In what feels like a never-ending smear campaign against Mr. Potato Head, a new study published in The BMJ found that eating four or more servings of baked, boiled, and mashed potatoes, French fries, or potato chips per week was associated with a greater risk of high blood pressure (which is associated with weight gain).
Meanwhile, swapping a daily serving of the spuds with veggies, like spinach and broccoli, was linked to lower blood pressure levels.
Despite the incriminating nature of this study, it's not all bad news for spud lovers. “The poor potato! It's been vilified for so many years. But potatoes are not the enemy!” says St. Louis-based registered dietitian Alex Caspero, R.D. “How we eat them is.” While we eat veggies like spinach and broccoli straight up, we love our potatoes fried or mashed with sticks of butter, heavy cream, and gravy (annnd we're drooling).
But potatoes don't have to be your scale's arch nemesis. Case in point: In one Journal of the American College of Nutrition study, researchers found that when people followed healthy recipes, they actually lost weight eating five to seven servings of spuds per week. That's a lot of potatoes, people.
Can’t remember the last time you ate a potato without feeling guilty? Screw that. Here are four ways they can help you hit your healthy-weight goals.
1. They Prevent Overeating
Get this: Potatoes top the satiety index (a measure of how full people feel after eating certain foods) as the number-one filling food. Seriously. It'll take seven croissants to fill you up as much as a single potato, according to the index. That might explain why, in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition study, people who increased their intake of potatoes automatically reduced their overall daily caloric intake.
What makes spuds so filling? As Purdue University researchers point out, white potatoes contain 4.7 grams of fiber, which is about the same as an apple. Plus, potatoes are rich in resistant starch, which take up space in your GI tract and slow down digestion. That keeps you feeling fuller longer, says Caspero.
And, you probably wouldn’t guess this, but a medium white potato also contains 4.3 grams of filling protein. It’s not as much as a chicken breast, but it’s way more than most vegetables!
2. They're Crazy-Low in Calories
That medium white potato contains just 163 calories. Like we said, it’s all about how you prep them. What’s more, since potatoes’ resistant starch is tough to digest (hence the name), we don’t actually absorb all of its calories, she says. That spud on your plate just got even slimmer.
Not sure how to cook a low-cal potato? Try serving them boiled or baked with nutrient-packed toppings like spices, Greek yogurt, poached eggs, salsa, baked beans, avocado slices, or any other foods you love, says Caspero. It might sound out of the box, but potatoes have such a mild flavor that they go great with basically anything.
3. They Can Boost Workout Results
Potatoes are a mainstay among carbo-loading athletes. That’s because they fuel you with exactly what you need for better workouts and results, says Caspero.
During high-intensity or long-duration exercise, blood sugar and muscle glycogen (stored carbs) serve as your body’s primary source of energy. That’s why, according to Sports Medicine research, carbs can boost marathon training and high-intensity interval performance. And better performances = more calories burned and more muscle built.
Plus, unlike other carb sources, potatoes contain enough fiber and protein to keep your blood sugar levels from going HAM.
And even though most pre-race potato-lovers don’t realize it, potatoes actually contain more potassium than bananas. Getting enough of that electrolyte is crucial for proper muscle function.
4. They're Complex AF
One reason potatoes get a bad rap is because they're a “starchy” vegetable. But, if you haven’t gotten our drift yet, starch isn’t bad. It’s actually a complex carbohydrate, you know, that good carb that everyone is talking about for weight loss.
While research has consistently linked complex carbs to weight loss, resistant starch specifically is shown to improve blood sugar control, which in turn facilitates weight loss and prevents insulin resistance, says Caspero. Booya.
Use potatoes’ whole, complex carbs to your weight-loss benefit by eating them in place of your usual refined carbs—like white bread and white pasta. Easy enough, right? Taters gonna tate, tate, tate.