Health Talk


The good old potato, an everyday staple in many homes, isn’t as simple as you might think. Abundant with nutrients and naturally fat free, this starchy vegetable contributes to your Nutrient Reference Values (NRV’s) of several different vitamins and minerals.

According to the 11 Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) of South Africa, we are advised to make starchy foods the basis of most meals, and as a one-stop-supply of starch, it is hard to beat the potato. About 100g of boiled fresh potato, with its skin on, provides 354 kilojoules of energy.

The starch in potatoes is digested into glucose in the gut, and absorbed. From there the glucose travels to the liver and onto the body cells where it is metabolised for use by our muscles and nervous system; contributing to both our physical and mental performance.

High in chromium, naturally free from fat and sodium, providing 3 g of fibre per serving*, the potato also holds the highest amount of potassium per 100g when compared to any other starchy vegetables.

For potatoes baked with skin.


Potatoes, the underground hidden treasure.

Potatoes have long been an important, cost-effective source of energy, nutrition and satiety in the South African diet.

As the most important vegetable crop in South Africa and one of the world’s most recognised staple foods, the potato continues to play an important role in our diets, health and well-being.

The potato fact file

  • Potatoes* are high in carbohydrates, are naturally free of fat and naturally very low in sodium
  • Potatoes* are high in the mineral chromium
  • Potatoes* have the highest level of potassium when compared to other vegetables and starchy foods
  • Potatoes* are versatile and can be cooked in a number of ways. The best way to cook a potato is cooked/boiled/baked with the skin on, and served with low-fat, low-sugar fillings. One can also roast them lightly covered in oil.

*cooked with skin on


Vitamin B2 (mg) 0.1 5%
Niacin (mg)** 2.4 15%
Vitamin B6 (mg)** 0.5 29%
Vitamin C (mg) 8.2 8%
Pantothenic acid (mg)** 0.8 17%
Copper (mg) 0.2 27%
Chromium (ug) 15 43%
Iron (mg) 1.8 10%
Magnesium (mg) 39.1 9%
Manganese (mg) 0.3 14%
Phosphorus (mg) 98.9 8%
Potassium (mg) 710 **
Zinc (mg) 1.5 13%

*Nutrient Reference values (NRV’s) for individuals 4 years and older expressed per single serving.
**NO NRV available

So, you want to know what’s in a spud.


To understand potatoes, we first need to understand carbohydrates. As the body’s preferred fuel, carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and are an important part of a healthy diet. Experts say at least 40-50 percent of our daily body fuel should come from carbohydrates. However the type of carbohydrates is critical when choosing the best for health and blood sugar control.

Simple carbohydrates, found in sugars, are broken down quickly and absorbed into the blood stream, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, and a sharp increase in insulin levels, which is followed by a quick drop in sugar levels. This roller coaster effect on our blood sugar levels makes us feel great initially, but leaves us tired and often irritable once the sugar levels dip again.

In contrast, the complex, starchy carbohydrates (as found in potatoes), are made up of many sugars and take a long time to be broken down in the stomach. This means that the sugars are released more slowly into the blood stream, giving us a more constant, sustained energy, avoiding the roller coaster effect of our blood sugar levels.

As mentioned in the HEALTH TALK section, according to the 11 Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) of South Africa, we are advised to make starchy foods the basis of most meals. It is however important to use a bit of nutrition sense when selecting your starches, and be sure to choose those that are close to their natural form (unprocessed),provide dietary fibre and filled with key nutrients.

Potatoes, a complex carbohydrate with nutritional value that exceeds most processed foods, are the ideal food to include in a healthy balanced meal. Approximately 100g of a cooked, fresh potato with its skin provides 354 kilojoules of energy and 16g of glycaemic carbohydrates.


Not only do potatoes provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, but they also contribute to our daily vitamins and mineral intake.

One portion (1 medium potato), provides the following vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin B2 (mg) 0.1 5%
Niacin (mg)** 2.4 15%
Vitamin B6 (mg)** 0.5 29%
Vitamin C (mg) 8.2 8%
Pantothenic acid (mg)** 0.8 17%
Copper (mg) 0.2 27%
Chromium (ug) 15 43%
Iron (mg) 1.8 10%
Magnesium (mg) 39.1 9%
Manganese (mg) 0.3 14%
Phosphorus (mg) 98.9 8%
Potassium (mg) 710 **
Zinc (mg) 1.5 13%


Potassium content per serving (mg)

710 mg

1 med potato

710 mg

1 med potato

710 mg

1 med potato

710 mg

1 med potato

Potassium is an important mineral that aids in the proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs in the human body. Potatoes have one of the highest levels of potassium compared to other vegetables and starchy foods.

The South African FBDG recommends that all South Africans should eat plenty of vegetables and fruit each day. However, a frequently expressed concern in the on-going public health debate is that fresh vegetables and fruit, particularly those that are nutrient dense, are not affordable to the average consumer.

