Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say

Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
There's very little nutritional difference between raw sweet and white potatoes.Getty/Lauri Patterson/Diana Miller
  • Many people think sweet potatoes are healthier than white potatoes, but this is incorrect, according to dietitians.
  • Both forms of potato have practically the same calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and fiber content, registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence told Insider.
  • Sweet potatoes are slightly higher in vitamins A and C, but white ones have more potassium, registered consultant dietitian Ro Huntriss confirmed.
  • Both foods are nutritious, and cutting out white potatoes if you enjoy them is actually unhealthy, registered dietitian Eling Tsai MPH RD told Insider.

When trying to improve one's diet, many people think they need to cut out potatoes.

White potatoes, some of us have been led to believe, are fattening carb-bombs that should be shunned at all costs, especially if you're trying to lose weight.

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are halo superfoods that will turn you into a beacon of health, we're often told. A burger is transformed into a low-cal meal by the addition of sweet potato rather than regular fries on the side, right?

Well, not quite. Not at all, in fact.

Three dietitians explained to Insider how the nutritional profiles of sweet and white potatoes are very similar, and they're calling for people to stop demonizing the latter.


The calorie difference between sweet and white potatoes is negligible

If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.

Given there's only a tiny calorie difference between white and sweet potatoes, which one you choose won't really play any role in your weight loss progress.

While 100g of sweet potato contains around 98 calories, 100g of white baking potato contains roughly 107 calories, according to the nutritional profiles on UK grocery store Tesco's website — other listings suggest different figures, but whichever measurement you use, the figures are always similar.

Individual foods are vilified on a daily basis as being a direct cause of weight gain. They are lambasted up and down the land by those who refuse to consult evidence and apply rational context⁣ ⁣ This extreme motto usually includes refined carbohydrates. Many feeling they must exclude their favourite breads, pasta, rice and potato, believing they are satanic villains, whilst wholewheat versions showcase as Captain America to save them from doom. ⁣ ⁣ Next door, Tracey is heard proclaiming that she is “being good today” by swapping white rice for brown. Yet a closer look at the nutritional value shows that brown rice holds similar caloric and fibre values to white rice. And these are the noteworthy topics of that discussion.⁣ ⁣ Rice aside, fibre may be the one main nutritional difference between these crab based foods. Whilst there is more fibre the less refined foods, thus offering more likelihood of satiety, this is not guaranteed. Because despite feeling fuller, we can still choose to eat more. Furthermore, we need to appreciate additional foods consumed across overall diet and energy expenditure.⁣ ⁣ A diet rich in fibre is advised to support overall health, gut in particular. In terms of composition, boils down to the same thing again - energy balance. As you can see, there is marginal difference in calories between the potatoes, rice, pasta or bread. Body composition is defined by how we manage our overall energy, regardless of the food type. ⁣ ⁣ Therefore, it is impossible to argue that consuming higher fibre foods will categorically be better for our body composition than lower fibre foods without assessing quantities of food consumed.⁣ ⁣ And for those who argue that coconut oil boosts metabolism and specifically enables you to burn more calories (as seen in online style magazines), there is simply no reliable research to support this. The calorie value of any butter or oil is the salient determinant of body composition, whilst some offer additional nutritional benefits. ⁣ ⁣ No single food makes you leaner, just as no single food makes you fatter. If white toast and butter is enjoyed, facilitating its inclusion in your informed diet is essential.

A post shared by Graeme Tomlinson (@thefitnesschef_) on May 18, 2020 at 11:17am PDT

They have roughly the same macronutrient profiles and fiber content

If you're into your fitness and nutrition, you might be interested in tracking your macros (the three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbs). And guess what? There's a negligible difference between the potatoes on that front too.

Sweet potatoes contain roughly 1.2g protein, 21.3g carbs, and 0.3g fat per 100g, and white potatoes contain 2.5g protein, 22.6g carbs, and 0.5g fat per 100g.


Monica is blissfully shopping the aisles of Sainsbury’s to the tune of a classic recital. In goes the brown rice, mackerel and potatoes with panache. But then. Out of nowhere. The recital stops. Monica drops her eggs on the floor. Horror is about to unfold. - - Janice. The manipulative, condescending superbitch that Monica finally ridded herself of a couple of months ago in a rustic cafe in Clapham. “Oh... Janice, long time no see.” - - Janice: “oh it’s you. How ARE you. You know... after your ‘episode’ in the cafe?” Her condescending tone confirms her alleged concern is in fact her usual malice. - - “Oh yes, never been better actually Janice. I’m just doing a bit of shopping”. Janice peers into Monica’s basket like a constipated Martian with extendable eyes. “Oh my, Did you not hear dear? Potatoes are basically sugar. Did you not see that programme on BBC 1? Uhuh rice... And what’s this this... Mackerel? Oh Monica, are you and Peter OK financially?” - - Janice retracts her eyes and contorts into an expression which intentionally hides (and therefore shows) her smugness. She zooms in on her own basket. Quinoa, wild salmon, organic sweet potato, manuka honey, goji berries, a juicer and 8 bags of kale. “Of course it’s not easy these days, making sure I eat the right foods... staying in shape”... the latter point emphasized by looking Monica up and down whilst programming her eyes into wide eyed thunderfuck mode. - - “I guess... I really must dash Janice, nice catching up”. Janice accepts that her infliction of heinous malevolence is over. Janice prances away, head held high along with her £1600 Gucci handbag. Until she is inexplicably taken out by an employee product trolley. Her basket flies aloft, her ‘superfoods’ float majestically into orbit. She now lays like a cockroach stuck on its back praying for life. Alas, 14 pies from the trolley splat on her petrified face. She has no option but to eat humble pie as Monica turns away, smiles and peacefully drifts back into her karma themed recital. - - #thefitnesschef #diet #diettips #eatsmart #fatloss #nutrients #caloriedeficit #carbs #superfood #calories #protein #macros #flexiblediet #nutritionfacts

A post shared by Graeme Tomlinson (@thefitnesschef_) on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:03pm PST

Fiber is also commonly tracked when people are looking to improve their diet and digestion, but again, the numbers are largely the same.

