Week of August 6, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Since potatoes supply vitamin C and other nutrients, are potato chips really so bad for you?

A: It’s true that potatoes and potato chips contain vitamin C, fiber and potassium, but here’s the difference: chips are concentrated sources of calories and sodium. A potato can supply nearly 20 to 50 percent of recommended amounts of potassium (a mineral that seems to counterbalance some of the blood pressure raising effects of sodium), as well as vitamin C and fiber. Potato chips also offer some of these nutritional benefits, but you’d have to eat several hundred more calories worth of chips to get the same levels of nutrients. And chips made from rehydrated potato flakes (chips sold in cans, for example) contain less vitamin C than others. For potatoes and chips, portion and preparation hold the key to smart choices. A one-ounce serving of potato chips – about 15 chips – typically contains a little over 150 calories with one to three grams of saturated fat. (Within the average adult’s recommended daily 15-gram maximum, depending on other food choices.) In comparison, a small baked potato about two inches wide supplies about the same number of calories, but with no saturated fat; and it provide more hunger-satisfying bulk. Keep in mind though, if topped with a couple pats of butter and some regular sour cream, you’ll make that small baked potato higher in calories and saturated fat than the ounce of potato chips. Potato chips also pose the disadvantage of high sodium content. Bottom line: if you’re craving potato chips, savor a small amount occasionally. Turn to small potatoes with flavorings low in calories and sodium as the savvy way to get their nutritional benefits.

Q: If I switch my summertime treat from ice cream to sorbet, will that help with weight control or be more nutritious?

A: A half-cup of ice cream, which is the standard serving size listed on labels, usually contains 130 to 200 calories, but richer, high-fat types may contain up to 300 calories. Sorbet is a no-fat, non-dairy frozen dessert made with fruit purée or juice, sugar (or corn syrup or both), flavorings and a bit of pectin or other thickener. Calories are typically 110 to 140 in that half-cup serving. So it’s substantially lower in calories than rich ice cream, but not necessarily a lower-calorie alternative to lighter versions of ice cream. Each half-cup serving contains 5 to 9 teaspoons of sugar, which includes both the natural sugar in fruit and added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Even when it’s made with berries or other fruits high in nutrients like vitamin C, sorbet is not necessarily a good source of those nutrients. Bottom line: The single biggest way to reduce the impact of frozen desserts on your weight is portion control. Sorbet is a refreshing treat, but for nutrition impact, top a small portion of whatever you choose with a half-cup of unsweetened fruit. You can also make a major impact by switching from ice cream as a nightly necessity to a weekly treat.

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