Several studies have shown that South African diets, especially of poorer South Africans, are generally low in potassium and vitamin C, as well as several other micronutrients provided by vegetables and fruit.

The potato, as a low-cost nutrient dense vegetable, is therefore a fantastic vegetable choice for all South Africans.

Adding to its many health benefits, according to the American Heart Association Position Statement, potassium also plays an important role in the fight against heart disease, as potassium effectively lowers blood pressure, helping to prevent hypertension and the consequent cardiovascular disease.

Functions of potassium:

  • Potassium plays a crucial role in normal heartbeat rhythm, smooth muscle contraction, blood pressure control and nervous system and heart function;
  • Regulate fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base balance in the body
  • Essential to convert glucose to energy
  • Along with magnesium, potassium acts as a muscle relaxant
  • Helps body get rid of excess water
  • Excess sodium can interfere with K’s functions


Potatoes are high in chromium and they provide 43% of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) for South Africans older than 4 years.

Functions of chromium:

  • Improves glucose tolerance
  • Involved in glucose metabolism (necessary for energy production)
  • Has a blood stabilising effect

Symptoms of low chromium levels may include lowered insulin activity and abnormal blood sugar levels.


Dietary fibre is an important part of a healthy diet, yet most of us still seem to lack sufficient amounts of it in our daily intake.

Fibre is important in preventing diseases like cancer, obesity, diabetes and in maintaining health. The recommended intake of fibre for adults is 20 to 30g daily. 1 medium potato cooked in skin, provides 3g of fibre. This is approximately 10 to15 percent of the recommended intake of fibre per day. Not bad for a humble little spud!

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a gel in the intestines which softens the stools, whereas insoluble fibre retains water, therefore increasing the stool volume.

How do potatoes stack up against other starchy foods?

Potato (medium)** 498kj 24g 5mg 8mg 474mg YES
Brown bread (2 slices)** 620kj 26g 3.3g 0mg 136mg NO
Brown rice (1 cup)** 844kj 38g 3g 0g 77g YES
Pasta (1 cup)** 825kj 37g 2g 0g 43mg NO
Maize meal (200g)** 910kj 48g 3.6g 0g 74mg YES

*Suggested serving size as recommended on food label.
**cooked weight

Values obtained from: Condensed Food Composition Tables for South Africa. Medical Research Council

With the popularity of the low carb, high protein and/or fat diets such as the Paleo Diet and the Banting Diet, made popular in South Africa by Professor Tim Noakes, many people have been shunning away from eating starchy carbohydrates.

The truth is that, in moderation, complex carbohydrates like potatoes can be very beneficial to your health, and an important part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. As a natural, unprocessed food, the potato is a far better choice than bread and other processed, sugary carbohydrates.

Be nutritionally wise, and understand the benefits on the potato:

Naturally fat-free

One of the few utterly delicious foods that are naturally free of fat are cooked potatoes with their skin on. Remember the fat is added to potatoes via the butter, oil, dressing or sauces. The ideal cooking method to get the most out of the potato would be a moist-cooking method. Ensure that the fillings you use are low in fat, and low in sugar.

Low in sodium

Our bodies need sodium to help maintain water and mineral balance and blood volume. But too much of a good thing (sodium in this case) can have negative effects on your health, such as an increased risk for high blood pressure (which contributes to heart disease and stroke).

While most of us get enough sodium each day to meet our bodies’ needs (about 1,500 milligrams), the average person consumes way too much! Experts recommend that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily; that’s about 1 teaspoon of salt. Cooked potatoes with skin are naturally very low in sodium.

Potatoes and weight management

Potatoes, on their own, are naturally free from fat. Like most fresh foods, it is not the potato itself but the way in which it is prepared and the things you add to them that increase the fat content of the dish.

As with all foods, moderation is key and portion size is critical for weight management. One medium potato, which is about the size of your computer mouse, provides just under 500kJ, so eating too many potatoes can exceed your necessary total energy intake for the day.

However when eaten in moderation, potatoes are an ideal part of a balanced diet.

“Potatoes, when boiled in their skin, have low energy values and are ideal for slimming diets and diets to maintain a healthy body weight,” says Professor Esté Vorster, Director: Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research at the Faculty of Health Sciences of North-West University.

Also, remember that not only are you getting carbohydrates and energy from potatoes, but a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients, which will be beneficial to your health as a whole.

Love your heart, love potatoes

When it comes to choosing heart-healthy foods, you can put a big tick next to cooked potatoes with the skin on.

Besides being naturally free of cholesterol and fat, potatoes also contain potassium, are very low in sodium and provide 3g of fibre per medium cooked potato with skin. All these requirements make for a heart healthy food.

