by Lisa Sickels
Jacket potatoes are considered a health food by some and unhealthy by others, which can lead to confusion for those considering whether to include them in their own diet. There are several reasons for this mixed opinion, which this article will explore in detail.
As with any nutritional assessment, there are many factors that contribute to whether a food can be considered “healthy” or “unhealthy”, and this question can’t always be answered with a simple yes or no.
Some of the main aspects to consider when assessing the healthfulness of specific food or food type are:
- Energy density – calorie content per unit of weight or volume
- Macronutrient profile – carbohydrate, fat and protein ratios
- Micronutrient profile – vitamin and mineral quantities
- Fibre content – the amount of fibre present in the food
This article will explore these nutritional aspects for jacket potatoes, along with some of their associated benefits and downsides.
Jacket Potato Nutrition
The first thing to look at when assessing the health quality of a specific food is its nutritional profile. This includes all four bullet points from the introduction – the energy density, macronutrient profile, micronutrient profile, and fibre content.
Let’s begin with the energy density…
The calorie content of raw potatoes is around 69kcal per 100g (1). Potatoes can vary greatly in their size, ranging from large 370g spuds to small 170g ones, with an associated 255kcal and 117kcal, respectively. The skin doesn’t contain many calories in relation to the potato’s flesh, so the energy density will not change much with the skin left on or removed.
On the other hand, different cooking methods can change the energy density in different ways. For example, baking a potato will lead to water evaporating from it, resulting in the same amount of potato (and calories) weighing less. The resulting baked jacket potato will have around 93kcal per 100g (1).
The macronutrient profile describes the ratio of carbohydrates, fats and proteins found in a specific food.
Baked potatoes have the following macronutrient profile (2):
- 90% – Carbohydrates
- 8.9% – Protein
- 1.1% – Fat
They’re very high in carbohydrates and very low in fat. The flesh contains slightly more carbohydrates than the skin. It’s estimated that for a 260kcal whole baked potato, the skin holds 27g of carbohydrate while the flesh holds 34g (3).
The micronutrient profile describes the quantity of vitamins and minerals found in a specific food, both of which are critical for optimal health and wellness.
Jacket potatoes contain decent amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and mineral Potassium. Here are the values of each for a large (299g) baked potato, along with the associated percentages of their recommended “Daily Values” (4):
- Vitamin C 28.7mg 48% DV
- Vitamin B6 0.9mg 46% DV
- Potassium 1600mg 46% DV
Baked potatoes also contain modest amounts of several other vitamins and minerals, which vary between 20-30% of DV percentage for a 299g baked potato, including Niacin, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Manganese (4).
Fibre is a form of carbohydrate but is often considered separately when discussing the health qualities of a specific food. This is because it’s not actually absorbed or broken down by the digestive system, and also due to its criticality in enabling regular, healthy bowel movements.
A large baked jacket potato of approximately 299g has a fibre content of approximately 6.6g, which is 26% DV (4). These values are with the skin left on, and much of the fibre is found in the skin. It’s estimated that a skinless jacket potato has around 35% less fibre than a jacket potato with its skin left on (5).
Health Benefits of Eating Jacket Potatoes
There are numerous health benefits to eating whole baked potatoes:
High in Fibre
The high fibre content supports healthy digestion and bowel movements, which is known to reduce the risk of colon cancer and have a significant positive effect on overall health. This also makes jacket potato more filling than some other foods which means you feel satisfied for longer and you are more likely to eat less.
Jacket potatoes are rich in several nutrients that offer significant benefits for the body.
Vitamin C – maintains and protects the health of cells, skin, blood vessel, bones and cartilage, as well as supporting wound healing (6)
Vitamin B6 – enables the storage of energy from food sources of carbohydrate and protein, as well as the formation of haemoglobin in the blood (7)
Potassium – allows the body’s control of fluid balance and supports the proper functioning of the heart (8)
Manganese – an important antioxidant that may help to prevent certain diseases. It maintains healthy bones and cartilage and helps to regulate blood sugar.
Good for Weight Loss
Jacket potatoes can support weight loss for many people. This is largely due to their low-calorie content per gram and high starch content increasing their satiety value. Some weight loss methods, such as Slimming Word, even include them as “free foods” (9).
However, those aiming to lose weight should keep a close eye on how many they’re having. Their high carbohydrate content can actually cause weight gain if too many are consumed, as discussed below.
Healthy Toppings Add More Nutrients to Your Diet
The health benefits of baked potatoes can be further enhanced by the easy and simple addition of healthy and delicious toppings. Such additions can increase the micronutrient and fibre content while balancing the macronutrient ratio.