Registered dietitian Eling Tsai MPH RD told Insider: "They have comparable amounts of fiber — the average sweet potato only has roughly 1g more fiber than the average white potato."

Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
Eling Tsai is a New York City-based dietitian.Eling Tsai

And registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence MS, RDN, CDN agreed: "Both are pretty comparable as far as calories, carbs, fat, magnesium, and fiber."

Spence recommends leaving the skin on whichever potato you choose to ensure you get all that fiber.


White and sweet potatoes have differing micronutrient profiles

Where the two forms of potato do differ somewhat, however, is in their micronutrient breakdowns, meaning vitamins and minerals.

"The main differences between white and sweet potatoes are the vitamins and minerals," Spence said.

"People are under the impression that sweet potatoes are healthier because they are orange. We have heard that 'white foods' are bad which is not true."

Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
Shana Spence is a dietitian based in New York.Shana Spence

The vibrant orange hue of a sweet potato is due to it being higher in vitamin A, and they also have more vitamin C, Spence, Tsai, and registered consultant dietitian Ro Huntriss confirmed to Insider.


White potatoes, however, are slightly higher in potassium.

"Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes are nutritious foods," added Huntriss.

"They both provide us with energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but their nutrient profiles vary."

Sweet potatoes are lower GI and count as one of your five a day

You may have been told that sweet potatoes will keep you fuller for longer than white potatoes, and there is some truth to this because they typically have a lower glycemic index (GI).

This means that their glucose (energy) is released more slowly than that of white potatoes, according to Huntriss.


Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
Ro Huntriss is a dietitian in London, UK.Ro Huntriss

It's worth noting, however, that the glycemic index of a food also depends on how it's cooked.

"The other notable difference is that sweet potatoes are counted towards your five-a-day [portions of fruit and vegetables] whereas white potatoes are considered a starchy food, but remember that starchy carbohydrates are still a valuable food group," Huntriss added.

Stop thinking of 'good' vs 'bad' foods

Ultimately, all three dietitians believe it's important we stop demonizing white potatoes — both forms are nutritious, and it's certainly not a case of a "good" and "bad" type.

"They are both healthy choices in their own right, and can both play a part in a well-balanced diet," Huntriss said.


Of course, when it comes to weight management, how you cook your potato will drastically change the calorie count: fries or buttery mash will both be higher in calories than simply boiled spuds or a baked potato.

Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
Sweet potato fries are delicious.Getty

But that doesn't mean they're "bad."

"Neither a baked potato nor sweet potato fries should be labeled as a 'bad' food," said Huntriss.

"They can both be consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. Considerations to take include portion size and cooking methods, as these factors will contribute to their overall nutritional provision."


Placing a ban on white potatoes is unhealthy

In fact, if you actively enjoy white potatoes, preventing yourself from eating them is unhealthy from a behavioral point of view as it's a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.

"In their raw form, sweet potatoes and white potatoes don't differ that significantly when it comes to nutrition, and so it'd be misguided to think that always eating sweet potatoes (in whatever form) over white potatoes is a form of eating healthfully," said Tsai.

She said that labeling food as "good" or "bad" can strengthen disordered eating patterns or food-related anxiety.

Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians say
A baked potato is an excellent energizing meal.Getty

"Instead, let your hunger and fullness levels and personal preferences at any given moment guide how you want to eat," Tsai advised.


"Drop the 'good' and 'bad' labels, and think in terms of fullness and satisfaction.

"The more we neutralize and normalize all foods, the less likely we are to partake in cycles of restricting and then overeating specific foods.

"I would argue that this cycle is what is actually harmful — not eating white carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet."

Eat whichever potato you enjoy

Ultimately, you should eat whichever form of potato you enjoy and fancy on any given day. And do away with any negative feelings that may come with your choice.

What else can we add to this list? I’m seeing so many posts and ads for how to eat during this time (and any time before this crisis really). There is no “right” way and there’s definitely not a “right” way that’s going to fit everyone and their needs. . You can’t eat perfectly as there’s no such thing. No one is perfect. Clean eating is a ridiculous term and always was. Clean eating? As in washing produce before consumption? That’s what I think of. Good and bad foods lets stop listing this all together. . What are your thoughts? Any other terms you’re tired of seeing? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #allfoodsfit #dietculturedropout #dietculturesucks #stopdieting #antidietdietitian #antidietrevolution #antidietproject #ditchthediet #dietician #wellnessthatworks #wellnesswednesday #wednesdaywellness #dietitiansofinstagram #rdapproved #dietitianapproved #healthyeah #eatsmart #foodforthought #food4thought #fuelyourbodyright

A post shared by Shana Minei Spence,MS,RDN,CDN (@thenutritiontea) on Apr 22, 2020 at 10:02am PDT

"I want people not to be scared of eating foods they enjoy in general," said Spence.


"If you prefer regular french fries to sweet potato fries, eat the regular ones. The vitamins and minerals will be different but you can get those in other foods."

Spence, like Tsai and Huntriss, is anti the "good" vs "bad" school of thought around food, explaining that "white foods don't equal unhealthy," it's simply that "different foods will give us different attributes."

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