One Small Change: Your Old Friend, the Potato

by in Small Steps, September 23, 2012

Ahh, you can have them baked with cheese and bacon, mashed with cream and butter or deep-fried in oil. So versatile, yet so unhealthy: the white potato. But do potatoes deserve such a bad rap? Take a moment, and let’s rediscover one of the best “unhealthy” foods around.

Taken by itself, the great spud compares quite well in calories, fiber and nutrients to most other starches like pasta and rice. A medium potato with its skin (2 to 3 inches wide) has 130 calories, three grams of fiber, three grams of protein and is a source of vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Comparatively, one cup of pasta or rice (the size of your fist) has about 200 calories for similar amounts of fiber.

So why does the potato get such a bad rap?  Obviously how we prepare it can have a huge impact. Loaded potato skins probably have more bacon, cheese and sour cream than they do potato.

You also may have heard that potatoes can spike your blood sugar because they have a high “glycemic index.” Unfortunately, that index is only useful if you eat one food at a time, and not as a part of a meal. How many of you sit down to a big potato for a meal, and nothing else (not even toppings)? The moment you eat a piece of lean protein like chicken or fish, some veggies and a salad, your body breaks down the potato much more slowly. In fact, potato chips have a lower glycemic index than most regular potatoes because they are cooked in oil (fat)!  And what do you think is really healthier, a plain baked potato or potato chips?

And if you really want to decrease how fast your body breaks down the potato, you only need to do one thing: eat the skin (just be sure to wash it first). According to the same glycemic index, your body will digest the potato with its skin about 30% slower than just the flesh.

If you’ve been avoiding white potatoes for fear that it will ruin your health, I hope this post has cleared up some misconceptions. Enjoy the potato, but prepare it healthfully. Mash it, with the skin on, with just a touch of butter, some low-fat milk, a pinch of salt and a healthy portion of garlic and lemon zest. Or roast some potatoes with a small drizzle of olive oil, pepper, garlic and rosemary. Consider topping a baked potato with low-fat yogurt and dill rather than sour cream. And if that’s not enough, try out these other healthy potato recipes:

Fennel Potatoes
Warm Potato-Tomato Salad With Dijoin Vinaigrette
Oven-Baked Parmesan French Fries
Potato and Zucchini Frittata

And of course, don’t forget about the sweet potato.

Tell Us: What is your favorite nutritious potato preparation?

Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, author of Savor Fitness & Nutrition wellness blog and avid proponent of MyBodyTutor, a health coaching website dedicated to helping people stay consistent with their healthy eating and exercise goals.

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