Is potato salad healthy? Not exactly. Here's how to make it better for you.


Few foods are more popular at a summer barbecue than potato salad. As a staple alongside watermelon, hot dogs, burgers, pasta salad and chips in picnic and barbecue settings, "potato salad is a summer favorite because it is refreshing, easy to prepare and versatile," says Amy Goodson, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at The Sports Nutrition Playbook.

Though many people tend to think of the side dish as healthier than it actually is, she says, potato salad still contains several ingredients that can make it part of a healthy diet, when eaten in moderation.

What is potato salad?

Potato salad is a side dish that's made using boiled potatoes and condiments such as mayonnaise and mustard. It also usually contains a variety of other ingredients, including hard-boiled eggs and raw vegetables such as celery, pickles and onions. "It may also contain bacon, salt, fresh or dried herbs and vinegar," says LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant based in Los Angeles.

The dish is especially popular in summer months "because its ingredients are abundant in the warm months of the year," Goodson says. People also like that "it can be made ahead of time and served right out of the refrigerator, making it ideal for picnics and barbeques," Weintraub says.

Is potato salad healthy?

Though the starchiness of the dish and some unhealthy ingredients prevent potato salad from being considered a "health food," its egg and vegetable content provide health benefits.

Onions, for instance, contain antioxidants that lower the risk of heart disease, and celery contains vitamin K and dietary fiber, which aid with digestion and blood sugar regulation. Eggs offer plenty of protein, omega-3s and vitamin D as well; and the potatoes abundant in potato salad are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and are a good source of potassium, says Caroline Susie, a registered dietician and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Potassium is important for heart, bone and muscle health and may also reduce risk of stroke.

Though such nutrients are certainly plusses, "potato salad is not known for containing important nutrients that most people are already lacking," Weintraub says. She says the dish also contains "a significant amount of calories and fat," which comes primarily from its mayonnaise content. "Potato salad made with mayo may have as much as 300-400 calories per cup," she says.

What are the harms of eating too much potato salad?

Because of this, potato salad "can contribute to weight gain and other health issues if consumed in excess," Goodson says. She also warns against including a lot of bacon as an ingredient because it "adds saturated fat and sodium, which can increase the risk of heart disease when consumed regularly." Ditto for salt, which she says "can contribute to high blood pressure and other health concerns."

To get around that, Susie suggests swapping out mayo for Greek yogurt. "This lowers your saturated fat intake while bumping up protein," she says. She says potato salad can also be made healthier by "sneaking in more veggies like radishes for added crunch and bell peppers for flavor and color."

If you don't love the taste of Greek yogurt in your potato salad, Goodson says, you can get closer to the traditional version by combining Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, or by opting for reduced-fat mayo and increasing the amount of mustard instead. She adds that some people also choose to "replace some or all of the potatoes with cauliflower, to lower carb and calorie content."

It's also important not to eat potato salad that has been left out too long. "Bacteria grow rapidly at high temperatures, which is why picnic foods like potato salad that are left out for more than two hours can cause foodborne illness," Weintraub says. Goodson advises storing potato salad in the refrigerator until it's time to serve, "and when serving the dish outside, keep it in a cooler or on ice."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is potato salad healthy? Why you shouldn't have too much