Health Benefits of Purple Potatoes
Colors don't just make food pretty—they can be a sign of nutritional power. And purple is mighty. This royal shade comes from anthocyanins—disease-fighting antioxidants. The pigment produces red, blue and violet foods, depending on the type of anthocyanin (there are hundreds). The high antioxidant content in these pigmented potatoes fights inflammation and helps slash heart disease and cancer risk, according to a 2021 study in Antioxidants.
Purple Potato Nutrition
Purple potatoes, also known as purple sweet potatoes, have a lot going for them nutritionally, beyond antioxidants. They are packed with fiber, vitamin C and potassium, which can help with weight loss, immunity and heart health. The nutrition for 1 medium baked purple potato is as follows, per the USDA:
- 151 calories
- 4 g protein
- 0 g fat
- 34 g carbohydrates
- 3 g fiber
- 943 mg potassium (20% Daily Value)
- 22 mg vitamin C (24% DV)
When it comes to antioxidants, usually the deeper the color, the better. Purple potatoes are chock-full of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. A 2015 study found that red- and purple-fleshed potatoes average 16 to 57 mg of anthocyanins per 100 g. This is significantly higher than the traditional orange-fleshed sweet potato, reports a 2019 review in Molecules.
In some instances, how you cook food can influence its antioxidant levels. In a 2016 study published in Food Chemistry, researchers looked at what this means for purple potatoes specifically. The biggest antioxidant losses came from stir-frying (60%) and baking (22%), whereas microwaving (6%) and boiling (8%) preserved the most nutrients. Interestingly, air-frying showed a 31% increase in available antioxidants.
This doesn't mean you should never stir-fry or bake purple potatoes, but to get the most antioxidant bang for your buck, try other cooking methods too, including vacuum-sealed boiling. In a 2021 study in Antioxidants, researchers compared boiling, steaming and vacuum-sealed boiling to see which preserved the most antioxidants in purple potatoes, and vacuum-sealed boiling came out on top.
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Purple potatoes' high antioxidant content translates into impressive heart health benefits. A 2015 study in the Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare investigated how purple potato extract (180 mL daily) compared with a common blood pressure medication called captopril. Not only did the purple potato extract significantly improve people's blood pressure, but it also significantly increased the hypertension-fighting antioxidants (called superoxide dismutase) in people's blood. Other research in humans and animals has echoed these findings.
To take it a step further, a study in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition sought to find out how eating whole purple potatoes influenced arterial stiffness, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. People in this study were either given 200 g of purple potato (about 1 medium potato) packed with anthocyanins or 200 g of white potato with negligible anthocyanins. After two weeks, blood pressure significantly improved for those eating purple potatoes compared to white potatoes.
Pictured Recipe: Purple Sweet Potato Pie
Can purple potatoes help reduce inflammation? According to a 2021 review in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science, yes. One study included in the review showed that when purple potato extract was mixed with yellow potatoes, it positively affected more of the 92 inflammatory markers in healthy men compared to a meal of just yellow potatoes (without the purple potato extract). And in another one of the studies, daily consumption (150 g) of purple potatoes for six weeks reduced the inflammatory marker—fasting state C-reactive protein—more than the same amount of white potatoes in healthy individuals.
Several studies have looked at what organs specifically could benefit from the compounds in purple potatoes, namely the liver and kidneys. So far, most of these studies have been done on mice or rats, like the 2019 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and the 2017 study in Molecules. However, a 2020 study in Food Chemistry followed 17 healthy men to see how purple potato extract impacted the inflammation that can happen after a large, high-carb meal. Even four hours after eating, the men had improved digestion and reduced levels of post-meal inflammation. Including antioxidant-rich foods, such as purple potatoes, with a meal can help your body get more of what it needs and less of what it doesn't.
Cancer is a complicated disease, but antioxidants have some promising research to back up their anti-cancer potential. Purple potatoes are no exception. The type of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in purple potatoes have been found to stunt cancer cell growth. This is an exciting implication for a few specific types of cancer.
A 2015 study in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that baked purple potato and purple potato extract slowed down one of the regulators for colon cancer growth (called beta-catenin), and inhibited several of its dangerous byproducts from forming. Some of these same researchers did a similar study, published in 2017, also in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, and found that purple potatoes suppressed interleukin-6, a key regulator of chronic intestinal inflammation and colon cancer. This could be good news for the future treatment of this common cancer type.
Additionally, a 2018 study in Oncology Reports found promising results for purple potatoes' anthocyanins in targeting and suppressing bladder cancer cells. Though potatoes are no substitute for treatment, their powerful antioxidant compounds do show potential to help prevent and stall the development of several kinds of cancer cells.
Purple potatoes have a slew of health benefits, most of which stem from their high antioxidant content. Eating them may help cut down on inflammation and damage that can lead to chronic illnesses, like heart disease and cancer. There are plenty of compelling reasons to get these brightly colored beauties on your plate—and we have plenty of inspirational recipes, including Roasted Garlic Mashed Purple Potatoes, German-Style Purple Potato Salad and Purple Sweet Potato Pie.