Are Potatoes Good For You?

Happy St. Patty’s Day! In honor of my Irish ancestors who subsisted on potatoes, I’m celebrating this holiday by highlighting the spud’s nutritional benefits. Potatoes are a humble vegetable, often judged by starch load and preparation method, instead of their rich potassium, fiber and antioxidant content!

The typical American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and, therefore, most of us consume only half the daily potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day). Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in nerve function, muscle contraction and fluid and electrolyte balance. When combined with an effort to curb your sodium intake, high potassium consumption is associated with the prevention and reversal of high blood pressure. Bananas are a famous source of potassium, yet they contain only 50% of the whopping 844 mg of potassium that a baked Russet potato has to offer.

Put down the peeler! One of the healthiest parts of a potato is the skin, which is packed with fiber and antioxidants. The skin of a medium Russet potato packs 4 grams of fiber (20-35 gm/day is recommended). Fiber can help lower cholesterol, maintain bowel regularity, slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and may decrease the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

Potatoes come in a variety of colors, from red, white and blue, to the orange flesh of a sweet potato. Phytochemicals are plant compounds responsible for these colored pigments. When they act as antioxidants, phytochemicals are thought to be beneficial in protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Despite their many health benefits, I’m not encouraging you to chow down on scalloped potatoes, French fries, or a baked tater stuffed with all the fixings! Nix the butter, bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings in exchange for steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, fresh herbs and Greek yogurt. I also suggest you try making oven-baked potato wedges. Slice an Idaho potato into 6-8 segments and toss in a bowl with olive oil and rosemary or thyme. Place wedges flat side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 400°F for approximately 20-30 minutes, flipping them at the half-way point. Alternatively, you can use the same technique to prepare bite-sized, oven-roasted, red potatoes (my personal favorite!)

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3 Comments

Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Vitamins & Minerals

3 responses to “Are Potatoes Good For You?

  1. Oven baking wedges or slices of potatoes can be very tasty!

  2. I’m curious about Sweet Potatoes/Yams vs all other potatoes. And I’m under the impression that “white” potatoes, of various varieties, are very high on the glycemic index. Is that the case? And if true, would it be the same case with Sweet Potatoes?

    • Hi Michael! You’re correct that a “white” Russet potato has a significantly higher glycemic index than a sweet potato or yam. However, basing our food choices on glycemic index alone has some drawbacks. For one, glycemic index doesn’t rank foods by how healthy they are. Potato chips and a Snickers candy bar actually rank better than all three veggies above! In addition, the glycemic index grades foods in isolation. In actuality, nutrient combinations in mixed meals and food preparation method also play a role in how a food affects blood sugar levels. For someone with diabetes, total carbohydrate intake and timing should be controlled, while I may later use glycemic index as an adjunct approach to fine tune the diet plan. There’s no reason to steer clear of “white” potatoes entirely.

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