Red, purple, gold, and more — it might seem as if there are as many varieties of potato as there are colors in the rainbow. You wouldn’t be wrong to think so. There are, in fact, over 1500 different types of potatoes in the world. And they have a variety of health benefits as rich as their many hues.1
The Many Varieties Of Potato
Most of the potatoes you see in the vegetable aisle are members of the genus Solanum. (The sweet potato is a notable exception, but more on that later.)
Potatoes are root vegetables, which means they grow underground. Most other vegetables we eat, like spinach or broccoli, grow above ground.2
Some of the most common potato varieties include:
- Russet potatoes
- Yukon gold potatoes
- Red potatoes
- Purple potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
Their flesh can be waxy, floury, or somewhere in between. Some are better for roasting; others, for baking. While different types of potatoes may have different health benefits, they also have a lot in common with each other.
The Root of Nutrition
Potatoes are packed with nutrients. They are a great source of potassium, iron, folate, vitamin C, and several B vitamins.3
They also provide minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. Magnesium may help maintain nerve and motor function. Phosphorus may help your body store and produce energy.4,5,6
Potatoes can also be a valuable source of fiber and antioxidants.7,8
Potatoes are a great source of resistant starch, especially if you eat the skin as well as the flesh.9,10 Because it resists absorption in the small intestine, resistant starch serves as a valuable source of dietary fiber.11 A diet high in fiber may help to support cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health.12
Your body naturally produces compounds known as free radicals. But too many free radicals can accumulate in the body, creating what’s known as oxidative stress. And external factors like pollution may increase that buildup. Oxidative stress can lead to tissue damage in various organ systems.13
And while the body also produces antioxidants, that may not be enough to combat the accumulation of free radicals over time.14
That’s where the potato comes in. Potatoes are a valuable source of antioxidants, which may help your body defend itself against oxidative stress.15
Even more than most potatoes, russets contain quercetin, a flavonoid that may have significant antioxidant properties.16Flavonoids may help counteract the oxidative stress created by a buildup of free radicals.17
When you think of a baked potato with sour cream and all the fixin’s, you’re most likely thinking of a russet potato. While some fixin’s are better for you than others, russets themselves can be quite nutritious.
There are over 60 different varieties of russet.18 One of the most common potatoes in the U.S. is the Russet Burbank. In addition to making great baked potatoes (and mashed potatoes), the Russet Burbank is also very popular for making french fries.
Russets are so named for their rough (or russet) skin type. When you cut them open, you’ll discover a starchy, white flesh — and plenty of potential health benefits.19
Yukon Gold Potatoes
If you’re looking for a great all-purpose potato, look no further than the Yukon gold. These yellow potatoes are ideal for rich, flavorful mashed potatoes. Their moist flesh has a sweet flavor that puts the “comfort” in comfort food.20
But whether you’re roasting them, mashing them, or baking them, Yukon gold potatoes won’t just warm your heart. They’ll also give you a nutritional boost that may help keep that heart in good shape. Not only are they very starchy potatoes, but they may have exceptionally high antioxidant properties.21,22
With their waxy texture, red potatoes are great for boiling and roasting. They’re also particularly well-suited for potato salad, with a sweet flavor that gets even sweeter when chilled.
Red potatoes tend to have a lower starch content than a lot of other potatoes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of health benefits.23 In fact, red potatoes may have twice the number of flavonoids as white potatoes.24 They derive their red color from anthocyanins, a class of phytochemicals which may help support the body’s immunity and fat oxidation.25
But just as all that glitters is not (Yukon) gold, red potatoes don’t have a monopoly on anthocyanins. You can also find them in other brightly colored spuds, like purple potatoes.
Colored potatoes have a significantly higher antioxidant content than white potatoes.26 High amounts of phytonutrients like anthocyanins are what give both red and purple potatoes their color. In fact, nutritionally, they resemble vegetables of another color: green. Their antioxidant activity is comparable to that of spinach and Brussels sprouts.27
They also have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes.28 This means they may be a helpful alternative to help support healthy blood sugar levels. With their dense, waxy texture and rich color, purple potatoes can add a satisfying pop of color to any meal.29
Unlike other potatoes on this list, sweet potatoes are from the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. (Most other potatoes are nightshades, members of the family Solanaceae). Sweet potatoes are only distantly related to most potatoes. That doesn’t make them any less delicious — or nutritious. Depending on the cooking method used, sweet potatoes generally have an even lower glycemic index than purple potatoes.30
Sweet potatoes also have high concentrations of anthocyanins and beta-carotene.31 Beta-carotene, in particular, may help support skin health, lung health, and even cognitive function.32
It’s All In How You Slice It (Or Bake It, Or Chill It)
You may be able to enhance the health benefits of potatoes simply by changing the way you prepare them. Lower temperatures and longer cooking times help potatoes to retain more resistant starch.33
Chilling potatoes after you cook them may also help increase their resistant starch content.34 And for an added health boost, dressing those chilled potatoes with vinegar may even lower their glycemic index.35 A potato salad will taste even better when you know it’s providing you with extra fiber.
Simple French-Style Potato Salad
The following recipe should make about 7 cups of a simple but flavorful potato salad. And feel free to substitute any of your favorite types of potatoes – you’re not just limited to yellow or red.
- 2 pounds baby yellow and/or red potatoes
- 2 Tbsps apple cider vinegar
- 2 1/2 Tbsps spicy brown mustard (or dijon mustard)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper (plus more to taste)
- 3 Tbsps red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 3 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped dill
- 1 cup diced green onion
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley (optional)
- Rinse and scrub the potatoes, then slice into 1/4-inch slices. Add to a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a dash of salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium/high and cook for 10-15 minutes. You should be able to easily pierce the potatoes with a knife and watch them slide off.
- While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing. Add mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, and 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar to a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine them. While continuing to whisk, slowly stream in the olive oil (this will emulsify the oil and vinegar). Add the dill and whisk once more.
- Taste and adjust flavor as needed. Add more salt for saltiness; black pepper for spice, mustard for intense mustard flavor; red vinegar for more acidity; or dill for herbal flavor.
- Drain the potatoes and rinse them with cool water. When they’re mostly dry, add them to a large serving bowl. Season them with a dash of salt, black pepper, and 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar.
- Add the dressing to the potatoes, along with the green onion and parsley (optional). Toss to combine. Adjust salt and pepper according to taste. The longer you let it soak in the dressing, the more flavorful it will be.
- Serve warm, chilled, or room temperature. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.36
If potato salads aren’t your thing, that’s not a problem. Maybe you love mashed potatoes instead. Or perhaps you prefer roasting them or baking them. Potatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables you can cook with. With their many varieties — and the many ways to prepare them — you’ll never be bored with potatoes.