Ask a Dietitian

Are potatoes a vegetable or a starch or both? We try to eat a balance of protein, starches/carbs, and veggies at dinner but I never know if I should count potatoes as our veggie.

From a purely botanical standpoint, a potato is defined as a vegetable. This is as opposed to being classified as a fruit, which is a seed-bearing part of a plant, or a grain, which is the seed of a plant. However, the definitions for fruits, vegetables, and grains get a little more complex when we bring nutrition into the picture.

Potatoes share a nutrient profile similar to other vegetables: They’re a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. However, a key difference is that potatoes are only about 60% water, while most other vegetables (and fruits) are at least 80% water. This means that, while plain potatoes are still fairly low in calories, they are higher in calories relative to other vegetables.

Another difference is that potatoes also contain starch, a complex carbohydrate that is found in whole grain foods, such as whole wheat bread and brown rice. Complex carbohydrates, as opposed to refined carbohydrates, provide the body with a source of energy that can be released slowly, resulting in a sustained feeling of energy and satiety. Therefore, while potatoes are a vegetable, they are put into a subgroup of vegetables known as the “starchy vegetables”. Green peas and corn are also classified into this group because of their particular nutrient content.

The take-home message of all of this is that yes, potatoes can count as part of the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. However, as starchy vegetables tend to be higher in calories and do not contain the same nutrient profile as non-starchy vegetables, we can’t really get away with having potatoes as our vegetable at every meal. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends about 5 cups of starchy vegetables per week for an average adult who consumes 2-3 servings of vegetables per day. Varying our veggies to include red and orange vegetables, dark leafy greens, and other non-starchy vegetables, as well as starchy vegetables will make it a lot easier for us to obtain the variety of nutrients our bodies need.