Potato: A Superstar Veggie

by in Healthy Tips, May 26, 2009

Fingerling Potatoes
Potatoes are the most popular veggie around. Most folks like them fried or mashed, but they’re more versatile than that. Learn their benefits and lighter ways to love them.

Nutritional Info
A medium potato contains 160 calories with no fat or cholesterol. It also has 5 grams of fiber, 3/4 your daily vitamin C needs, 1/4 your daily potassium needs (more than bananas even) and a slew of B-vitamins. Many of these nutrients, including fiber and a bit of iron, come from the skin — next time you cook up a baked potato, don’t just scrape out the center.

Potatoes have a bad rap because they’re a starchy veggie. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that’s made up of glucose (the building block of carbohydrates), and glucose is the primary source of energy for the brain. Unlike complex carbs, simple carbohydrates — soda, candy, cakes and other junkie foods — have little or no nutritional value other than their calories. Those are the foods you need to be careful of.

More Spud For Your Buck
I said these tubers were budget-friendly, and it’s true! According to the U.S. Potato Board, a medium (5.3 ounce) potato will only set you back around $0.25 and is one of the best values in your produce department. Plus, they keep well for long period (see below) — making them perfect for stocking up when there’s a sale on.

Starch Makes a Difference
Most grocery stores carry a few types of potatoes — usually, you’ll find russet, fingerling and yukon gold but many more exist. Look for new varieties at your local farmers’ market or a roadside produce stand. Potato skins can be brown, white, red, yellow or even purple. The flesh can be white, yellow, pink, blue or purple. Starch content depends on the type of potato, and that also affects how you cook them.

One common variety, fingerlings, are low in starch. They have a firm, waxy texture that’s great for dishes that require the potato to retain its full shape and not be chopped or mashed. I roast mine as a side dish for fish or steak. They’re also a great addition to soups and stews.

Yukon gold potatoes have a medium starch content and become moist when baked. Use these for mashing, hash brown or potato pancakes (my favorite).

Russet potatoes range from a medium to high starch content and are best for old fashioned mashed potatoes, french fries or baked fries.

Cooking with Potatoes
Many people forget that potatoes are a good thickening agent. Trade the heavy cream (full of artery-clogging fat) you use for thicker soups with pureed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes are another one of my faves, but I keep the skin on when preparing it. I also eat the skin of my baked potatoes — like I said, many of the nutrients are there and it adds a nice texture to your meal.
While potatoes do have a lot of vitamin C, you easily destroy it when prepping and cooking them. Leaving the skin on prevents the potato flesh from being exposed to the air (and depleting your nutrients). Cutting the potato into larger chunks also helps maintain the vitamins.

Storage Tips
Store your potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 5 months — ideally between 45-50°F. If you keep them in the fridge (below 41°F), they can lose their starch content and become sweeter.

When growing your own or buying from a farmer, keep an eye out for any green spots. These discolored portions are toxic (the potato plant is, too). If you find a spot, just cut it off. Sometimes your spuds might sprout, too. This is a sign that the potato is trying to grow — cut off these offshoots before cooking or eating. Storing the potatoes in a well-ventilated place reduces sprouting.

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