Featured food: baked potatoes


Baked potatoes are the perfect winter comfort food.

They’re also healthy.   A plain medium (5-inch) baked potato, including the high fiber skin, has:

  • 165 calories (less than a cup of rice or pasta)
  • 4.4 grams protein
  • almost 4 grams fiber
  • close to 1000 mg potassium, almost 1/4 of daily recommended intake
  • significant vitamin C, magnesium, B6, iron and zinc
  • negligible fat and sodium

What could be wrong with this?

Portion size.  We tend to think of baked potatoes as side dishes, usually served with a large piece of meat, and then loaded with high fat toppings like sour cream, butter or melted cheese.  The typical ginormous restaurant potato can easily weigh twice as much as a modest 5-inch potato, doubling the calories before you add the sour cream or butter.

Toppings: The carb haters love to blame potatoes for our ills, but the real problem is the toppings.  It’s easy to add an extra 300 calories of mostly fat to that modest baked potato, if you add sour cream and butter, standard fare for many people.  Your super-sized restaurant potato side dish could end up at 600-700 calories.

What to do.

When buying potatoes for home use as a side dish, choose medium-sized Russets, the best variety for baking.  Bigger potatoes work well if the potato is the main dish.  More on that below.

When dining out, see if you can just get half a potato as a side dish.  If not, order a different side, and/or share a potato with someone else.

Don’t glob sour cream, butter, cheese sauce or piles of grated cheese on your potato!  When a your baked potato is a side dish, the best toppings: nothing at all.  Unadorned potatoes are delicious.  Or just go with salt and pepper.  You could also add a sprinkle of herbs like dill, paprika fresh chopped parsley or even ground chile.  If you love the idea of sour cream, substitute Greek style plain yogurt.  It adds protein without all the fat calories.

There’s another angle on potatoes: use them as the main dish.  A stuffed or topped baked potato makes a really easy, quick, filling and potentially healthy meal.  Here are some ideas for topping your potato:

  1. Plain Greek style yogurt plus a sprinkling of fresh or dried herb like dill or oregano.
  2. Burrata cheese.  This cheese is a lot like fresh mozzarella, but softer.  Flavor with chopped fresh basil, or a dab of pesto sauce.
  3. Chili plus 1-2 TB grated cheese makes a hearty meal out of your baked potato.
  4. Chopped cooked vegetables and 1 oz grated cheese like Cheddar or Swiss.
  5. Coconut cream curry sauce plus pieces of soft tofu
  6. Salsa, grated cheese and a dab of refried beans

You can probably think of your own toppings.  The best choices add protein, with little fat.  If you need a side dish to your potato entree, add a simple green salad.

What about the dreaded glycemic index?  Aren’t potatoes bad for you?

Answer: NO.

The glycemic index is an overblown and misunderstood concept.  Unfortunately it’s been easily exploited and misinterpreted to paint perfectly healthy foods like carrots and potatoes as somehow “bad” while giving a pass to ice cream and Snickers bars.  Oh really?  Another very good reason to get your nutrition advice from nutrition experts.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2019 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.