Kerry Torrens nutritionist
what is the potato
The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and eggplant, and is the plant’s underground energy store (tuber). There is a wide variety of potatoes, but from a culinary perspective, they are generally divided into three categories: flour potatoes, waxy potatoes, and new potatoes.
Mealy potatoes, like the Maris Piper, are filled with a type of starch called amylose. These starch granules puff up and burst as they cook to create a soft, chewy texture, making these potatoes ideal for a soft, creamy mash. Waxy potatoes, like the Charlotte, contain less amylose – which gives cooked potatoes a firmer texture, ideal for roasts and gratins. New potatoes, on the other hand, are unripe potatoes that are picked early in the season; They keep their structure when cooked, making them perfect for potato salads.
An average serving (175g) of cooked potatoes (flesh and skin) provides:
How you prepare and cook potatoes affects their nutritional value. Cooking whole potatoes with their skins on helps preserve fiber and some important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Vitamin C and B6 levels decrease during cooking, while carotenoids and certain plant compounds called polyphenols increase. Frying, deep-frying or cooking in cream, as with a classic dauphinoise, significantly increases the fat and calorie content of the potato dish.
Regular potatoes don’t count towards the daily five-calorie ration calculation because we tend to put them on our plates as a starch to replace foods like pasta or rice. They are also often associated with a high-fat diet.
Top 5 Potato Health Benefits
1. Nutritionally good value for money
Potatoes offer a better nutrient-to-price ratio than many other vegetables and are an important staple food worldwide. With the world population growing, potatoes are a good choice as they provide quick food in less space.
2. Low in fat
Many people, including health professionals, have a negative attitude towards potatoes, but it is worth remembering that boiled or baked potatoes contain practically no fat. The tubers are high in starch but provide fewer calories than an equivalent serving of pasta or rice. In addition, unlike pasta and rice, they provide useful micronutrients such as vitamin C, folic acid and potassium.
Potatoes are low in protein, but the protein they provide has excellent biological value, meaning they provide a good distribution of the amino acids necessary for health.
3. Promotes gut health
Aside from being a good source of fiber, some of the starch in potatoes is particularly beneficial for our gut microbes. It is in fact a “resistant starch,” meaning it resists our digestion, but can be broken down by our gut bacteria, providing them with the fuel they need to function and thrive.
When we cook and cool potatoes, the starch granules stick together, making them more resistant to digestion. Studies suggest that eating foods high in resistant starches has many health benefits, including more efficient digestion, a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, and a reduced risk of colon cancer.
4. May Aid Blood Sugar Management
Because of their high resistant starch content, potatoes may support blood sugar control and help control appetite. Animal studies have linked the resistant starch in potatoes to better insulin sensitivity, less fat accumulation and less weight gain. A study examining the effects of 30 grams of resistant starch daily for four weeks showed that these effects appear to recur in healthy people. Keep in mind that you can increase the resistant starch content in potatoes by boiling them, cooling them, and refrigerating them before eating.
Potatoes are also a helpful source of a type of fiber called pectin, which helps slow stomach emptying, keeping you fuller longer and reducing the food’s effect on blood sugar.
5. Source of protective antioxidants
Potatoes are a useful source of botanicals that have protective antioxidant effects. Potato flesh is a source of carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial to the eye. Potatoes are also a source of polyphenols, including chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, the most important of which are catechin and epicatechin.
Are Potatoes Safe for Everyone?
Potatoes are generally considered safe for most people. However, in rare cases, some people may be allergic to both raw and cooked potatoes. If you’re allergic to potatoes, you may also be allergic to other members of the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
Potatoes contain compounds called glycoalkaloids, including solanine. These compounds are toxic when consumed in large amounts. When preparing potatoes, pay attention to visible green spots on the skin – this indicates an increased content of glycoalkaloids. Remove these parts from the potato before cooking. Store potatoes in a cool, dark place to avoid accumulation of glycoalkaloids.