Of course, as mentioned above, it is what you put on your potato and how you cook it that may be cause for your doctors’ blood pressure to rise and heart to palpitate. But, if you stick to the rule and cook your potato with skin on, using a moist heat method (no oil) and fill it with a low fat, low sugar filling, you can create a delicious meal that your heart and your mouth will love.

A healthy balanced diet – potatoes fit the bill

Potatoes are the perfect addition to a healthy, well-balanced diet. And, best of all, they can taste delicious and be a part of an incredible, creative meal.

Potatoes are also a great catalyst for ‘sneaking’ more vegetables into your diet. Click here to see our delicious recipes for ideas on how to incorporate potatoes into your meals.

Potatoes don’t have as much nutrients as other vegetables

Potatoes are often underestimated for the nutrients they bring to the table when compared with their colourful vegetable counterparts. Potatoes in fact are packed with a variety of important nutrients. Potatoes a good source of potassium and offer more potassium per serving than a banana. The combination of the low sodium content with the higher level potassium makes potatoes a great choice for individuals who have hypertension and are aiming to improve their blood pressure levels. Potatoes contain a variety of phytochemicals which are compounds found in foods that offer important health benefits. Potatoes contain carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolic acids – which all contribute to improved health.

Potatoes are a carbohydrate and should therefore be avoided

With all the talk on cutting out carbs you may have decided to avoid eating the splendid spud. Experts agree that excess intakes of highly refined carbohydrates, sugar and sugar containing foods are problematic for overall health and can increase insulin secretion resulting in a potential cascade of inflammatory responses. Potatoes however don’t fall into this category. Yes potatoes are a carbohydrate but they are a whole food that provides an array of nutrients. It is important that the portion is controlled as the key to eating carbohydrates is to manage the quality and quantity that one consumes. One medium baked potato weighing or 3 baby potatoes (a 90g serving if you were to weigh it) will be equal to eating one slice of bread.

Potatoes are fattening and should not be included in a weight loss diet

Concerned that adding a potato to lunch might tip the bathroom scale in the wrong direction? Well think again – a medium potato (100g) only contains approximately 330kJ. It is what we are adding to the potato through various cooking methods that is the problem. A large systematic review published this year indicated that when it comes to weight loss the critical component necessary to achieve optimal weight loss is energy balance. The way in which you prepare the potato will significantly contribute to the total energy value. French fries that are frozen and then oven baked result in the energy value doubling up from the 330kJ baked potato to 720kJ per 100g. If we consider a typical deep fried “slap chip” version the energy jumps even more to 1225kJ for an average 100g portion. Rather stick to boiling or baking your spud to avoid falling into this common trap.

Perfect potatoes for the festive season…

Potatoes are so versatile and easy to prepare that they are the perfect lazy quick option to opt for during the festive season when all you want to do is relax and unwind. Baked potatoes with assorted fillings is a delicious healthy lunch that can be prepared in a few minutes, the left over potatoes can be chopped up and made into a potato salad by adding fresh parsley coriander to the potatoes along with a mixture of fat free smooth cottage cheese and low fat mayonnaise.


1| Have a good meal structure.
Eat breakfast, lunch and supper each day and include healthy, small snacks if you are hungry in between meals. During the holiday season ones normal daily routine changes resulting in awkward meal times, skipping meals and snacking throughout the day. Skipping meals to ‘save’ kilojoules for the next meal or drinks generally results in over eating or drinking in excess. Structured meals throughout the day assists in controlling blood glucose levels and therefore improves appetite control.

2| Stay in control.
Often people think that the December holiday is time to relax and throw caution to the wind when it comes to maintaining healthy eating habits. It is possible to make it through the festive season without feeling deprived. Moderation is the key to when making healthy food choices without excluding yourself from social occasions. Try to select the best available option and always have small portions of foods that you know are not high up on the healthy food list.

3| Drinking for entertainment.
Drinks are often used for socializing, which results in drinking beverages that are often high in calories even when you are not thirsty. Try to be selective in what you choose, control the quantities by using smaller glasses and filling your glass with ice before you add your selected beverage. Using white wine spritzers, soda water in place of carbonated drinks and added a dash of lime or a sprig of fresh mint will make all the difference to your drink but not derail your kilojoule intake.

4| Don’t blow it!
If you deviate from your healthy eating plan, make sure your next food choice is healthy. One undesirable food choice should not give you reason to continue to make poor food choices. Choose good quality foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. Aim for 4-5 servings of vegetables a day by including salads at lunch, vegetable crudités as snacks and grilled or steamed vegetables with supper.

5| Exercise
People often change their routine over the holiday period and the amount of physical activity is reduced. It is important to continue to exercise for approximately 30 -60minutes at a moderate intensity each day even if the type or time of exercise changes. Exercise can be relaxing and sociable such as going for a jog/ walk/ swim/ cycle/ water ski etc. You could also arrange to play tennis, beach volleyball or golf on your holiday. Exercise helps to control appetite and contributes to higher daily energy expenditure.

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