Despite the bad reputation that french fried potatoes have as anti-health food, the truth is that the potato itself is innocent. It is the preparation (deep fat frying) that makes fries unhealthy.
Until you add salt, a potato naturally contains none in its skin – and only 17mg (1% Daily Value) overall. To avoid gaining weight, ease up on the butter, sour cream and bacon bits and season a plain potato with herbs (fresh or dried) or low-calorie condiments.
Consider that a medium-size baked potato with skin contains 160 calories with no fats or cholesterol. The 4 grams of fiber and protein a single potato provides “stick to your ribs” and fill you up.
Potatoes also deliver vitamins B6 and C plus iron, calcium – and a whopping 20% of the body’s daily potassium requirement.
Another cooking option is to boil potatoes, but this does reduce their nutritional value. Compared to baked, a boiled potato provides about 25 percent less magnesium and 40 percent less phosphorus and potassium.
Potatoes that have sprouted white, green, or purple “eyes” (protuberances) due to chlorophyll production from exposure to light are not harmful to eat. But heed these warning words from The Conversation:
“Light and warmth also trigger the production of Solanine – a chemical which can cause symptoms of poisoning in humans if ingested in large quantities. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, headaches and dizziness.”
Some people prefer to remove the eyes from a green potato with a sharp paring knife or scrubbing pad before cooking.
No matter how you slice it, the skin from a potato is high in fiber – it constitutes half of the entire fiber content. A high-fiber diet “helps prevent constipation and may reduce the risk of colon cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Fiber also helps you maintain a healthy weight, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.”
Potato skins are also loaded with phytochemicals, nutrients which may fight cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.
A study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that potatoes with colored skins (“pigmented”) “contain high concentrations of antioxidants, including phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids.”
In this case, the study found that participants who ate microwaved purple potatoes actually measured higher antioxidant levels and lower blood pressure while maintaining steady body weight, making them “an effective hypotensive agent” that “lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke in hypertensive subjects without weight gain.”
Because potatoes are so delicious, nutritious, and easy to grow, they are the mainstay of many cultures’ diets – notably the Irish who became so dependent on it as a cheap staple food that three consecutive crop failures between 1845-1848 (from a fungal infection or blight) that “more than 1.5 million people died from starvation or emigrated from Ireland.” Many of those who left Ireland resettled in the United States.
It might surprise you to know that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States (not including sweet potatoes), contributing about 15 percent of farm sales receipts for vegetables.”
Yes, ours would be a different world without the ubiquitous potato. Perhaps now you will look at potatoes with a fresh set of eyes…so to speak.