Somewhere along the line, white potatoes got a bad rap. Despite being one of America’s most produced crops (aka, we’re eating a lot of them), all the frying that’s usually involved has led many people to cut potatoes from their diet when trying to eat healthy. And ever since sweet potatoes became a staple in trendy diets like Paleo, white potatoes really got left in the dust. Here, we break down the nutritional difference between the two, and take a look at how each can be a beneficial part of a training Mudder’s diet.
Calorically, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are pretty similar, with 130 calories per serving for regular potatoes and 90 calories per serving for sweet potatoes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. White potatoes are 5 grams higher in carbs, but lower in sugar… as the name suggests, sweet potatoes come with more sugar (7 grams per serving compared to 2 grams in a regular spud).
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes do live up to their healthy reputation – they’re full of beta-carotene, and blow regular potatoes out of the water when it comes to Vitamin A. Both of these are good for your vision, and while Vitamin A deficiency isn’t a huge issue in the United States, adding more to your diet can’t hurt, registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says. After all, mud in your eyes is a handicap enough. Sweet potatoes also include 43 mg of calcium per serving, beating out potatoes’ 15 mg.
A commonly associated ‘pro’ to sweet potatoes is its lower glycemic index ranking. While it’s true that when eaten alone, your blood sugar would spike less after eating a sweet potato than when you eat a white potato, Delbridge stresses that that’s only the case when either potato is actually eaten alone. Add white potatoes to a balanced meal that includes protein and fat and it will absorb more slowly in your stomach, reducing the likelihood of that spike.
Benefits of Regular Potatoes
Regular potatoes beat out sweet potatoes in a few categories, including potassium (a serving has more potassium than a banana!) and magnesium, both of which help regulate blood pressure. They’re pretty on par with sweet potatoes when it comes to fiber and protein, and have a solid amount of Vitamin C. Regular potatoes are also typically less expensive than sweet potatoes, thought Delbridge calls both “superheroes, hugely versatile, and extremely cheap.” He also points out that they both have a very long shelf life, especially compared to high-water veggies which go bad pretty quickly.
Where We Go Wrong
Ultimately, it’s all comes down to preparation. It doesn’t take much to make sweet potatoes taste good. Case in point: Sweet potatoes are generally baked and eaten plain, with maybe a little cinnamon sprinkled on top, or chopped up and added into a salad or bowl. Regular potatoes, on the other hand, can be a little bland on their own. As such, they’re regularly turned into fries, chips, butter-filled mashed potatoes… all the tasty things that are more cheat day than every day.
If you resist the urge to dump huge amounts of bacon/sour cream/cheese on top, the nutritional profile of both potatoes are pretty similar. When eating a baked potato, Delbridge recommends making healthy topping swaps like turkey bacon for regular bacon and Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. As for fries, he says it’s okay to order them every now and then, but pay attention to the portion size. A good rule of thumb: eat the portion you’d find on a kids menu.
The Bottom Line
Potatoes — both white and sweet — are good for you, Mudders. In fact, Delbridge recommends eating as many colors as you can find… white, purple, red, yellow, orange. Each comes with its own nutritional benefits, so don’t feel like you have to be married to the orange kind. And on the flip side, keep in mind that when you’re ordering fries, there’s not a huge difference between regular and sweet potato. “If [sweet potato fries] are your preference, do it, great, you’re getting some Vitamin A,” he says. “But you’re not making a giant difference in your diet.” Our dreams are slightly dashed on that front, but it’s good to know that when they’re baked outside a vat of oil, the two potatoes aren’t as different as we thought.