Potatoes are starchy tuberous vegetables, which were first domesticated in Bolivia as much as 10,000 years ago. The Spanish introduced potatoes to Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, and since then the potato has become a staple crop around the world.
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family (along with fruits like tomatoes and eggplant). The potato plant and fruit are toxic and can cause serious health issues if ingested. That being said, the tubers are generally toxic free (or contains safe levels of the toxin, glycoalkaloid). Toxicity can increase due to exposure to light, age, or physical damage, so you’ll want to be mindful to store potatoes in a dark area and remove any sprouts from the potato before cooking.
Potatoes Nutritional Value
Potatoes are a good source of dietary fibre, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. They also contain many other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts.
No, they aren’t low-carb, but a low-carb diet isn’t right for everyone, and it is important to know if there are any health benefits from potatoes.
While potatoes are relatively high in carbs (the bulk of the carbs coming from starches), they are one of the best high-carb foods for satiety. That means that potatoes help you feel full sooner and longer than other high-carb foods. This is great because it means you don’t need to eat as many to feel full. Foods that are able to make you feel full longer can be great for weight loss and for minimizing the amount of food you eat.
The potato peel is an important part of the nutritional value. While the potato itself isn’t super high in dietary fibre, the peel is roughly 50% fibre. Dietary fibre is necessary for maintaining a healthy gut and regulating your digestive system. It’s not healthy to have food fester in your gut too long and fibre will help things stay on a healthy schedule.
Another fibre-like component of potatoes is the resistant starch. Resistant starches aren’t broken down and absorbed at the same rate as normal starches. Because of this it acts more like dietary fibre, and helps push waste through the digestive tract.
While there is more “normal” starch in a potato compared to resistant starch, there are ways to maximize these starches. Resistant starches rise when a cooked/boiled potato is cooled before eating. That means that if you let your potatoes cool before eat, you’re minimizing the carbs your body absorbs, which could be good for blood-glucose levels.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the protein found in potatoes. The good news is that potatoes have one of the best qualities/ balances of proteins found in plants. The bad news is that compared to other staple crops potatoes are a fairly insignificant source of protein. One small potato (170g) only has 7% of your daily value of protein. So, you’re not getting a lot of protein but the protein you are getting is at least good quality.
Most of the potassium is found in the skin of the potato. Continuing to look at a small potato, each serving contains 20% of your daily potassium requirement, which is great.
Potassium is a key element for the pumps in your body that are responsible for energy getting into muscles and nerves. It’s also needed for proper digestion. Potassium deficiency can leave you weak along with more severe health concerns, so it’s important to get healthy amounts of this mineral on a daily basis.
This healthy, antioxidant vitamin is the most substantial vitamin in potatoes. One small potato has 56% of your daily value. Unfortunately, heating potatoes greatly reduces the vitamin C in the potato, but cooking it with the skin on seems to lessen this drop.
Vitamin C is an important vitamin that fights oxidative stress and inflammation. It’s needed to fight illness and stress in the body, and the sicker or more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’re going to need.
One small potato provides you with around 25% of your daily value of vitamin B6. This vitamin is needed for many metabolic functions. Your body uses this vitamin to metabolize glucose, amino acids, and lipids. It helps separate useful energy from waste, and is an important part of recovery, burning fat, and maintaining proper energy levels.
Red skin or purple potatoes come with additional antioxidants and are great for reducing inflammation, so you may want to try these options the next time you’re planning to serve potatoes.
Potatoes and Diabetes
It’s no secret that diabetes is a rising health epidemic, specifically type 2 diabetes. Did you know that more people die from diabetes every year than breast cancer and AIDS combined?
Potatoes are normally labeled as having a high glycemic index (though some varieties fall lower on the scale). This means that potatoes are generally considered to have a large effect on the rise of blood-glucose levels, making them unsuitable for diabetics.
Diabetics need to monitor the amount of carbohydrates they consume, and sometimes that gets confused with having to cut high-carb foods like bread, potatoes, and pasta. Potatoes and diabetes aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have diabetes and still enjoy potatoes as a healthy part of your diet. While portion size should be monitored (as with anyone with any food), there is no definitive reason why a diabetic would have to cut these foods out of their diet.
What is the best way to prepare a potato? As Samwise Gamgee said, “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.” Avoid fried and heavily processed potatoes (i.e. instant mashed potatoes). It doesn’t matter if you’re diabetic or not. No one should have fries or potato chips, as the nutritional benefits are fried away. Again, it’s better to cook them whole in the skin, and to let them cool before eating.
Understanding the foods you eat and how your body can react to them is a key factor in health. If you know that potatoes may increase your blood sugars, be mindful not to pair them with other foods that are high on the glycemic index. If you eat smart, potatoes shouldn’t be a problem.