The potato diet is a short-term fad diet that promises rapid weight loss.
Though many variations exist, the most basic version claims to help you lose up to one pound (0.45 kg) a day by eating nothing but plain potatoes.
It’s well known that potatoes are a great source of nutrients, but you may wonder whether eating them can help you shed weight.
This article reviews the pros and cons of the potato diet and whether it can help you lose weight.
What is the potato diet?
The popular potato diet claims to help you lose up to one pound (0.45 kg) per day by eating nothing but plain spuds for three to five days.
The concept dates back to 1849 but was made popular again by Tim Steele, who published “Potato Hack: Weight Loss Simplified” in 2016.
In his book, Steele suggests that potatoes are the “best diet pill ever invented.” He alleges they strengthen your immune system, improve gut health, and provide plenty of nutrients to keep you energized while losing weight.
Others have taken the diet to new extremes — further boosting its popularity.
One example is Penn Jillette, a magician who published “Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear.” Jillette’s diet consisted of nothing but plain potatoes for the first 2 weeks, during which he dropped 18 pounds (8 kgs).
Though many allege that the diet has helped them lose significant weight, no scientific studies support these claims.
Summary: The potato diet is a fad diet that promises rapid weight loss by eating nothing but potatoes for three to five days. These claims have not been scientifically proven.
The potato diet rules
The potato diet comes with fairly little instruction. Though several variations exist, Tim Steele outlines seven fundamental rules in his book:
- Rule 1: Eat only plain, cooked potatoes for three to five days.
- Rule 2: As a general rule, eat 2–5 pounds (0.9–2.3 kg) of potatoes each day.
- Rule 3: Don’t eat any other foods, including condiments and toppings, such as ketchup, butter, sour cream, and cheese.
- Rule 4: Salt is okay if you absolutely must, but try to avoid it.
- Rule 5: When you’re thirsty, only drink water, plain tea, or black coffee.
- Rule 6: Heavy exercise is not recommended. Instead, stick to light exercise and walking.
- Rule 7: Take your usual medications as directed by your physician, but refrain from using any unprescribed dietary supplements.
In Steele’s version of the diet, only white potatoes are allowed. Some options include White Russet, Yukon Gold, and red potatoes.
Other variations of the diet are more lenient.
For example, sweet potatoes are permitted on the Spud Fit Challenge — a popular variation of the diet created by Andrew Taylor. In this version, minimal herbs, spices, and fat-free condiments are also allowed.
Keep in mind that the cooking method matters. Fried or overly processed potato products, such as French fries or potato chips are not on the menu.
Summary: There are seven fundamental rules to the potato diet according to Tim Steele, but the main rule is to eat nothing but plain potatoes for three to five days.
Can the potato diet help you lose weight?
Studies on the potato diet specifically are unavailable, but it may help you lose weight simply because it’s very low in calories.
Research shows that diets that restrict calories likely lead to weight loss — as long as you can adhere to them.
Though 2–5 pounds (0.9–2.3 kgs) of potatoes each day seems like a lot, it amounts to only 530–1,300 calories — far less than the average adult’s daily intake.
Interestingly, potatoes contain the compound proteinase inhibitor 2 which may help decrease hunger by slowing digestion.
One study found that mice treated with this potato compound ate significantly less food and lost more weight compared to untreated mice. However, these effects have not yet been studied in humans.
Though the potato diet may be effective for short-term weight loss, it’s not a long-term solution. Potatoes are nutritious, but they don’t contain all the nutrients you need for optimal health.
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Furthermore, very-low-calorie diets have been shown to slow metabolism and decrease muscle mass. Also, you’re likely to gain the weight back when you return to your usual diet.
Summary: The potato diet will likely cause short-term weight loss, as it’s very low in calories. Potatoes also contain a compound that may decrease hunger, though research is limited.
Other benefits of the potato diet
Though there are many reasons to criticize the potato diet, it does have some potential benefits:
- Potatoes are highly nutritious. Potatoes are an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, potassium, folate, and iron.
- It’s not complicated. Though restrictive, the potato diet is fairly easy to comprehend. Simply eat plain potatoes for three to five days.
- It’s affordable. Potatoes are one of the cheapest foods available, making this diet relatively inexpensive.
- It’s high in fiber. Studies show that high-fiber diets promote gut health and may play a role in preventing obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Despite these benefits, potatoes don’t provide all the nutrients you need — no single food can. For example, potatoes lack vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc — which are all essential to health.
Following a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein is better for your health and promotes sustainable weight loss.
Summary: The potato diet has potential benefits as it’s high in many nutrients, including fiber. It’s also easy to comprehend and relatively affordable.
Potential downsides of the potato diet
There are significant downsides to relying on potatoes as your sole food source.
The potato diet is extremely restrictive
The potato diet may be one of the most restrictive diets out there.
This makes it very difficult to follow. Even more concerning, this type of strict dieting may lead you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
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Restrictive dieting is a form of disordered eating that leads to other unhealthy behaviors, such as binge eating.
What’s more, other restrictive behaviors are encouraged on this diet — including skipping meals and fasting. This is highly unnecessary, as the diet is already very low in calories.
