Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, EatRight.org.
Potatoes have received a lot of bad press over the years, probably because they’re often prepared in unhealthy ways—deep-fried in oil…smothered with high-fat condiments, such as cheese and sour cream…or layered with butter, cream and Parmesan. But, in fact, an average potato—about seven ounces, or roughly the size of a woman’s fist—contains only about 150 calories.
With the increasing popularity of high-protein, low-carb diets, consumers also started to believe the myth that carbs are always bad. True, potatoes are starchy and high in carbs. However, while any food with carbohydrates will increase blood sugar, paying attention to portion size and pairing it with healthful fat and a protein will help slow the rise in blood sugar. Why you should give potatoes a second look…
Whether white, Yukon gold, purple, sweet or red, potatoes are excellent sources of potassium, essential for healthy blood pressure. Most people come up woefully short—men and women need about 4,700 mg of potassium daily to help their bodies get rid of excess sodium. One average potato contains 400 mg to 900 mg of potassium.
Recent research showed that eating six to eight golf ball–sized purple potatoes twice a day for a month caused study participants’ systolic (top number) blood pressure to drop by 3.5% and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure to fall by 4.3%. Just as noteworthy, none of the study participants gained weight. Researchers believe that white potatoes (such as russets) and red-skinned potatoes might have similar effects on blood pressure, possibly because all types of potatoes have phytochemicals in their skins.
Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, which we need for fending off bacteria and viruses as well as for wound repair.
Sweet potatoes differ from white, gold, red and purple in that they possess huge amounts of vitamin A, critical for eye and skin tissue health. Vitamin A is also a powerful antioxidant, cleaning up cell-damaging free radicals.
Emerging research has been investigating a specific type of fiber called resistant starch, which is thought to promote a feeling of fullness, stabilize blood sugar levels and enhance fat burning. Naturally present in potatoes, this starch resists digestion in the small intestine, where most nutrient breakdown occurs, and gets passed along to the large bowel where it’s fermented, creating beneficial fatty acids that may block the liver’s ability to burn carbs for fuel. As a result, the body is forced to rely on fat instead. These fatty acids are also thought to affect the appetite-control hormones ghrelin and leptin. To tap into resistant starch’s powers: Eat potatoes at room temperature or slightly above (this is the temperature at which resistant starch forms). So, rather than digging into a steaming hot potato, let it cool down first.
When it comes to cooking your potatoes, you want to be sure to preserve the most nutrients. Avoid boiling, which leaches out precious vitamin C and vitamin B-6.
Try steaming or baking: To steam, poke a few holes in a well-cleaned potato with a fork, place in a dish with one to two tablespoons of water to add moisture, cover to prevent the potato from drying out, and microwave about six minutes for a small potato…10 to 12 minutes for average and larger.
When baking, wrap your potato in foil to keep it moist and bake for at least an hour at 350ºF. With either method, you’ll know your spud is done when a fork easily slides in and out. And don’t forget to eat the skins—many of a potato’s nutrients reside there. Two simple recipes…
Chunky Smashed Potatoes: Scrub six potatoes with a vegetable scrubber to remove soil and rinse. Dice into small chunks, leaving the skins intact, and microwave until soft enough to mash easily. Place in a large bowl along with a clove of raw garlic (or more, if you like). As you begin mashing with a wire potato masher or electric mixer, add enough skim milk or nonfat Greek yogurt (about one-half to three-quarters cup) to achieve desired level of creaminess, along with one tablespoon of butter or soft-tub margarine (look for a margarine that lists vegetable oil as the first ingredient) for flavor. Season with a hint of salt (less than one-quarter teaspoon) and black pepper to taste.
Southwestern Spud: Bake a whole potato, then slice open and top with onions and red and green peppers that have been sautéed in olive oil, along with cooked, rinsed and drained black beans. You could also add shredded chicken or browned ground turkey. Top off with an extra drizzle of olive oil.