Potatoes -- either a sweet potato or a plain white potato -- are naturally very low in fat. While you won’t get too much fat from a spud, the majority of the fat you do get comes from healthy fats. Just be careful as to what you put on top of your steamy side. Fatty toppings can quickly up your fat intake.
Good vs. Bad Fats
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, known as MUFAs and PUFAs, are the good fats that you want more of in your diet. MUFAs and PUFAs help reduce inflammation in your system, lower your cholesterol levels and minimize your chances of developing heart disease when you have them in place of bad fats. Saturated and trans fats are the bad fats that clog up arteries and damage your heart over time. Typically these harmful fats come from animal-based foods and processed junk foods, while MUFAs and PUFAs come from plant-based sources, including potatoes.
A medium 4-ounce sweet potato has less than 0.2 gram of total fat. Roughly 85 percent of that is polyunsaturated fat, while the remaining amount comes from a trace amount of monounsaturated and saturated fats. A 4-ounce regular white potato has closer to 0.15 gram of total fat, but the percentages of types of fat are about the same as a sweet potato.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats don’t have a specific recommendation other than most of your fat intake should come from them. Your calories from total fat should amount to 20 to 35 percent of your overall calories, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 states. Since all fats offer 9 calories in a gram, this would be 35 to 62 grams of fat per day, if you follow a 1,600-calorie diet. Or, if you stick to an 1,800-calorie diet, you can have 40 to 70 grams of fat each day. Since you’ll get less than 0.2 gram of total fat from either a 4-ounce sweet or white potato, you’ll have to get your MUFAs and PUFAs from other sources, like avocados, olive oil and nuts.
If you melt a tablespoon of butter onto your tater, you’ll pack on another 100 calories and 11.5 grams of fat. Less than 3.5 of those fat grams come from healthy MUFAs and PUFAs, while the remaining amount stems from damaging saturated fats. If you opt for vegetable oil-based margarine instead, you’ll get 75 calories from a tablespoon and fewer than 8.5 grams of total fat. Plus nearly 6.5 of those fat grams are good fats -- about double the healthy fats you’ll get from butter.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Potato, Baked, Flesh and Skin, Without Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Sweet Potato, Cooked, Baked in Skin, Without Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Butter, Salted
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Margarine-Like, Vegetable Oil Spread, 60% Fat, Stick/Tub/Bottle, Without Salt
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.