 6 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 21 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugars (includes 0 g added), 4 g protein, 220 mg sodium


Top Air Fryers From CR's Tests

Using an air fryer to cook potatoes can give you crispy fries without all the oil. These three, listed alphabetically, did well in CR's tests. 

Quick Take

GoWise USA GW22731

Price: $80

Unlock Air Fryer Ratings
Quick Take

Ninja AF100

Price: $100

Unlock Air Fryer Ratings
Quick Take

NuWave 6-Qt 37001

Price: $130

Unlock Air Fryer Ratings

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the April 2021 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.