White potatoes are one of the most common types of potato, mainly used for mashing and roasting. These are a good source of nutrients, plus they contain high amounts of resistant starch, which helps to feed healthy gut bacteria.
When it comes to comparing white potatoes and sweet potatoes, “people are under the impression that sweet potatoes are healthier because they are orange,” says New York–based nutritionist Shana Minei Spence, M.S., RDN, CDN. “We have heard that ‘white foods’ are bad, which is not true.” The main differences between the two are the vitamin and mineral content—white potatoes have slightly higher potassium than sweet potatoes, and sweet potatoes have more vitamin A, but one is not necessarily healthier than the other. “Both are comparable as far as calories, carbs, fat, magnesium, and fiber,” says Spence.
Another type of potato is the russet potato. These larger, oval-shaped varieties are distinctive, with tougher skin, making them perfect to chop into rustic, homemade fries. These contain a higher amount of fiber than regular white potatoes.
Purple potatoes are rich in vitamin C and can be used to add vibrant color to gnocchi or to transform a festive mash. These colorful vegetables have been linked to suppressing colon cancer cells. A study found that purple potatoes contained higher levels of antioxidant activity and were more “potent” in suppressing the proliferation of colon cancer cells than white and yellow potato varieties.
The bottom line? You don’t need to be too particular about the types of potatoes you consume, according to Spence: “I want people not to be scared of eating foods they enjoy. If you prefer regular french fries to sweet potato fries, eat the regular ones. The vitamins will be different, but you can get those in in other foods.”
How to make potatoes healthier—and more delicious
Zibdeh, who also wrote a cookbook of low-carbohydrate whole food recipes, loves potatoes in a herby salad. “Instead of mayonnaise, make a dressing from extra-virgin olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and herbs: oregano, basil, rosemary, or chives,” she says. “Add chopped celery, red or orange bell peppers, or grated carrots for more nutrients and color.”
A little-known fact is that by heating and then cooling potatoes, the amount of resistant starch is increased. “Resistant starch is a prebiotic fiber,” says Zibdeh. “It resists digestion. We can’t digest and absorb it, but beneficial bacteria in our gut can. When they ferment it, they produce compounds that feed the lining of our gut. Cooling is the process that allows resistant starch to develop.” So whip up that delicious potato salad for a dose of prebiotic fiber.
Another simple, healthy way to cook potatoes is to roast them using a handful of herbs and small amounts of oil. A slow roast is a great way to bring out the depth of flavors and to crisp them right up. “Baked potatoes are a great side dish or complete meal depending on what you put in them,” says Spence. “One of my favorites is stuffing potatoes with black beans, cheese, and broccoli.” She also recommends leaving the potato skins on to increase your fiber intake.
When it comes to other ways to make your potato dishes healthier, Spence says it varies for each person: “‘Healthy’ is very much individualized, but cheese and sour cream are going to have higher levels of fat. That’s why I like to think of other ingredients to put in.”