In this post, we use data from the USDA Food Database to analyze the nutrient density of 4 varieties of potato to rank their nutrient quality and determine what is the healthiest potato.
To find the healthiest potato, we analyzed in-depth the nutrient content of the four varieties found in the USDA Food Database.
These four varieties included:
How did we analyze them?
Primarily by nutrient density.
For a potato to be nutrient dense, there needs to be a relatively high concentration of nutrients per calorie.
We determine the nutrient quality on a per calorie basis because a healthy quantity of food, with respect to your metabolism and lifestyle, is determined by calories, not grams.
You consume calories to satisfy your body’s energy demands. Calculating nutrient density allows to see just how many nutrients are coming along for the ride.
Which nutrients exactly?
We look at all of the nutrients known to be required for life…and then some.
Primarily, these constitute your essential micronutrients – vitamins and minerals.
The more vitamins and minerals per calorie, the higher the nutrient density.
However, this only helps up to a point.
There are diminishing returns to micronutrient intake that we take into account (i.e., 100% of your riboflavin needs is much better than 10% of your needs, but eating 1000% of your riboflavin needs does not leave you 10 times healthier than getting 100% of your needs).
We also look at macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fats.
A healthy diet constitutes a balance that contains all of these. The healthiest potatoes have a closer alignment with recommended macronutrient recommendations.
We analyze the fiber and sugar content, both separately and as the ratio of the two. And we analyze the sodium-to-potassium (plus calcium) ratio too.
See why we analyze ratios in this way in our post on healthy food!
After taking all these factors into account we ranked all four varieties from the USDA Food Database.
Although they have a very similar nutrient breakdown, the healthiest potato is the red potato!
Here is the ranking, in order:
See a snapshot of our analysis comparing the nutrient breakdown of each potato below. Feel free use the interactive chart, here!
As you can see, the sweet potato is last on our list.
The sweet potato had the lowest vitamin profile, as well as the largest sodium-to-potassium ratio.
A relatively larger sodium-to-potassium ratio provides a lower score. That’s because sodium possesses hypertensive properties, while potassium (and calcium) possess hypotensive properties.
Too much sodium can be a risk factor for developing hypertension if not balanced out with hypotensive minerals like potassium and calcium.
Therefore, the healthiest potatoes have a lower sodium-to-potassium ratio and thus possess more potassium with respect to sodium and results in a lower risk profile for high blood pressure.
However, sweet potatoes do have the best mineral profile. They meet your daily needs on a per-calorie basis for copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium, and provide decent amounts of calcium, iron, and zinc.
The other potatoes also provide good levels of these minerals, and in general the healthiest potatoes provide a good amount of B-vitamins (except vitamin B12, found mostly in animal-derived products).
When you think of potatoes, you usually don’t think of protein.
And it’s true that you can find higher concentrations of protein in other foods.
Nevertheless, potatoes do possess some protein.
In fact, Russet potatoes actually fall within the USDA Guideline’s recommended daily intake requirements for protein (between 10-35% of daily calories) on a per-calorie basis! And red potatoes come close.
See a snapshot of our analysis comparing the protein density of each potato, or use our interactive chart, here.
For those looking to lose weight, the most tried and true technique is to burn fewer calories than you consume over time.
But that has one problem.
One of the best ways to combat hunger during calorie suppression is to add satiating nutrients to your meals. That means, nutrients that help you feel fuller, for longer.
Protein is one. Fiber is another.
Fiber helps keep you feeling full and makes it easy to consume fewer calories.
Therefore, the most fiber-dense foods have the combination of having high amounts of fiber relative to calorie content.
These fiber-dense foods will work better at keeping you feeling full relative to the amount of calories you are eating.
With this in mind, the white potato is the best potato for weight loss, with the red potato not far behind.
It’s also important to keep sugar consumption down, as we already eat far too much.
The sugar-to-fiber ratio is another ratio that helps assess the sugar content of your foods.
That’s because fiber can help attenuate the negative effects of sugar. This is why, despite their high sugar density, fruits are still very good for your health.
The sweet potato, again, comes in last place with its relatively higher sugar content.
The russet potato, despite its low fiber content, has very low sugar content and ranks the best (as having the lowest) sugar-to-fiber ratio.
See the snapshot of our analysis of the best potatoes for weight loss below, or use our interactive chart, here.
Phytochemicals encompass a broad swath of nutrients found in plants that we are only just starting to research in more detail regarding health.
Some, like lycopene, lutein, and certain flavonoids have some of the most research to-date.
And although most of them do not have recommended dietary intake references or have definitive data regarding their precise health benefits, the research is starting to pile on in their favor.
The following chart shows the concentration of some key phytochemicals found in the USDA Food Database for these potatoes.
Red potatoes contain the most of all three phytochemicals examined. They possess the most quercetin, a flavonoid found to possess some anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Red potatoes also contain the most lutein and choline, other phytochemicals that have shown health benefits such as protection against degrading eye health.
After taking into account the mineral density, the vitamin density, the macronutrient balance, the sugar-to-fiber ratio, the sodium-to-potassium ratio, and the phytochemical profile, red potatoes are the healthiest potato with data from the USDA Food Database.
On the other hand, the high sodium-to-potassium ratio, the high sugar-to-fiber ratio, and the relatively lower vitamin and phytochemical profile of sweet potatoes broad them down to last place on our ranking.
But all potatoes, including sweet potatoes, make a great addition to any well-balanced diet! They are delicious, versatile, and worth including.
Where does your favorite fall on the list?
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