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What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Potatoes

Here are six health benefits and risks of having this staple in your diet.

For many of us, potatoes are an indispensable part of our diets. Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and French fries are among the most popular menu items at America's biggest chain restaurants. Potatoes make up some of our most iconic foods, and home fries and potato salads are part of our national culinary identity. Plus, potatoes are as affordable as they are versatile—for just 44 cents per pound, you have the base for a ton of hearty dishes.

With all the potatoes you eat every week, have you ever stopped to wonder what they're doing to your body? Sometimes, potatoes may just be the food you need for a dose of nutrients you may be missing out on. Other times, however, they could be exacerbating your existing health risks. Below are six things that happen to your body when you eat potatoes regularly. For more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out the 7 healthiest foods to eat right now.

1

Your muscles will be more relaxed.

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We know that the electrolyte potassium, like other electrolytes, is essential for our muscles' health and recovery. It hydrates fibers and tissues, which helps our muscles contract and relax as they're supposed to.

Good news for potato fans: one potato contains a full 20% of your daily recommended potassium intake. It's the highest-ranked food on the U.S Department of Agriculture's Food Sources of Potassium chart.

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2

Your risk of type 2 diabetes may increase.

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On a darker note, potatoes could be putting you in danger if you're at risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). A 2016 study from researchers at Harvard University found that "Higher consumption of total potatoes (including baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes and french fries) was significantly associated with an elevated risk for T2D."

Study participants who ate three servings per week were more at risk than those who ate less than one serving per week on average, and those who ate seven or more servings were at the most risk. Plus, eating french fries was associated with a higher risk than eating baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes. So what should you eat instead? The study authors note, "Replacement of potatoes with whole grains was associated with a lower T2D risk." Related: 15 Diet Tips for People With Type 2 Diabetes.

3

You'll fight off eye disease and lung cancer.

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According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, all potatoes contain some beneficial antioxidants, and those with red and purple flesh are antioxidant powerhouses. They contain carotenoids, which, as PubMed explains, can protect your eyes from eye disease and fight off lung cancer in at-risk groups. Here are 13 creative ways to use potatoes in your meals.

4

You'll be at increased risk of hypertension.

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One out of every three Americans suffers from hypertension, and eight out of ten don't even know it. Unfortunately for potato lovers, research studying the effects of the root vegetable on the body found that "Higher intake of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes and French fries was… associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension in three large cohorts of adult men and women." So get your blood pressure checked—if it's high, steer clear of the home fries for now. (Related: The Real Difference Between Brown and Sweet Potatoes.)

5

You'll get the iron your body needs to stay awake and energized.

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You may already know that, among other harmful effects, iron deficiency can leave you lethargic, weak, and headache-y. But, odds are you didn't know that potatoes are actually a great way to get the nutrients your body needs to fight off iron deficiency anemia.

A recent study from an international team of nutrition scientists published in Oxford University's Journal of Nutrition has found that, even though potatoes may not contain as much iron as some other foods, they are amazing at giving our bodies iron in a form it can actually absorb. They found that "iron absorbed from both potato test meals [meals comprised of different combinations of potatoes] covered 33% of the daily absorbed iron requirement for women of reproductive age."

Plus, it's possible to biofortify potatoes and sweet potatoes with more iron to further improve iron intake and absorption. Hey—eating biofortified mashed potatoes sure beats taking another tasteless tablet of ferrous sulfate. Here's the simplest garlic mashed potatoes recipe ever.

6

You'll feel full until your next meal.

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In a biochemistry study that aimed to "produce a validated satiety index of common foods"—a scientifically-backed scale that gives each food a score for how full it keeps you—potatoes ranked the highest of all the foods measured. Boiled potatoes were 323% as filling as white bread, making it more filling than fish, oatmeal, apples, beef, and lentils, and the 32 other foods measured.

You may be thinking, "I bet that's just because they're super high in calories or something." Nope—the researchers took that into account. They looked at a 240-Calorie-portion of all foods measured. Potatoes are the number one choice for feeling satisfied until your next meal. If you're feeling inspired to stock up on some, here are the best tips for storing potatoes, plus a delicious spicy mashed sweet potatoes recipe.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more
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