The white potato. A nutritious staple for some, a seemingly horrible dietary decision for others. So which is it? Potatoes have been given quite the slap on the hand over the past few decades resulting in a significant decrease in consumption in the US over the past decade. The favorable decrease in french-fry consumption is likely a positive change, but what about the good old mashed potato, roasted, baked or hashed potato?
Despite what some health professionals and some “paleo” dieters will tell you, white potatoes are actually quite nutritious when eaten in their whole form and cooked using healthy methods such as boiling, baking and stir-frying in healthy oils. What most consumers do not consider is that most potatoes in the US, by volume, are consumed ladened with iodized salt and drenched in unhealthy industrialized seed oils (a.k.a. your beloved potato chips and french fries). Studies done to assess the health impact of potatoes on the American diet have not always considered preparation methods such as added unhealthy fats and salt so it’s important to look at potatoes without all the processing methods applied.
In honor of America’s favorite vegetable, let’s take a quick peek at just some of the nutritional benefits of white potatoes:
- The quality of potato protein, which reflects digestibility and amino acid content, is actually quite high. One review suggests that potato protein is sufficient to support growth in undernourish infants and children as well as maintain nitrogen balance and body weight in adults. No wonder the potato famine had such an impact on the Irish in the 1840s.
- Potatoes are a rich source of dietary fiber and resistant starch which are both indicated as being in short supply in the average US diet. Both fiber and resistant starch are linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and obesity.
- Potassium, a nutrient found to be low in most US diets, is found in excellent quantities in the white potato. This is the same for other minerals such as magnesium. One medium potato provides 12% of your Daily Value (DV) for magnesium and a whopping 26% DV for potassium. This is good news for the potato eater.
- In terms of vitamins, it may surprise you but white potatoes are actually an excellent source of vitamin C and B6! One medium potato will provide 16.6 mg of vitamin C which could meet 27.7% DV. That same potato will give you 0.54 mg of vitamin B6 or 27% DV (based on a 2000kcal diet), a vitamin essential for nervous function and metabolism.
- Studies have indicated that two carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein, have been associated with a reduced risk of the development of cataracts and macular degeneration (just think healthy eyes!). Wouldn’t you know, but the most abundant carotenoids found in potatoes are these two powerful agents.
- Though I don’t advocate low-fat diets, it’s worth mentioning that potatoes are naturally a food low in fat. This is good to know when you decide on a preparation method.
Some may argue that potatoes are still an inferior choice due to their high glycemic index, which has been gaining more attention in the media, especially in the face of a growing diabetes epidemic. What’s not considered, however, is the total composition of a meal in respect to the potato. Rarely, does one find him or herself sitting in front of a potato and eating it plain without any added spices, fats or proteins. Traditional preparation includes the addition of fats and proteins which greatly decrease the GI of the meal, making it less likely to spike blood sugars. One quick examples of GI friendly potato meals might be a loaded baked potato filled with grass-fed butter or ghee, steamed broccoli, chicken, and organic parmesan cheese. In addition, when a cooked potato is cooled, the level of resistant starch increases significantly which consequently lowers the GI and could provide great benefit, especially for diabetics. So, that homemade potato salad might not be quite as horrible as you think! Want some more recipes? I found some great ones here.
So, are you sick and tired of eating sweet potatoes in lieu of your beloved white potato? Then switch it up! Sweet potatoes certainly are a wonderful choice and quite delicious, but they can overpower many dishes and just get old eaten night after night. This is especially true if you are trying to stay grain-free and rely on sweet potatoes or squash in every meal.
Beside the white potato, other white vegetables have also been given less attention than deserved due to their white color. Cauliflower, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, parsnips, shallots, and turnips are other vegetables common to all ethic groups and cultures that have been consumed for generations and contain very high nutritional content. Most of the healthy components of fruits and vegetables are naked to the human eye, so it’s impossible to determine all of the nutritional qualities of food based on color alone. I do not refute the USDA message to eat a “rainbow of colors” but perhaps we should add one more color to the rainbow. That color being white!
Go forth and enjoy that white potato, just leave the fries and chips to a minimum.
In Health and Vitality,
- Liu, R. (2013). Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Advances in Nutrition, (4), 384S-392S.
- Potatoes. Retrieved from http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48
- Weaver, C., & Marr, E. (2013). White vegetables: A forgotten source of nutrients: Purdue roundtable executive summary. Advances in Nutrition, (4), 318S-326S.
- Visual aids sourced from: http://pngimg.com/