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Are Potatoes Bad for Your Diet?

Americans love potatoes, eating an average of 2.5 pounds per week, according to the USDA. Potatoes are a healthful food, containing a variety of important vitamins and minerals. These vegetables, however, also contain a high concentration of carbohydrates, which you need to take into account when developing a nutrition plan. Potatoes are not bad for your diet if eaten in appropriate portion sizes as part of a well-balanced nutrition plan.

Potatoes contain a large amount of starch, a form of carbohydrate that consists of long chemical chains of sugar molecules. A medium-sized potato — roughly 2 1/4 to 3 inches in diameter — contains approximately 36 grams of carbohydrates, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the calories in this food. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010" recommends limiting your carbohydrate intake to 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie per day diet, this equals 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates. If you are on a 1,500-calorie per day diet, your daily allotment of carbohydrates is approximately 170 g to 245 grams. On days when you include potatoes in your meal plan, choose low-carbohydrate foods to complete your menu to avoid exceeding your daily carbohydrate target.

Potatoes are a rich source of vitamin C and several B complex vitamins, including B-6, folate and niacin. A medium-sized white potato contains more than 16 milligrams of vitamin C, which represents approximately 20 percent of the recommended daily intake, or RDI. Vitamin C protects your tissues from chemical damage and supports the health of your musculoskeletal and immune systems. A medium-sized potato also provides you with approximately 35 percent of the RDI for vitamin B-6, 12 percent for folate and 15 percent for niacin. The B complex vitamins aid in many bodily functions, including the production of red blood cells, replacement of old cells and the production of energy from the food you eat.

Potatoes are rich in potassium and iron, two minerals your body requires to function normally. Many Americans do not consume enough potassium due to low fruit and vegetable intake. Including a medium-sized potato in your meal plan provides you with approximately 920 milligram of potassium, roughly 20 percent of the RDI. Potassium helps maintain water balance and is an essential cofactor in many chemical reactions that occur in your body. Iron is required to produce red blood cells, which transport oxygen from your lungs to your body tissues. A medium potato provides you with 1.9 milligrams of iron, which is roughly 11 percent of the recommended daily intake for pre-menopausal women and 24 percent for post-menopausal women.

How you prepare potatoes significantly affects whether they are good or bad for your diet. Although potatoes are naturally cholesterol-free and low in fat, frying or adding butter or margarine adds large amounts of fat and calories to potato dishes. Plain baked or boiled potatoes are more healthful dietary choices than mashed or fried potatoes. Many of the nutrients in potatoes are in the skins. To gain the most nutrient value from potatoes, wash them before cooking, and then prepare and eat them with the skins on.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.