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Potatoes and Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

potato and cholesterol

Most of us know that we should be getting more fiber in our diets, but why is so fiber so important? And what does it have to do with cholesterol?

The American Heart Association reports that eating a diet that’s high in soluble fiber can help reduce your levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. In fact, it does a better job of managing your cholesterol levels than diets that are low in trans and saturated fats. These fats are the usual culprits when it comes to cholesterol.

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That’s where potatoes come in. Not only are potatoes delicious, nutritious, and versatile, they contain soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. A medium-sized potato with skin contains just under 5 grams of fiber. Most of the fiber is found in the skin.

Highlights

  1. Potatoes are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber.
  2. Soluble fiber helps lower levels of “bad” cholesterol.
  3. Butter, creams, or other saturated or trans fats that are often added to potatoes can cause high cholesterol levels.

Studies show that some soluble fibers bind to bile acids. These are compounds that aid in digestion, and they’re made of cholesterol. Binding to the acids helps lower the cholesterol in the body. The body has to use the cholesterol it has to make more bile acids.

Foods that are high in fiber may be helpful for our bodies in other ways, too. They are known to lower blood pressure and inflammation. They can also slow sugar absorption and stabilize blood sugar levels after meals.

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What causes high cholesterol?

Cholesterol travels through the blood in packages called lipoproteins. There are two general classes of lipoproteins:

  • low-density lipoproteins, also known as LDL or “bad” cholesterol
  • high-density lipoproteins, also known as HDL or “good” cholesterol

Having healthy levels of both kinds is vital for health.

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A healthier potato

If potatoes are so healthy, why is eating french fries or mashed potatoes not so healthy?

Soluble vs. insoluble fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber does not. Soluble fiber is known to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber can increase stool bulk and help people with constipation or irregular stools.

Since most of the fiber in a potato is found in the skin, removing the skin removes much of the beneficial fiber. And while the potatoes themselves are heart-healthy, some of the ways we prepare them aren’t. For example, frying potatoes in oil adds fat. Same goes for loading up mashed potatoes with butter, sour cream, and milk. These all add fats to the potatoes, and trans or saturated fats are known to contribute to high cholesterol levels.

Bad and good?
High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in arteries that carry blood to and from your heart. HDL cholesterol “cleans up” cholesterol from the body and brings it back to your liver. In this way, HDL cholesterol helps manage blood cholesterol levels.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy potatoes. Bake your potato, and try using a healthier butter alternative or some olive oil on top instead. When you make mashed potatoes, add skim milk and low- or no-fat Greek yogurt to give them a little creaminess. Use spices like oregano, pepper, or garlic for flavor.

The recommended daily fiber intake is:

Age Women Men
50 years and younger 25 g 38 g
Older than 50 years 21 g 30 g
 

Keeping cholesterol in check

Cholesterol doesn’t just come from food. It also naturally occurs in cells of the human body. It helps us with digestion as well as hormone and vitamin D production.

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Having high LDL cholesterol levels can put you more at risk for heart disease. It can contribute to artery blockage, which limits blood flow to and from your heart or brain. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Here’s a look at where your cholesterol numbers should — and shouldn’t — be for optimal health:

  • high cholesterol: 240 mg/dL and higher
  • borderline high: 200–239 mg/dL
  • desirable level: Less than 200 mg/dL

Regular bloodwork can help you keep tabs on your cholesterol levels. Eating well also adds to overall health. Potatoes can play an important role in proper nutrition and health management. So pass the potatoes!

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