Potatoes — one of the most commonly eaten vegetables on the planet — has both fans and enemies.
Learn about the potato’s many health benefits, health concerns and its controversial effect on weight management.
With mixed emotions, I read that potatoes were on a list of most fattening foods.
I personally don’t like potatoes a lot, but thought it was because of being force-fed boiled potatoes every day as a child. Now I’m rethinking the potato.
Potato Health Benefits
1. Protection from Heart Disease and Cancer
Potatoes contain flavonoids. With protective antioxidant activity, flavanoids protect against cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and certain cancers.
2. Rival Greens for Phenol Activity
They contain equal or higher amounts of certain phenols than broccoli, spinach or brussel sprouts.
3. High in B Vitamins for your Brain & Athletic Performance
One cup of baked potato contains 21 percent of the daily requirement for B6. B vitamins are essential for growth, your nervous system and cardiovascular health.
Potatoes also contain significant amounts of folic acid, which is essential for pregnant women.
4. Contain Resistant Starch
Many vegetables contain small amounts of resistant starch but potatoes that have been cooked and then cooled down have high amounts. Resistant starch’s benefits are similar to that of fiber, meaning you’ll stay fuller longer and with less calorie consumption.
Since resistant starch acts like fiber, it is either poorly digested or not digested at all. This lowers the glycemic index of potatoes, which is normally higher than white sugar, (averaging 70 – 110) down to reasonable levels of 25-72! Bring on the potato salad!
5. High in Vitamin C
Who would have thought! Vitamin C is the key to healthy skin.
“A man with half an acre of potatoes can grow enough food to keep his family alive for a year.” Michael Pollan
- Potatoes were developed in Central and South America 4000-7000 years ago by selective cultivation of an naturally poisonous tuber.
- The powerful Inca civilization was based on the potato. When the Spanish destroyed the Inca civilization they brought the potato to Europe.
- Potatoes changed the course of history in Europe by allowing northern countries with poor soils to produce enough food to feed larger populations.
The industrial revolution depended on the potato.
- The most common potato today is the Russet potato originally developed by Luther Burbank. Burbank was an amazing person who nearly had the ‘ability to talk to plants and went on to develop over 800 new varieties and species of plants.
- Monsanto’s GMOs were stopped in the potato industry. When the public discovered they were eating genetically modified potatoes at McDonald’s, public opinion called on McDonald’s to stop. This was one of the first major setback to GMOs in America.
Next Page: Potato Health and Weight Management Concerns
Potato Health Concerns
1. Potatoes are part of the nightshade family
Nightshades have varying amounts of alkaloids, compounds produced by plants to prevent themselves from insects and disease.
Potatoes don’t have high amounts of alkaloids like the 3 powerful nightshades (mandrake, tobacco, belladonna). IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE to alkaloids, even potatoes could cause a reaction. The level of alkaloids varies greatly depending on the variety of potato and how it is produce and handled
Hey maybe that’s why I don’t like potatoes. I also don’t like tomatoes and eggplant, two other nightshades.
Note: Green potatoes (caused by exposure to the sun) have large amounts of alkaloids as do the sprouts. Therefore avoid green potatoes and cut out the sprout and its eye before use.
2. Fried potatoes contain acrylamide, a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen.
Fried, potato chips and French fries are a greater risk of acrylamide exposure than any other food. One single ounce snack-sized bag of potato chips contains 20% of the maximum safe intake of dietary acrylamide as established by the EPA. Most people consume a lot more than one ounce.
Suggestion: Baked potato chips are safer with less oil.
3. Commercial potatoes contain high amounts of pesticides.
Potatoes are one of the “Dirty Dozen” group of twelve foods that contain the highest level of pesticides. You can avoid this in your own cooking by just buying or growing organic. As for potato products, assume that all potatoes not in your control (like those in French fries and chips) fall in the “dirty” category.
4. Most potatoes are monocultured
Although there are thousands of varieties of potatoes, most of the potatoes we eat are monocultured.
Monocultures destroy the genetic diversity of the planet and are susceptible to possible disease. The potato blight of the Irish was caused because they all ate a single species of potato which happened to be susceptible to a certain disease.
Suggestion: Look for colored potatoes; the insides have more nutrition.
Potatoes & Weight Gain
Many people are scared of potatoes because they are OBVIOUSLY a carbohydrate and as a culture we are now scared of carbohydrates because we all want to lose weight!
The truth is that a potato is MOSTLY water so if you don’t eat too many you will not take in too many carbohydrates or calories.
The second consideration is their high glycemic index, which is higher than white sugar, ranging from 80 – 110. Again, potatoes are not that dense so the glycemic load from an average serving of potatoes is actually not more than any other carbohydrate.
The study that got me thinking about potatoes was a large population study of 120,887 people whose eating habits and weight gain was analyzed over four years.
The average of all types of potatoes for weight gain was more than any other food group studied, which included meat, processed meat, sugary beverages, sweets and desserts and dairy products.
This average was only high though because it contained the category of potato chips and French fries. The weight gain from boiled, baked, or mashed potatoes at (0.57 lb) was only a fraction compared to potato chips (1.69 lbs) and French fries (a whopping 3.35 lbs).
You didn’t need a study to tell you that potato chips and French fries are fattening. Many potato products are NOT a weight loss food like fruits & leafy vegetables but that just means you don’t overeat.
Tasty Potato Recipes
Creamy Potato Salad: Nothing but goodness, tastiness and lots of those resistant carbs.
Tangy Baby Potatoes: Direct from my friend in India.
Diana’s Potato Latkes: Made without eggs.
Written by Randy Fritz co-founder of Real Food For Life with Diana Herrington