Lately, that delightful little tuber vegetable known as the potato has gotten a bad rap. Whether it be carb-phobia, or nightshade-avoidance, potatoes have been replaced on many plates by their distant relative, the sweet potato. But that fear may be unfounded! Let’s talk taters.
History of the Potato
A lot of us hear “potato”, and immediately think Ireland. But the Irish weren’t the first, or even the second to cultivate potatoes. The Incas of Peru were growing potatoes from around 8000 BCE. It wasn’t until 1536, when the Spanish crashed into Peru, that Europeans became potato fans. After the Spanish mastered the spud, Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to the Irish in 1589. From Cork, potatoes made their home across Europe by the mid 1600s.
The most infamous incident in the tater timeline is the Irish Potato Famine. While the official cause of the famine is a plant disease called “blight”, the Irish would have fared much better had they not exported most of their potatoes to England. As it stands, nearly 1 million people died of starvation or disease, and another million left Ireland, mostly for North America.
Just prior to the famine, farmers in Idaho began growing their now-famous crop. In the late 1800s, potatoes were highly valued by Alaskan Gold Rush-ers for their high Vitamin C content. And nearly a century later, potatoes became the first vegetable grown in space! (No, not by Matt Damon.)
Well, the Gold Rush-ers knew that potatoes are high in Vitamin C. But what other benefits do we get from our favourite tiny spuds?
Potatoes are very high in Vitamin B6. Just one cup of potatoes has 32% of your daily intake of B6. This vitamin is important for protein synthesis, the formation of new cells, and the production of important neurotransmitters (like serotonin).
Vitamin B6 is also important in methylation, which benefits cardiovascular health, and helps battle cancer. Glycogen stores are broken down with the help of B6, too, and this leads to better endurance and athletic performance.
Potatoes boast more potassium than bananas! Potassium is an important electrolyte, which works in balance with sodium to maintain optimal health. Potassium helps keep blood pressure in check, and reduces your risk of kidney stones.
We know to take vitamin C when we feel a cold coming on, but did you know that a diet rich in vitamin C helps keep stress levels in check? It’s also required for collagen production, and to fight free radicals.
There are many other nutrients in the humble potato, including protein and dietary fibre (if you keep the skin on). There are SO many nutrients, in fact, that one man lived on nothing but potatoes for 60 days! (Don’t try this at home).
If potatoes are so nutrient-rich, why do they have such a bad reputation? Well, there are a few reasons. First is the common preparation methods. If all we eat are chips and fries, we may lose some of the key benefits of potatoes.
Also, potatoes belong to a family of foods called Nightshades. This group, which includes eggplant, tomatoes, and others have many health benefits, thanks to their alkaloids, but can cause problems if consumed in excess. People with arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems often report feeling better after eliminating nightshades, but there is not enough research to form a definite connection.
Perhaps the most common reason for vilifying potatoes is due to their high glycemic index. This means that potatoes will have a greater impact on your blood sugar levels than, say, an avocado. But, luckily, you can lessen that impact by pairing potatoes with:
- fatty foods
- acidic foods
- protein-rich foods
- high-fibre foods
So, say you were to make a loaded baked potato. Let’s go with one of my favourites, a Tex-Mex inspired baked potato. Here are your toppings:
- refried beans – fibre and protein
- cheese – fat and protein
- avocado – fat and fibre
- salsa – acidic
BOOM! You’ve just lowered your glycemic index, without giving up potatoes. Home fries with your eggs and bacon? The latter two keep you balanced. It’s easy to solve, if you pay a little attention.
Potato . . . Parcel?
So apparently there’s this thing where people are sending potatoes to NBA players. Yup. Potatoes.
So . . . if you’re not going to eat your potatoes, check out Potato Parcel, and send a customized potato to a friend!
Are you, like in Van Gogh’s famous series, a Potato Eater? (This one hangs in The Scottish National Gallery) What’s your favourite way to partake of potatoes?
About The Author:
Kelly Boaz, CNP
Kelly is a holistic nutritionist, specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. She is also a public speaker (TEDx King St. West, TDSB) and a writer. Learn more about Kelly, and about booking private consultations at kellyboaz.com Twitter: @kelly_boaz Facebook: /KellyBoazDotCom