Why potatoes are healthy
The humble potato has gotten a bad rap, but it’s time we start giving nutritious spuds the respect they deserve
Potatoes aren't just cheap and abundant, these delicious tubers are also low in fat and high in fibre and protein. A medium-sized morsel contains almost half your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and it’s also a good source of vitamins B1, B3 and B6, as well as minerals, including potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. And you get all that for just 150 calories!
“It’s unfortunate that the low-carb craze has scared people off potatoes,” says Matthew Mailman, a registered dietitian working in Penticton, British Columbia. “They offer many health benefits and are a key source of several nutrients.”
While greasy fries, chips and “loaded” baked potatoes are not doing your figure any favours, there is really no need to cut potatoes out of your diet if you are watching your waistline. In fact, unlike white bread and sugar, potatoes are composed of complex carbohydrates, which keep you feeling full longer.
The good stuff in potatoes
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that potatoes have been ranked incorrectly on the Glycemic Index, that different varieties should actually have individual GI scores, and that your method of preparation can have a significant impact on how potatoes are broken down by your body. Potatoes that have been cooked whole and then consumed cool are thought to merit a lower rank than mashed potatoes, for example.
“One medium potato provides almost half of the recommended daily intake of potassium, an electrolyte involved with nerve and muscle function,” says Mailman. “Potatoes are a rich source of phosphorous, a constituent of bone and key nutrient for energy production. They also provide vitamins, iron and dietary fibre.”
Researchers keep discovering more surprising health benefits of eating potatoes. Molecules called kukoamines, which are believed to help lower blood pressure and had previously been found only in goji berries, have been identified in potatoes by researchers at the Institute for Food Research in the U.K. And analysis has revealed that red and Norkotah potatoes boast levels of phenolic content (including flavonoids that help protect against respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers) that rival even broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts.
“Not all potatoes are created equal,” cautions Mailman. “Sweet potatoes offer significantly more vitamin A, or beta-carotene, which is responsible for the yellow-orange colour. On the downside, they are not as rich in potassium or phosphorous.” There are over 100 different varieties of potatoes available, and they all offer diverse nutritional benefits as well as widely differing culinary experiences.
Healthy ways to prepare your spuds
Bake, roast, shred, mash, scallop, or steam—there are so many delicious ways to prepare this classic comfort food other than dunking them in a deep fryer or drowning them in fatty toppings.
“I recommend baking or microwaving potatoes rather than boiling, since boiling causes leaching of nutrients into the water,” advises Mailman. “As far as toppings go, try non-hydrogenated margarine, fat-free sour cream or salsa.”
Potato dos and don'ts
Here are some tips help you eat your potatoes and reap the health benefits, too:
• DO enjoy your steak and spuds. The vitamin C in potatoes promotes iron absorption.
• DON’T waste your time peeling them. “I suggest eating the skin to boost fibre and potassium intake,” says Mailman.
• DO count on leftover potatoes to beef up salads, like in a classic Niçoise Salad.
• DON’T go overboard. With potatoes as with any food, it is important to watch your portion sizes.
• DO store them in a dark dry place, and never in a plastic bag.
• DON’T eat potatoes that have sprouted or taken on a greenish hue.
• DO enjoy potatoes with low-fat condiments, such as low-fat sour cream
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Web exclusive, February 2010