They come in practically all the colors of the rainbow, and are a favorite comfort food for many people. No matter how you fix them – mashed, baked or roasted – potatoes are yummy and… oh so comforting. But why do potatoes get such a bad rap? Could it be that the potato itself is innocent, but what we do to it spoils its goodness? We think so.
The number one vegetable crop in the world, the potato is a staple food that has kept countless cultures alive during times of food scarcity. There are over 100 varieties of potatoes that are available 365 days a year, harvested somewhere every month. They are inexpensive, easy to grow and store well for long periods of time.
Potatoes are members of the nightshade vegetable family that also includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tomatillos. We eat the part of the potato plant known as the tuber – the swollen underground part that provides food for the leafy green part. If a potato is allowed to flower, it will actually bear edible fruit that looks very much like a tomato.
When you think of potatoes, where does your mind go? Does it go to mashed, roasted, baked, or dare we say fried or even potato chips? For the majority of Americans, fried potatoes, french fries and potato chips are the preferred way to eat a potato.
In their own skins, with nothing else added, potatoes deserve far more nutritional merit than they are given. Many people flee from potatoes claiming they are high in starch and will add pounds.
Yes, potatoes do contain starch, but this is nothing to be afraid of. What you should be afraid of is what you do to a potato. Treat a potato with respect and it will provide you with a number of highly valuable essential nutrients.
Here are five reasons why you should consider adding potatoes (in their whole and natural state) to your diet.
Spuds are high in antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that have received a great deal of research and media attention as of late. They are linked to preventing cellular damage and neutralizing harmful compounds known as free radicals. Antioxidants are also associated with the prevention of heart disease, multiple cancers, stroke and other chronic ailments.
Phytonutrients found in potatoes have powerful antioxidant capabilities. This tuber holds carotenoids, flavonoids, caffeic acid as well as unique storage proteins including patatin, which are effective against free radical damage.
In fact, the ORAC value (total antioxidants in 100 grams) for a medium potato with the skin on is 1,680, compared to a baked sweet potato with skin which is 766. Carrots, by comparison, have 317 (cooked) and 666 ( raw).
Potatoes can help regulate blood pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is no joke. When blood pressure, the force of blood against artery walls, goes up, the heart has to work overtime to pump blood throughout the body.
This can lead to dangerous health complications. While some blood pressure risk factors are unavoidable, such as genetics, there are habits that many people have that may significantly raise their risk of hypertension.
One of the main concerns with having high blood pressure is that it paves the way for atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. This, in turn, can lead to stroke, heart attack or other cardiac incidents.
According to Dr. Prediman K. Shah, the director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, “high blood pressure gives you a twofold to fourfold increase in your risk of stroke or heart attack.”
There are a number of lifestyle changes that can be made to support healthy blood pressure. Amongst these are changing the way you eat. There are several foods that you can add to your diet that can help lower blood pressure, including potatoes.
When you think of potassium you probably think of bananas. While it is true that bananas contain potassium, they actually provide you with 9 percent of your daily needs, while a baked potato supplies almost 20 percent of your daily needs.
Just be careful how you cook them – do not cube them before boiling, as this can reduce the potassium by up to 75 percent. The best way to cook potatoes and maintain potassium is to bake them with the skin on.
Along with potassium, white potatoes contain magnesium. Both potassium and magnesium are vital to heart health. When our potassium falls low, our body hangs on to extra sodium, which can elevate blood pressure. Magnesium facilitates healthy blood flow, and a balance of both potassium and magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure.
In addition, recent scientific study known as metabolomics has allowed researchers to find more blood pressure-lowering compounds ( kukoamines) in potatoes. Prior to metabolomics, these compounds were only known to be in an exotic herbal plant called Lycium chinense.
Potatoes contain valuable vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is one of the eight B-vitamins, and is integral in over 100 enzymatic processes. All of the B-vitamins are essential in the body converting food into fuel for energy. B-vitamins are also needed for the metabolism of fats and proteins, for healthy skin, eyes, hair and liver, as well as proper nervous system functioning.
One medium potato contains over one-half of a milligram of vitamin B6. This vital vitamin helps the body make a number of neurotransmitters and is necessary for brain development and function. In addition, it is essential in the creation of the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, as well as melatonin, which helps regulate our internal clock.
Vitamin B6 also works along with B12 and B9 (folic acid) to control levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that, when elevated, appears to be linked to heart disease. The body also needs B6 to absorb vitamin B12, and to make red blood cells and immune system cells.
Potatoes are a good source of fiber
The benefit of fiber in the diet should never be underplayed. Both insoluble and soluble fiber are necessary for healthy elimination. Insoluble fiber passes through the body virtually unchanged.
It provides bulk for stools and makes them easier to pass by keeping the texture smooth. This type of fiber dissolves in water and makes a gel-type substance in the intestines. Soluble fiber slows digestion and allows the body to absorb as many nutrients as possible from food.
A medium potato with the skin on contains about 4 grams of fiber, or 16 percent of the daily recommended value. Obviously, the larger the potato, the more fiber it contains. The US Department of Agriculture states that a larger baked potato supplies 7 grams of fiber, or 28 percent of the daily value.
About 75 percent of the fiber in a baked potato is insoluble, and the rest is soluble. To maximize the fiber benefit, always eat your potato with the skin on. Without the skin, a potatoesbaked potato delivers about 35 percent less fiber than with the skin left on.
Potatoes help boost your immune system
We bet your go-to food for vitamin C is not a potato, but perhaps an orange or other citrus fruit, right? What you may not know is that one medium potato supplies 45 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement. Because we cannot manufacture vitamin C, we must get it from our diet or in supplement form.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that is required for 300 metabolic processes in the human body, including tissue growth and repair, adrenal gland function and healthy gums. Vitamin C also aids in the production of anti-stress hormones, as well as interferon – a vital immune system protein. It is needed to metabolize folic acid, tyrosine, and phenylalanine.
Vitamin C can reduce the symptoms of asthma, cancer and infection while boosting the immune system. It can combine with substances that are toxic, as well as heavy metals, disarming them and escorting them out of the body (for this function, it is known as a chelating agent).
How best to dress a potato
Of course, the best possible way to eat a potato is baked or roasted with the skin left on. If you are not a fan of eating your potato naked, there are a few things you can add that will add to its nutritional punch.
- Grass fed butter
- Raw organic coconut oil
- Organic salsa
- Diced tomatoes
- Diced chives
- Black beans
- Steamed vegetables
- Raw or organic cheese (small amount)