Shockingly, the author of “Potato Hack: Weight Loss Simplified” even suggests that dieters should “learn to embrace the hunger and only give in if you must.”
The potato diet lacks protein, fat, and other essential nutrients
Potatoes can undoubtedly be a nutritious component of an overall balanced diet. However, they simply cannot meet all your nutrient needs.
They lack two major nutrients — protein and fat. One medium-sized potato provides only 4 grams of protein and virtually no fat.
Though potatoes are high in certain vitamins and minerals — such as potassium, vitamin C, and iron — they’re low in several others, including calcium, vitamin A, and certain B vitamins.
Since the potato diet is only intended to be followed for three to five days, it’s unlikely you will develop a nutrient deficiency.
Still, you could put yourself at risk for several nutrient deficiencies if you choose to follow the diet long-term or in frequent bouts.
You may lose muscle
Fad diets like the potato diet are popular because they promise rapid weight loss. However, muscle loss usually accompanies fat loss while dieting — especially when calories are drastically reduced.
For example, one study found that 18% of the weight lost by participants on a very-low-calorie diet with only 500 calories per day was from lean body mass.
In comparison, those on a low-calorie diet with 1,250 calories per day only lost 8% of the weight from lean body mass.
Studies show that eating extra protein may help reduce muscle loss during calorie restriction, but the potato diet lacks a high-quality protein source.
You’re likely to gain back the weight
When following a very-low-calorie diet — such as the potato diet — your body may adapt by slowing down its metabolism and burning fewer calories.
Studies suggest that this slowdown may persist for many years — even long after ending a calorie-restricted diet.
This is called “adaptive thermogenesis” and can make maintaining weight loss extremely difficult long term. It’s a major reason why researchers estimate that over 80% of dieters return to their previous weight over time.
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Summary: Since it’s extremely restrictive, the potato diet may lead to unhealthy relationships with food, muscle loss, nutrient deficiencies, and weight regain over time.
Foods to eat
Though potatoes are the only food allowed on the potato diet, they can be prepared in several different ways, including:
- baked potatoes
- boiled potatoes
- steamed potatoes
- raw potatoes
- oven-baked, oil-free hash browns
- oven-baked, oil-free home fries
- oven-baked, oil-free French fries
Salt is the only seasoning permitted on the most basic version of the diet. However, other variations allow spices and fat-free condiments.
Additionally, some dieters use chicken or vegetable broth to make mashed potatoes or mash the potatoes plain.
For beverages, you’re advised to stick to water, plain tea, and black coffee
Summary: Plain, white potatoes are permitted on the potato diet and can be prepared in many different ways. Stick to water, plain tea, and black coffee when you’re thirsty.
Foods to avoid
The list of foods to avoid on the potato diet is endless, as it restricts anything besides potatoes.
Certain types of potatoes should be avoided as well — especially anything fried in oil or overly processed. Here are examples of potato foods and products to avoid:
- sweet potatoes
- French fries
- tater tots
- hash browns
- potato chips
Unless you’re taking part in the Spud Fit Challenge or another more lenient variation of the diet, only plain, white potatoes are permitted.
This means no sweet potatoes, yams, cooking oils, toppings, condiments, or spices. Salt is an exception but should be used sparingly.
Summary: All foods except potatoes should be avoided on the potato diet, except salt, which should be used in moderation.
Sample menu for the potato diet
Here is a three-day sample meal plan that follows the rules of the potato diet.
This sample meal plan for day 1 consists of 9 medium-sized potatoes (3 pounds or 1.4 kg) and provides roughly 780 calories.
- Breakfast: 2 boiled potatoes with a cup of black coffee
- Snack: 1 boiled potato, served cold
- Lunch: 2 boiled potatoes, served mashed
- Snack: 1 raw potato, sliced
- Dinner: Oven-baked, oil-free French fries with a dash of salt
This sample meal plan for day 2 uses 12 medium-sized potatoes (4 pounds or 1.8 kgs) and provides roughly 1,050 calories.
- Breakfast: baked hash browns with a cup of black coffee
- Snack: 2 boiled potatoes, served cold
- Lunch: 2 steamed potatoes seasoned with a pinch of salt
- Snack: 2 boiled potatoes, served cold
- Dinner: 2 plain, baked potatoes
This sample meal plan for day 3 uses 15 medium-sized potatoes (5 pounds or 2.3 kgs) and provides roughly 1,300 calories.
- Breakfast: baked home fries with a cup of plain tea
- Snack: 3 boiled potatoes, served cold
- Lunch: 3 plain baked potatoes
- Snack: 3 boiled potatoes, served cold
- Dinner: 3 steamed potatoes with a dash of salt
Summary: This sample meal plan uses 9–15 medium-sized potatoes per day. These may be boiled, steamed, baked, or eaten raw and provide 780–1,300 calories daily.
On the potato diet, you eat only plain potatoes for three to five days. It’s claimed to aid weight loss, restore gut health, and boost immunity.
Though it may help you lose weight, it hasn’t been studied, is extremely restrictive, lacks certain nutrients, and may lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
The potato diet is not a good choice for healthy, sustainable weight loss.