Eat your jacket potato with healthy toppings such as cottage cheese, tuna, and beans to create a balanced meal with enough protein. Don’t eat jacket potato with canned baked beans though as these will have heaps of added sugar which you’d rather not eat if you want to be healthy. Include vegetables such as red onions, sweetcorn and cabbage to further increase the nutritional value of the meal and reap more health benefits.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat that can be difficult for many to digest. More and more people are discovering or developing gluten-intolerance, and are therefore looking for gluten-free foods that they can still consume.
For those who are sensitive to it, gluten can cause a whole range of digestives symptoms, which range from slightly uncomfortable to completely debilitating. These symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Jacket potatoes are completely and naturally gluten-free, and therefore provide a great replacement carbohydrate source for those who are trying to eliminate gluten from their diets.
Health Drawbacks of Jacket Potatoes
In contrast to the health benefits of eating jacket potatoes, there are also several drawbacks…
If the potatoes are not organic, they’re typically sprayed with a range of pesticides as part of their production. These pesticides often seep through the skin and into the flesh, with some even being designed to do exactly that, meaning that pesticides can’t be completely removed from potatoes by peeling their skins.
Heavy pesticide consumption is linked to many deleterious health effects, ranging from cancer to neurological, hormonal and reproductive damage.
As mentioned above, the sensible consumption of potatoes can be beneficial for weight loss. However, overconsumption could lead to weight gain due to their high carbohydrate content and high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of the speed and magnitude of the effect that a specific food has on the body’s blood glucose.
The carbohydrate in potatoes is largely made of starch, which itself is made from long chains of glucose molecules. When these starch chains reach our digestive system, they’re quickly broken down into glucose molecules. If too many are eaten too often or too quickly, this can cause a rapid increase in blood glucose, which the body tries to combat with a corresponding increase in the hormone insulin. This insulin increase forces the excess glucose molecules to be stored as body fat, thus leading to weight gain.
Through the same high glycemic index effect as described above, eating too many jacket potatoes can be dangerous for diabetics. The quick spike in blood glucose can be challenging for the diabetics to deal with, due to their inability to produce or respond to the necessary amount of insulin.
The level of danger is dependent on a number of factors, such as the diabetic’s blood glucose level before the potato consumption, and which type of diabetes they actually have. However, anyone with diabetes should always take care when consuming jacket potatoes, to prevent increasing their blood glucose level too much or too quickly.
Resistant starch is a form of starch that doesn’t really get broken down by our digestive systems in the same way that normal starch does. It’s “resistant” to digestion. It’s, therefore, able to make its way to our large intestines, where it acts as a food source for many of the different types of bacteria that live that far down our digestive tract.
This can sometimes be a good thing, feeding the good forms of bacteria and allowing them to produce chemical by-products that are beneficial to our gut. However, this can also lead to the production of gas and wind for many people. This is especially true for those with IBS or any other form of gut’s microbiome imbalance, where resistant starch can actually feed the bad bacteria that are already present.
Additionally, letting a jacket potato go cold and then re-heating it can increase the content of resistant starch that’s present in the potato. In this way, re-heated jacket potato can be even worse for those that suffer from bloating and gas.
In the same way that jacket potatoes can be topped with healthy additions, they can also be topped with unhealthy ones. Adding lots of butter, full-fat mayonnaise or sugary sauces can completely out-weigh the potential health benefits from eating potatoes.
Conclusion – Is Jacket Potato Healthy?
In conclusion, jacket potatoes can be healthy for some and unhealthy for others. As with everything else, they must be consumed in moderation and only if you’re body handles them well.
There are a whole host of nutritional benefits to gain from eating jacket potatoes, but there are also some potential drawbacks that must be carefully considered. Some people may need to find ways of mitigating these drawbacks, such as limiting their consumption to prevent weight gain or replacing their usual unhealthy toppings with healthier ones. For others, the drawbacks may be so significant that they’re forced to eliminate jacket potatoes from their diets altogether.
On the other hand, eating them every day may be an enjoyable and beneficial component of many people’s diets, giving them good doses of Vitamin C, B6 and potassium, along with lots of fibre to keep their digestive systems working properly. Possibly also allowing them to stick to their weight loss regimen and lose some unwanted pounds.
All in all, it comes down to the age-old wisdom that everybody is different, and what works for some may not be most suitable for others. The best approach is to take all the benefits and drawbacks into account and use that information to decide whether jacket potatoes are a healthy addition to your specific diet.
Lisa Sickels is a content writer and currently working with Protein Powder GB, a health supplement provider company. She loves working in the ever-changing world of health management and is fascinated by the role content plays in today’s health sector.