A baked potato with butter often accompanies a steak or chicken dinner, and the potato itself is a nutritious side dish. Butter adds a lot of fat, mostly unhealthy saturated fat. While an occasional potato loaded with butter isn't likely to harm your health, eating too much butter can lead to problems. Eat plain baked potatoes as often as you'd like because they contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals.
Calories and Fat
A medium-sized plain baked potato contains 168 calories and no fat. Each tablespoon of butter you add to the baked potato contains 102 calories and 11.5 grams of fat, of which 7.3 grams are saturated. When you eat too much saturated fat on a regular basis, you're at an increased risk for unhealthy weight gain, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. Saturated fat also elevates your cholesterol levels, which raises your risk of heart disease.
While butter doesn't contain potassium, a plain, medium-sized baked potato provides 952 milligrams, which is about 20 percent of the 4,700 milligrams you need each day. Potassium supports proper muscle function and promotes a normal and healthy heart beat. The mineral helps keep your bones strong and aids in proper digestion. A potassium deficiency can lead to high blood pressure and increases your risk of osteoporosis, stroke and inflammatory bowel disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Butter contains a good dose of vitamin A for healthy eyesight and white blood cell formation, but it doesn't supply significant amounts of any other nutrients. A plain, medium-sized baked potato supplies 1.85 milligrams of iron, which is about one-fourth of what men need each day and about 10 percent of what women need. Iron aids in the formation of red blood cells and protects your immune system as well. The same potato provides 2.33 milligrams of niacin toward the 14 to 16 milligrams you need on a daily basis. Niacin helps keep your skin, digestive system and nerves working properly. A baked potato supplies vitamin C, folate and vitamin K as well.
Eating Baked Potatoes
A plain baked potato is your lowest-fat option, but healthy toppings can replace the high-fat butter to improve the nutritional value of the food. If you must have butter, use only a tiny amount to keep your intake of saturated fat low. Look for low-fat or reduced-fat butter as another option that's better than traditional versions. Replace butter with a drizzle of olive oil, which contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Low-fat, plain yogurt pairs well with a potato and adds calcium and protein. Fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, are other tasty toppings that are more nutritious than butter. Low-fat cheese adds calcium and is a healthier choice than butter as well.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Potatoes, Russet, Flesh and Skin, Baked
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Butter, Salted
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Potassium
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- MedlinePlus: Niacin
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.