Food and Nutrition

The Surprising Reason White Potatoes Are Great for Gut Health

Emily Laurence

Photo: Stocksy/Susan Brooks-Dammann
If you're filling your grocery cart with foods for gut health in mind, chances are that leafy greens, fiber-rich beans, and probiotic-filled yogurt are at the top of your list. While these foods are 100 percent great for the gut, you're not going to want to head to self-checkout without grabbing a bunch of white potatoes. That's right, it turns out that the humble spud is an unsung gut health hero.

While sweet potatoes have long held a health halo, white potatoes are often overlooked as a nutrient-rich food. The poor tuber. Even having more potassium than a banana and being a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B6, phosphorus, niacin, and folate hasn't been enough for it to get the attention in the wellness world it deserves. Perhaps the news that white potatoes are directly linked to benefitting the gut will finally do it. The connection between white potatoes and gut health is one certified nutritionist and author Lindsay Boyers, CHNC touches on in her new book, Gut Health Hacks. Boyers gets more into it here and the info she serves up is just one more reason the veggie should be celebrated.

Inside the white potatoes and gut health connection

According to Boyers, the connection between white potatoes and gut health primarily comes down to one factor: resistant starch, which the tuber is chock-full of. "Resistant starch is a type of a carbohydrate that is literally resistant to digestion. In other words, much like fiber, it cannot be broken down by the enzymes in your small intestine," Boyers explains. "Instead, it travels to your large intestine where it acts like a prebiotic, or food source, for the bacteria that live there."

Boyers explains that the bacteria in the gut feed on the resistant starch and ferments it. Short-chain fatty acids are created in the process, specifically a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. "Butyrate is one of the short-chain fatty acids—the other two are propionate and acetate—that is produced when bacteria in the large intestine ferment resistant starch," Boyers says. "It serves as an energy source for your gut, protects its lining, and controls intestinal inflammation." Ever heard of leaky gut? This happens when the lining of the gut breaks down, allowing harmful substances to leak into the bloodstream. Butyrate helps keep the gut lining strong so that doesn't happen.

"All of this contributes to a healthier gut that allows good bacteria and other beneficial microbes to thrive—something that translates to improved digestion and even better mental health," Boyers says. The ramifications of this are pretty major. She says that butyrate has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer, which is unfortunately on the rise, projected to overtake breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among people between the ages of 20 and 49.

But in order to really get the maximum benefit from your white potatoes, Boyers says there are some important factors to keep in mind.

Watch the video below to see what other foods are great for gut health:

How to get maximum nutritional benefit from your white potatoes

How you cook your potatoes matters. The fact that white potatoes are a great source of resistant starch does not mean adding French fries to every meal is the most gut-friendly idea. (Unless you're making them in the oven or air fryer—in that case, why not?)

"Research shows that baking, rather than boiling or frying, potatoes has the most beneficial effect on the resistant starch content," Boyers says. She also adds that the cooling process is also an important step in maximizing the resistant starch in potatoes. "To get the most resistant starch, it is best to cook the potatoes and then let them cool for at least a few hours in the refrigerator before eating them. The cooling process turns digestible carbs into resistant starch and increases the total amount of starch in the potatoes. You know when you leave potatoes or rice in the fridge overnight and they feel a bit 'sticky' the next day? That’s the resistant starch."

Boyers says that eating your white potatoes cold will make the resistant starch content as high as possible. "It’s okay to reheat your potatoes, but keep in mind this will drop the resistant starch slightly. If you do reheat, try to keep the internal temperature of the potatoes at 140°F or lower," she says.

In terms of how many servings of white potatoes you should eat to get the benefits, Boyers recommends 15 to 20 grams of resistant starch per day (or 6 grams per meal), although she says this certainly doesn't have to come just from white potatoes. "Cooked white potatoes have around 3.6 grams of resistant starch per 100 grams, while cooked-then-cooled white potatoes have 4.3 grams of resistant starch per 100 grams. For reference, one medium potato weighs around 200 grams, on average, so cooked and cooled properly, it will provide 8.6 grams of resistant starch," she says. Other good sources of resistant starch are oats, rice, beans, legumes, and green bananas.

"You can also use raw potato starch, which has about 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon with almost no usable carbs," Boyers says, as another way to up your intake. Keep in mind, however, that she strongly emphasizes that the best way to reach your resistant starch needs is by incorporating a variety of sources into your diet. "The goal is not to eat two to three potatoes a day," she says.

Boyers also says that when upping your intake, it's important to do it gradually and not suddenly. "If you increase your intake too quickly, it can lead to gas, bloating, and other unpleasant digestive symptoms," she says.

So now you know: White potatoes are an unexpected gut health win. In fact, they're even more of one than sweet potatoes, which Boyers says are lower in resistant starch. Each type of potato has its own benefits, and actually, that goes for veggies in general. Consider the produce section an endless treasure trove of nutritional wins, and there is no fool's gold among its gems.

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