You wouldn't be the first person to wonder whether dried flakes poured out of a box are even real food, much less provide any nutrition. Not to worry. Instant potatoes may not quite duplicate homemade mashed potatoes, but they are genuine food. They still contain similar nutrition as a whole potato, including B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.
Instant potatoes are real potatoes that have been cooked and dehydrated, so all you need to do is boil water and stir in the potato flakes to reconstitute them. For many brands, 1/3 cup of dry potato flakes rehydrates into a 1/2-cup serving of mashed potatoes. Nutritional values provided are for 1/3 cup of plain, dry potato flakes, so you’ll know what nutrients to expect from the potatoes before adding butter, milk or other ingredients. One-third cup of dry instant potato flakes is fat-free and only has 70 calories.
Protein and Fiber
A whole potato has protein and fiber, but it’s a little surprising to learn that dehydrated potato flakes retain some of those macronutrients. One-third cup of the dry flakes has 1.65 grams of protein and 1.3 grams of fiber. That’s equal to 4 percent of a woman’s recommended daily intake for protein and 5 percent for fiber.
Free radicals develop naturally in your body. Some are produced by the immune system to kill invading bacteria. Others are simply a by-product of metabolism, or they’re created as your body responds to toxins or pollutants, such as cigarette smoke. No matter how they’re formed, free radicals must be neutralized by antioxidants like vitamin C or they damage healthy cells and cause health problems, such as inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C is also essential for healthy skin because it fights the damaging effect of sunlight. You’ll get 16 milligrams or 21 percent of your daily intake of vitamin C in 1/3 cup of dried instant potatoes.
About 100 different enzymes need vitamin B-6 to generate energy, make red blood cells, metabolize proteins and produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin that regulates mood and sleep. Vitamin B-6 may improve symptoms related to PMS, such as breast pain or depression. The dose to relieve PMS is significantly higher than the recommended intake to fill nutritional needs and may cause side effects, so you shouldn't exceed the daily intake of 1.3 milligrams without talking to your health care provider. One-third cup of potato flakes has 0.15 milligram of vitamin B-6, which is 11.5 percent of the recommended daily intake.
Most brands tell you to add water, milk, salt and butter or margarine when you rehydrate instant potatoes. They benefit from some added fat and flavor, but you can gain 4 grams or more of fat and at least 40 additional calories if you use whole milk and butter. Low- or non-fat milk solves part of the problem. Read the Nutrition Facts label on alternatives to butter. Margarine has less saturated fat and cholesterol, but some brands have very unhealthy trans fats and as many calories and total fat as butter. Chicken broth in place of water adds flavor that may help you eliminate some of the high-fat ingredients. Canned chicken broth is often quite high in salt, so look for low-sodium brands.
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.