Whether or not a potato is a vegetable depends on who you ask.
In 2011, nutrition experts from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health worked with researchers from Harvard Health Publications to create an eating plan for optimal health.
The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate — or the “Harvard Diet” — suggests you prioritize vegetables and fruit for half of every meal. The other half should optimize for whole grains and healthy proteins.
But if you’re following this plan, you might want to consider eliminating potatoes from your diet altogether.
“A potato is not a vegetable from a nutritional perspective,” Lilian Cheung, associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told CNBC Make It.
“Potatoes behave almost like a refined carbohydrate. It raises your blood sugar.”
The Harvard School of Public Health compares the effects of potatoes on blood sugar to those of a can of cola or a handful of candy. Research also suggests that the starchy tuber may be responsible for an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
But not all nutritionists share the same sentiment about potatoes.
Is the potato a vegetable?
Potatoes should definitely be considered a vegetable, according to Felicia Porrazza, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Pennsylvania.
“Thinking about what a vegetable really is, a potato falls under that. It’s just a starch,” Porrazza says. Vegetables are “the edible part of a plant,” she adds, and tubers like potatoes fit that description.
Botanically, potatoes are just vegetables because there is no other category for them, says Dr. Qi Sun, associate professor in the departments of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. .
But, “for us (at Harvard School of Public Health), vegetables are synonymous with healthy plant-based foods,” says Sun.
“You can’t call a potato a type of healthy vegetable.”
But it should be noted that potatoes are complex, adds Porrazza. They may raise your blood sugar levels, but they also contain great nutrients like potassium, fiber, and vitamins C and B6.
For Diana Ushay, registered dietitian at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Erica Leon Nutrition, “there is no simple answer”, because potatoes are extremely different from traditional vegetables like celery or broccoli.
“I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a vegetable like you would consider anything else a vegetable, but I would classify it as a starchy plant food instead.”
For most meals, a potato shouldn’t be the only plant-based item on your plate and should be accompanied by a green vegetable, adds Ushay.
Still, “potatoes are affordable. They pack a lot of nutrients and we should make room for them in our diets. Just because they’re not a ‘vegetable’ doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included.”
5 ways to make the most of what potatoes have to offer
Balancing your plate is key to avoiding a major spike in blood sugar from starchy foods like potatoes, Porrazza says. But how you cook them also matters.
So, lay the chips down and consider these potato tips:
- Save the skin to get more fiber.
- Pair potatoes with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and lean proteins like white fish or tofu.
- Avoid over-processing them with heavy creams and butter. Opt for herbs and olive oil instead.
- Don’t boil them unless you plan to use its broth in your meal as well, to avoid diminishing its nutritional value. Consider steaming them for a similar texture.
- If you like fries, make them at home.
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