Potato Wars: Red vs. White

Although it has been mostly associated with Ireland, I would still count the potato as American as, well, apple pie. We eat around 120 pounds of potatoes here annually, and everyone's favorite starchy tuber is in fact the globe's fourth largest crop, behind corn, wheat and rice.

Not all spuds are created equally, however. Although there are about 5,000 botanical varieties of potato grown worldwide, we can divide them into white and red varieties based upon overall skin color. Both types of potatoes offer a boatload of nutritional benefits, and the amounts of nutrients they contain are similar, so choosing between red and white potatoes is often a matter of taste and the type of recipe being prepared. Still, there are enough differences in their nutritional composition that more particular dieters should take a look under the hood.

One medium-sized baked red potato contains 154 calories, about 34 grams of carbs and less than 1 gram of fat. A medium-sized baked white potato has 163 calories, about 36 grams of carbs and less than 1 gram of fat. The red potato supplies 3.1 grams of fiber, which is 12 percent of the 25 grams of fiber women should have each day and 8 percent of the 38 grams men require daily. The white potato contains slightly more fiber with 3.6 grams. So, go red if you are watching carbs and fat, but white provides marginally more fiber.

In the arena of minerals, it's a virtual dead heat. A medium-sized baked red potato contains 943 milligrams of potassium (the potato's signature nutrient). That's 20 percent of the 4,700 milligrams of potassium that adults need each day. A medium-sized white potato supplies about the same with 941 milligrams. Either potato supplies about 14 percent of the iron men need each day and 6 percent of what women require. Iron is essential for red blood cell production. Red and white potatoes both deliver small amounts of zinc and phosphorus, too.

Each potato supplies 21.8 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 29 percent of the 75 milligrams of vitamin C women need each day and about one-fourth of the 90 milligrams men require every day. The potatoes also supply about 17 percent of the niacin men should have each day and 19 percent of what women need daily. Niacin helps your body turn food into energy.

Red potatoes pull ahead of white int the antioxidant race, which may be where the scarlet spuds get their reputation for being "better for you." The skin of red potatoes contains two to three times more antioxidant benefits than white potatoes. The red color of the potatoes also means they contain anthocyanins, a specific type of antioxidant that can help lower low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as offer protection from free radicals.