Nutrition professionals tend to chafe when asked to categorize foods as good or bad, especially staples like potatoes and rice. The truth is, both can be part of a healthful diet.
But, of course, there are differences. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, the basics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNational Nutrient Database, one medium baked potato (about 2.25 inches by 3.25 inches) with skin has 130 calories, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrate, and it also offers about 30 percent of the Daily Value of vitamin C, 21 percent of potassium, and 15 percent of vitamin B6.
About the same amount (1 cup) of long-grain white rice weighs in with more calories (about 200), less fiber (0.6 grams) and more carbohydrate (45 grams). It’s a better source of protein (4 grams) than potatoes, and it’s a good source of manganese, with 37 percent of the Daily Value, and folate, with 23 percent.
You have a lot of choices when it comes to both rice and potatoes. For example, as a whole grain, brown rice contains valuable micronutrients and more fiber (4 grams in 1 cup) than white rice. It also has less of an effect on blood sugar. In fact, a 2010 study from Harvard’s School of Public Health found that replacing white rice with brown rice lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Potatoes also can cause blood sugar spikes, even more than white rice can. You can moderate that effect by topping your spuds with high-fat foods, such as butter, sour cream and cheese, but that also has the obvious downside of adding a lot of calories and unhealthy fats to the diet. Instead, add salsa, broccoli or other vegetables, which can have a similar stabilizing effect.
Or, try topping potatoes (or rice, for that matter) with a few spoonfuls of chili with beans. It’s not nearly as high in fat as other common toppings, and offers a wider range of nutrients and more fiber from the beans and tomatoes.
Another option is to choose sweet potatoes or yams instead of white potatoes. Sweet potatoes have loads of vitamin A and a good amount of iron in addition to other nutrients. As with white potatoes, though, watch the toppings: Loading up sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar might be tasty, but the added fat and sugar certainly make it less healthful.
For white or sweet potatoes, try roasting them instead of baking, mashing, frying or boiling: Cut them into cubes or wedges with the skins on (skins are loaded with nutrients), coat with a small amount of olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices, and roast in a hot oven. You won’t need any additional toppings to enjoy these spuds.