Starchy carbohydrate-filled little calorie bombs, coated in refined salt and fried in poly-unsaturated fat, nature’s tubular superfood has been given a horrible reputation!  It’s time to redeem the potato’s righteous place on our plates.  The potato shouldn’t be guilty for the health crimes committed by potato chip manufacturers and fast food restaurants.  In and of itself the potato is an incredibly healthy food – it’s how it’s cooked and what it’s cooked in (often refined seed/vegetable oils) that can make eating potatoes hazardous to health.  If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’ll discover how and why to include potatoes as part of a healthy, nature-based diet.

The evidence: While we’ve ruined potatoes by frying them in refined oil (which promotes weight gain and throws off the body’s proper Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio), people from cultures around the world have enjoyed potatoes as a staple food and maintained excellent health for thousands of years.  Before the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1849, potatoes were the primary food source for the Irish.  Reports reveal that the general population was in excellent health – the men were well nourished and muscular, and fertility rates were high.  In fact, there’s reason to believe that introduction of the potato to Europe contributed to significant population growth in the entire continent.  

The potato was first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in Peru and was a staple food in the diets of many South American peoples, including the Incas.  Hundreds of different varieties were grown that provided varying amounts of almost every known vitamin and mineral, as well as a number of other health-promoting phytonutrients.  Today there are only a few commercially grown varieties available in the U.S., but these can still contribute a significant amount of healthy nutrients to one’s diet.  Potatoes contain high amounts of minerals like potassium, manganese, phosphorous, and copper, as well as vitamins C, B6, and thiamin.   The potato’s potassium content is especially important.  

Potatoes contains more potassium than even bananas or broccoli.  Potassium is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure and muscle function.  Recent studies indicate that consuming enough potassium might be more important than reducing salt intake for good cardiovascular health, and many Americans are potassium-deficient.

Surprising as it may be, potatoes are also a decent source of protein.  While there are only a couple of grams of protein per potato, eaten as a staple, potatoes can still provide quite a bit of protein.  Potatoes are also unique in that they contain a complete protein.  The quality of the protein is likely what enabled people, like the Irish, to maintain good health on a predominately potato diet.  

A couple of years ago a potato farmer from Washington named Chris Voigt set out to redeem the potato’s good name by going on an all potato diet for 60-days, eating 20 potatoes per day.  The result  — he lost 21 lbs and lowered his cholesterol by 67 points!   While an all-potato diet isn’t the most balanced our healthiest long term diet, it’s clear that potatoes aren’t the cause of weight gain.  Given their history as a healthy staple food, their high vitamin and mineral content, and the quality of protein they contain, I think the argument can be made that potatoes are actually a superfood.  To top it all off, potatoes are gluten free, making them a great alternative source of carbohydrates for those who are gluten-sensitive.  

How to enjoy: Eat them almost anyway except for fried in refined seed oil (which means no potato chips or fast-food french fries).  The one concern with potatoes is that they contain natural pesticides (like most other plants) called glycoalkaloids that can be harmful to humans if consumed in large quantities.  Glycoalkaloids are found mostly in and directly underneath the skin.  Peeling the skin will remove most of the glycoalkaloid content of domesticated varieties, so if you eat potatoes often, it’s best to peel them.  Also, avoid potatoes that are sprouting or turning green — these potatoes can have higher glycoalkaloid content.  

If peeled, potatoes can also be eaten raw.  Try adding them diced to salads or vegetable trays.  When pan frying potatoes, use a little bit of butter/olive oil/ or coconut oil, instead of refined seed oils, and a small amount of water.  

Together we can redeem the potato’s reputation as one of nature’s truly tubular foods — a gluten-free source of potassium, vitamin C, healthy energy, and quality protein!

Originally posted 2013-01-24 00:40:00.


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